Antique Tractor Favorites

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


| August 2005



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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.

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.