Tom Leutkemeyer of Belleville, Ill., suspects he was born with 'orange' blood. The 73-year-old retired mechanic has been collecting Allis-Chalmers toy tractors and memorabilia since he was a teen-ager, and full-sized A-C tractors since the 1960s.
Tom's A-C connection began during World War II. He was 14 at the time and working for a neighboring Belleville farmer. 'One day, he called me and said the local A-C dealership was having a tractor class. All the farmers were to bring their tractors in to have them serviced, and I was supposed to help out.' This was an effort to help keep local tractors operational during wartime, when new tractors were hard to come by.
Tom ended up 'helping out' at the dealership, called A.G. Schmidt Farm Equipment, for 44 years. At first, he worked after school and on weekends; after turning 16, he switched to full time, handling duties as a mechanic and a set-up and deliveryman. 'In those days you didn't worry about quitting school; we were busy because of the war,' he remembers. 'It worked out just fine for me though. I ended up making a career out of it.'
Soon after hiring on, he began collecting farm toys. 'When I had a few cents, I would buy a toy,' he recalls. 'I got to working full time, and I got to buying toys, and eventually the big ones, too.' His earliest toy tractors were an Allis-Chalmers C and a John Deere A; both were made in the 1940s by Fred Ertl Sr., and both are now considered rare.
Today, Tom's collection of farm toys numbers more than 100 and includes examples of Farmall and Massey-Harris tractors and implements as well as Allis-Chalmers and John Deere.
He enjoys them simply because they're farm machinery. The tractors, he says, especially have commanded his interest since boyhood. 'Even when Dad had his Fordson and McCormick, I made sure I was on the tractor with him when he went to the field.'
During his early years as a mechanic at Schmidt, Tom also made sure he was pre sent when a load of full-sized Model 60 All-Crop Combines came in on railroad flat cars. 'I would love to get the combine parts in a bay with parts all scattered out. You'd assemble it, and when you got it done, you felt like you accomplished something.' The process would take an entire day, he recalls. During the war, farmers had to have a permit to buy an All-Crop because wartime rationing put restrictions on the purchase of such large pieces of machinery.
During his career, Tom also enjoyed instructing farmers on the operation and maintenance of equipment he delivered. Routinely, he rode a few rounds with farmers on their new tractor or combine to make sure that they were comfortable with the machine and that it worked properly.
Tom's experiences at A.G. Schmidt served him well after it closed in 1973 and he went to work for another A-C dealer, the Heberer Equipment Co. of Mascoutah, Ill., where he stayed until retiring in 1985. The Schmidt dealership building, which Tom says started out as a mule barn ('I helped tear out the oak stalls in the 1940s.') still stands in Belleville, housing other businesses today.
And although the dealership is gone, Tom kept many items he acquired as a Schmidt employee - from his 'Allis-Chalmers' service coat to his patches, awards, tools and service manuals.
One piece of full-sized A-C equipment that Tom handled while working for Schmidt also is now in his collection: a 1944 Model WC Allis-Chalmers he delivered new to a customer in 1944.
'The WC had three owners between the original and me,' Tom says. 'I found out it was for sale through friends of mine. I knew the farmer who bought it. Then, the second owner restored it. The third owners were green (John Deere green) and the Allis didn't fit in with their color scheme, so I bought it.'
Tom says he wanted the WC because he remembered working on it, delivering and servicing it. 'It was a war tractor with a steel rear end housing where others had cast iron,' he says. 'After the war, cast iron was hard to come by, but steel was available; Allis used steel until cast iron became available again.'
Along with the WC, two rare Allis-Chalmers model U tractors also are in Tom's collection. The first U wasn't in very good shape at all when Tom first saw it. 'I was on a service call about a mile from my farm in about 1968 when I spotted it under a scrap heap. It was done for. The farmer said, 'Give me $35.' I said, 'It's mine.' And I got it.'
This tractor, introduced in 1930, is a Standard model with a Continental engine in it; Tom didn't want to see it scrapped.
His second U is a 1936 with an Allis-Chalmers engine in it. Tom delivered and serviced that one, too, and says, 'I thought since I delivered it, I should have it!'
Today, the first U has been beautifully restored by Jansen Brothers of Siegel, Ill. They had to make new valves, and it needed a radiator core, Tom says.
Currently, the second U, as well as an A-C Model B owned by Tom's son, Tom Jr., are being transformed by the same firm.
Tom and his son show their tractors annually at the Mascoutah Home coming show, held the first week in August. And this year, Tom says, if all goes well, they'll also be at the Prairie Land Show, also called the Allis-Chalmers Gathering of the Orange East, Sept. 27 to 29 in Jacksonville, Ill.
These days, Tom also likes to take his smaller A-C memorabilia to meetings of the 'Allis Connection' organization. These items include watch fobs, pens, tie tacks and post cards.
Most of Tom's watch fobs, which feature both Allis-Chalmers and construction motifs, belonged to his mother's cousin, John Genard.
An employee of Caterpillar, Genard had a number of watch fobs that reflected the Caterpillar motif, and Tom says the first of those fobs was given to him in 1939. 'Back then, not many thought about collecting,' Tom says. 'Today, everything I've got has sentimental value.'
-FC readers may contact Tom by telephone at (618) 233-1530.
-Cindy Ladage, a freelance writer and children's author who specializes in farm-related topics, is a frequent contributor to Farm Collector. She lives on a farm near Virden, Ill.