Antique Tractor Favorites

Antique tractor quartet stars at Little Log House Antique Power Show.

| August 2005

  • ARearView.jpg
    Opposite page: A rear view of Steve Bauer’s pair of Fairbanks-Morse tractors shows the year each was manufactured, the company name and their size – the smaller tractor was home built.
  • RearWheelsontheFlourCity.jpg
    Above: Rear wheels on the Flour City 40-70 tractor were 9 feet tall.
  • RearWheelsontheFlourCity-1.jpg
    Left: This side view of the radiator clearly shows the lineage of the Big Four tractor. The Big Four Emerson and the Flour City 40-70 (above) are displayed for 12 days each year at the Minnesota State Fair Old Iron section to help highlight Minnesota’s tractor-manufacturing history. By unofficial count, the state has been home to 112 different tractor manufacturers since the turn of the 20th century. These two tractors were built within five miles of the fairgrounds, and shipped by rail to their final destinations.
  • TheRadiator.jpg
    Below: The front of the radiator on the Big Four “30” shows not only the large “4” designating the tractor, but also the tube-type radiator that was becoming popular at the time.
  • TheFairbanks_Morse.jpg
    Below: The Fairbanks-Morse 15-25 is another of the beautifully restored vintage tractors displayed at the Little Log House grounds.
  • SteveBauer_SawyerMassey-1.jpg
    Below: The Sawyer-Massey 25-40 tractor, manufactured in 1912, still used a chain steering method.
  • RayNicolaiJr.jpg
    Above: Ray Nicolai Jr., left, who did much of the restoration work on the Big Four “30,” and tractor owner Steve Bauer.
  • SteveBauer_SawyerMassey.jpg
    Left: Steve Bauer with his restored Flour City 40-70 tractor.
  • SawyerMassey_BabyFairbanks.jpg
    Above: A front view of the Sawyer-Massey 25-40 tractor at the Little Log House grounds near Hastings, Minn.
  • SawyerMassey_BabyFairbanks-1.jpg
    Left: This “baby” Fairbanks-Morse 2-1/2-5 hp, a duplicate of the big FM 15-25, is made entirely of scrap metal, and it also runs. It is powered by a Fairbanks-Morse gas engine.
  • CloseupoftheFairbanksMorse.jpg
    Above: A close-up of the Fairbanks-Morse gas engine used in the 2-1/2-5 hp small tractor.

  • ARearView.jpg
  • RearWheelsontheFlourCity.jpg
  • RearWheelsontheFlourCity-1.jpg
  • TheRadiator.jpg
  • TheFairbanks_Morse.jpg
  • SteveBauer_SawyerMassey-1.jpg
  • RayNicolaiJr.jpg
  • SteveBauer_SawyerMassey.jpg
  • SawyerMassey_BabyFairbanks.jpg
  • SawyerMassey_BabyFairbanks-1.jpg
  • CloseupoftheFairbanksMorse.jpg

By the time antique tractor collector Steve Bauer of Hastings, Minn., started thinking about different makes of tractors, he already had 50 John Deeres in his collection. "Like any other collector, I started getting interested in other things," he says, "and my interest turned to Minnesota-built tractors."

After checking to see what tractors had been built in Minnesota, Steve saw that Minneapolis-Molines were the most popular, and were found all over the state. "Then I found out about the Big Four Emerson tractor, which was built right here in Minneapolis, 35 miles from my front door." It was first built by Gas Traction Co. of Minneapolis. Later, the company was sold to Emerson-Brantingham Implement Co. of Rockford, Ill., but the Big Four continued to be built in Minneapolis. To Steve's surprise, he discovered the Big Four (also known as the "Giant Horse" as a gateway between steam traction engines and tractors) had a John Deere connection as well. "In 1911, when our Big Four Emerson was built, John Deere didn't yet have a tractor of their own," he notes, "so the company got John Deere dealers hooked on the idea of selling Big Four tractors."

The idea was simple: Deere & Co. wanted to sell plows, and if farmers bought Big Fours, they'd want to buy big John Deere plows to go along with them. Steve subsequently found John Deere advertisements for the Big Four-John Deere plow combination.

One thing that Steve really likes about the Big Four Emerson is its uniqueness. "If you take the Big Four to a show," he says, "it will probably be the only Big Four there."



A collection built on two cylinders

Steve began collecting tractors when he was 15, buying a 1936 John Deere Model A with the original 2-bottom plow from the original owner for $75. "I was born in 1949, so I grew up with the two cylinders, and they never left me," he says. "We used two-cylinder John Deere tractors on our farm from the 1930s up through the 1960s." Collecting was the major focus in Steve's life at the time: He had that Model A for 25 years before he thought of restoring it.

Steve's second tractor, an unstyled John Deere Model BW, came to him when he was 19 years old. He was doing mechanical work for a John Deere dealer when a farmer brought the BW in to get it running. As it turned out, the block was cracked. The farmer didn't want to buy a new block, so he sold the tractor to Steve for $75. From then on, the progression was what might be expected, one tractor after another, until eventually Steve had 50 John Deere tractors, some duplicates, most different.