Antique Tractor Favorites

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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.
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Above: Rear wheels on the Flour City 40-70 tractor were 9 feet tall.
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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.
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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.
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Below: The Fairbanks-Morse 15-25 is another of the beautifully restored vintage tractors displayed at the Little Log House grounds.
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Below: The Sawyer-Massey 25-40 tractor, manufactured in 1912, still used a chain steering method.
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Above: Ray Nicolai Jr., left, who did much of the restoration work on the Big Four “30,” and tractor owner Steve Bauer.
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Left: Steve Bauer with his restored Flour City 40-70 tractor.
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Above: A front view of the Sawyer-Massey 25-40 tractor at the Little Log House grounds near Hastings, Minn.
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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.
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Above: A close-up of the Fairbanks-Morse gas engine used in the 2-1/2-5 hp small tractor.

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

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.

Investment time

When Steve learned about the Big Four Emerson in 1991, he began
thinking about his collection of 50 John Deere tractors. “I had to
ask myself, ‘Do I want 50 of them, or would I be satisfied with 40
John Deere tractors, and one Big Four Emerson?'” The answer came
when he sold 10 “pretty good” John Deere tractors, including a
Spoker D, a good G and a variety of GPs, to come up with the funds
to pay for the Big Four Emerson. “People look at the thing and are
just amazed,” he says. “They say, ‘Why would they build something
so big?'” In 1911, though, the Big Four was state-of-the-art
technology. While steam engines required a crew of several men, the
Big Four demonstrated that one person could fuel the tractor, go to
the field and work all day, plowing 40 acres, without hauling
water, straw, wood or coal. “This was a labor-saving device,” he
says. “It was cheaper to have one Big Four Emerson than a steam

In 1992, Steve heard about a big tractor sitting in a pasture
near Humphrey, Neb. A friend stopped to look at it and was
surprised to see a Minneapolis, Minn., tag on it. “He thought it
was a steam engine,” Steve recalls. In fact, it was a Flour City
40-70, manufactured by Kinnard-Haines Co. of Minneapolis, and it
was a basket case. The big tractor had been completely disassembled
and the pieces sat on sheets of galvanized steel in the pasture,
waiting, as it turned out, for the U.S. government.

During World War II the federal government held scrap metal
drives. The owner of the Flour City in that era took the
government’s need seriously: He drove the old relic out to the
pasture, disassembled it and waited for a government truck to bring
an acetylene torch to his farm. The government offered that service
to help farmers break the scrap metal down into manageable,
easily-transported pieces.

But World War II ended, the scrap metal drives ended abruptly
and the government truck never came. After that, the disassembled
Flour City 40-70 never moved, staying in that pasture for 47 years
until Steve came to get it. “It took me 10 more of my John Deere
collection to buy that one,” he says.

Once all the parts were back at Hastings, Minn., and the
21,000-pound tractor was ready for reassembly, Steve and his crew
discovered part of the manifold was missing, as well as one of the
pistons, which are 7-1/2 inches in diameter. Steve thinks the
piston might have been carried off by a souvenir hunter.

Not long afterwards, at a swap meet, he saw a couple of pistons
that seemed about the proper size for the Flour City. “The vendor
didn’t know what machine they had come from,” he recalls. “I’d had
the Flour City’s piston dimensions memorized, and after I measured
the vendor’s pistons, and found out they were the right size, I
figured they might be for the Flour City.” He bought two for $25

The 40-70 was restored and repainted, then reassembled with new
bearings. Today it is run every summer at the Little Log House
Antique Power Show (near Hastings, Minn.) the last weekend of

Not Minnesota, but still good

Next was a 1912 Sawyer-Massey 25-40 tractor, which had been used
(with a Sawyer-Massey rock crusher) in a Canadian gravel pit since
1912. Even after retirement, it remained in the gravel pit. “The
guy who owned it was a John Deere nut,” Steve says, “so I traded
him some money and five more of my John Deeres to get it.” Steve
says he’s never regretted selling or trading the John Deere
tractors from his collection, not only because he got good tractors
in return, but also because he’d acquired his John Deeres at good
prices. Since then, their value had appreciated a great deal,
enough that he could afford to spend more on new acquisitions.

His next addition was a Fairbanks-Morse 15-25, a unique machine
of the open radiator screen-cooling type, Steve says. When the
restoration team – Ray Nicolai Jr., Bob Geiken, and Chris and
Maynard Romnes – saw the FM, they decided to make a baby one. “It
didn’t take nine months, either,” Steve says with a laugh. It was
dubbed a 2-1/2-5 Fairbanks-Morse, made entirely of scrap metal, and
modeled after the fully-restored 15-25. The small one even has a
working Fairbanks-Morse engine in it.

Steve says the dedication of those four men – and others – has
resulted in well-restored tractors. “They have a love for this
equipment, and know how it should work, and how to put it back
together even if they find it in pieces,” he says. “They like what
they do, and that’s why they’re good at it.”

Little Log House Antique Power Show

About 25 years ago, Steve and other family members started
spending one Sunday afternoon a year running old equipment, and
especially threshing. “Dad had six brothers and sisters, all of
whom grew up during the threshing bee era,” he says, “so we started
threshing each year as a little something for them to look forward

The Sunday afternoon expanded into a full day, then into
Saturday and Sunday, then Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with about
50 spectators. One day, Steve heard about a modern house that was
going to be torn down, and then discovered the building contained a
complete little log house. He decided to move it onto his land.
“There’s a lot of history in buildings like that,” he says.

Steve went on to collect other old buildings, like a Catholic
church built of 40,000 bricks. The structure was completely
dismantled, and the bricks cleaned. Then they were used to build a
smaller twin of the original structure. Weddings, booked months in
advance, are held nearly every weekend all summer at the rebuilt,
nondenominational church.

The collection of buildings grew and grew, until today 160 acres
of grounds contain more than 50 buildings, including a blacksmith
shop, town hall, millinery, train depot, jail and more. All had
been slated for demolition before Steve got hold of them.

Instead of 50 spectators, 10,000 people now show up at the
yearly event, which includes much more than threshing. One of the
show’s unique features is the flower garden, which contains
thousands of blooming annuals, perennials and wildflowers. It is
often featured in magazines. “People can view the flower garden and
show grounds on our website at,” Steve says.

Visitors come from all over the country to the yearly
extravaganza, and are rewarded with old-time activities, as well as
four superbly-restored old tractors: a Big Four Emerson, Flour City
40-70, Sawyer-Massey 25-40 and Fairbanks-Morse 15-25. The show
draws tractors of all brands from exhibitors, neighbors and
friends. It’s a number Steve would like to add to. After all, he
notes, “I still have 10 more John Deere tractors left!”

For more information: Steve Bauer, 13746 220th St. East,
Hastings, MN 55033; (651) 437-2693.

Little Log House Antique Power Show and Restored Pioneer
Village, July 29-31, Hastings, Minn. Feature: The Red-Green Tractor
and Engine Show, International Harvester and John Deere. Also, IMCA
Old Timers Vintage Auto Races. Six miles south of Hastings on
Highway 61, then east 1 mile on 220th Street. General information:
(651) 437-2693; e-mail:

Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several
books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372,
400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56569; (320) 253-5414; e-mail:

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