Aiming for the Century Mark

Tractor restorer shoots for 100

| December 2005

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    Right: The machine that started it all: Ernie’s first tractor, this 1954 Minneapolis-Moline R, came to him in exchange for an unpaid bill, and sat outside for 11 years before he decided to restore it. He has 87 tractors today, many of them restored.
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    Below: Ernie Wollak on one of his favorite tractors, a 1948 Oliver 70 row crop. The tractor is in a climate-controlled storage area, which Ernie hopes to enlarge this year.
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    Above: Ernie Wollak’s collection includes the large and (shown here) the small. This pair of 1/3-scale tractors – a Rumely OilPull and Twin City 40 – were handmade by a since-deceased Wisconsin man. Ernie’s obtained photographs of each tractor when first completed, and plans to restore each to that condition.
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    Above: This 1947 Oliver 60 industrial is a classic example of the beautifully restored machines Ernie Wollak prizes. Not everything Ernie owns is rare or valuable. He bought this Oliver and a 1948 Oliver 70 row crop at an auction. “One of the guys who restore tractors for me had restored both of them … Because I like his work so much, and they went for a reasonable price, I bought both of them.”
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    Below: A close-up of this 1939 John Deere AR gives a sense of how particular Ernie Wollak is with his restoration work. His interest in tractors extends well beyond color. He enjoys the challenge of seeing if an MM will start after one crank, or an F-12 after four cranks, or whether the John Deere AR will pop off on the first crank. “It’s interesting to see how different tractors start,” he says. “There’s no rhyme or reason to any of them.”
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    Below: A hard-to-find 1930 John Deere GP, lovingly restored by Ernie Wollak.
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    Left: Ernie Wollak mixes work with pleasure, displaying his collection of 150 farm toys in the office – and a few in the entryway – of Wollak Construction Co., Sauk Rapids, Minn.
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    Left: A 1928 Hart-Parr 12-24, a difficult tractor to find in any condition, awaiting complete teardown. When Ernie Wollak and his crew finish with it, it’ll look better than new. He says if he ever decides to sell any of his tractors – a highly unlikely prospect – the buyers won’t be disappointed. “The buyers would find out we didn’t skimp on anything,” he says. “We’ve gone through everything from the tires on up, and if something isn’t right, it gets fixed.”
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    Left: This lot is the opposite of the tractor graveyard. When Ernie Wollak brings home a tractor, he stores it in this lot adjacent to his construction company where it sits until winter, when he tackles restoration projects. This Canadian-built 1947 Cockshutt 50 isn’t an easy tractor to find.
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    Below: This 1929 Wallis 12-20 is one of the rarest tractors Ernie Wollak has restored. His first restoration, it remains his personal favorite.

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  • 1947Oliver60Industrial.jpg
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  • A1928HartParr12-24.jpg
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You could say that Ernie Wollak, Sauk Rapids, Minn., is shooting for 100: 100 tractors at 100 percent restoration.

His passion for old iron started when he was a child on a farm near Rice, Minn., where his family used International Harvester tractors … until the day his father bought a John Deere 3020. "After that we went to green. We filled silos and swapped equipment with my uncles, who used Minneapolis-Moline machinery. That's why I love all the colors. I'm into color," Ernie says, sweeping his hand around a building filled with dozens of different makes and colors of tractors. "And I don't have any duplicates. Not a single one."

As an adult, Ernie turned his attention to developing his construction business, Wollak Construction. With the economy in dire straits in the early 1980s, his company shifted from residential construction to agricultural buildings. One project went sour. "The farmer said the only thing he could give me (in payment) was a 1954 Minneapolis-Moline R tractor," Ernie recalls. "I had it out in the woods for a few years until it got all rusty. Then my brother-in-law said he wanted to use it, so it went over to his place for a few years."

Meanwhile, some of the itch returned. Ernie bought a 1929 Wallis 12-20 tractor at an auction for $300. "It ran good, so I brought it home, but it just sat in the woods again for five years until it was a bucket of rust. Luckily I had a tin can over the muffler."



About 10 years ago at an auction, Ernie ran into Pete Schwinghammer, and mentioned the Model R. "He said he loved Molines, so he restored it, and did an excellent job. Then he did the Wallis, and after that, it got into my blood, and I started collecting tractors by the bunch."

Ernie's initial goal was 50 tractors, but he reached that number so quickly he decided to double it, to 100, because he had the space to house that many. Soon he had 87 tractors, with his sights set on others. He figures he has people willing to offer him another 40 tractors, although he wouldn't buy all of those. Still, it's more than numbers. What makes Ernie's collection so unusual is his ultimate goal: 100 percent perfect restoration of each tractor. "A lot of people have 50-plus tractors," he notes, "but only 20 of them are restored, and the rest are sitting outside."