Tractor collector turns 'tired iron' into replicas of rare models of antique tractors
Tractor collector/restorer Harry Lee, Elnora, Ind., likes to drive, show and explain his innovative machines. But he really gets his message across with personalized collector cards, which feature photographs and descriptions of his creations.
Harry, who's restored and created dozens of unusual old tractors - some with up to three engines - has exhibited in shows all over the U.S. and in Canada. He handcrafts many of the parts he needs, putting his mechanical and creative abilities to the test. He's restored exact rare models and prototypes, and conceives his own unique designs.
Take his "Bombshell" tractor, a replica of the experimental 1922 prototype that resulted in development of the McCormick-Deering Farmall Regular, none of which are in existence today. Harry's reproduction is made of what he calls "tired iron." He used a photograph from IHC archives to recreate the tractor, but the only photo available showed just the right side.
"The Bombshell was a great part of Farmall tractor development," he says, "and was my second project of this type after retirement." At 76, he's a loyal Farmall fan.
"I'm a former customer/user since the 1930s," he says, "as a farmer, trucker, shade tree mechanic and jack of all trades."
Harry's multi- (two or three) engined Farmalls show what can be done when imagination is backed with mechanical skill, and when raw power is combined with otherwise original-appearing tractors. At a recent show at Lathrop, Mo., after hearing his tractor's harmonized roar and seeing Harry pull his sled across the grounds once, the crowd urged encore performances.
He has his own parts yard and shop, and is usually at work on new creations between events. Once he gets his "hat computer" going, he says, modification of design and parts is no problem. That includes lengthening frames, making one engine from two or more, changing steering column length, and an infinite number of other challenges.
To some, it looks like work. On his Bombshell, for instance, he hand-built all four wheels, using early rear hubs and 12-spoke, straight bearing-type front hubs. But to Harry, it's pure fun.
"I am quite proud of the Bombshell," he says. "I really enjoy the antique tractors." FC
For more information: Harry Lee, Box 119, Elnora, Ind., 47529; (812) 692-5216.
Gary Van Hoozer is a Missouri writer specializing in vintage agriculture and farm history.