A Minnesota man builds a Case tractor collection around boyhood memories.
It was inevitable that Steve Ringen would get involved with old tractors at some point in his life. He grew up on a farm, and that accounts for part of his interest in old iron. But the fact that the family farm was adjacent to the grounds of the Butterfield (Minnesota) Steam & Gas Engine Show was an equally important factor.
“I loved farming and helping Dad doing stuff, and I always thought a lot of those older tractors were neat,” he says. “Plus, we lived right next to the threshing show. I got interested that way.”
Steve’s dad had a 1951 Case DC and a 1942 Case SC that father and son used for cultivating. “Dad would cultivate four rows with the DC, and leave two rows for me,” he says. “After he made a round, I would use the SC to do two rows, so we had a six-row cultivating method. That’s how I got started, when I was probably 11 years old.”
A few years later, Steve saw a 1947 SC for sale and bought it. “After that, I kept buying tractors every year or two when I had some extra money,” he says. “I also started getting plows and other implements, because I wanted to plow at the Butterfield show. It’s no fun having your stuff just sitting there. The fun is in the driving, so we have 10 acres of the threshing bee’s land set aside to plow every year, with an acre for horses to plow, too.”
Strips of chrome on the hoods give a pair of Case tractors in Steve’s collection a special shine. The tractors – a 1941 Case LA and 1941 Case SC narrow front – are among the last of Case’s pre-war tractors to sport chrome trim. In 1942, Case discontinued use of the gleaming metal in support of the war effort.
When Steve got a chance to buy the 1941 Case SC, he didn’t hesitate. But the chrome trim wasn’t the only thing that attracted his interest. The 1941 model was the only Case SC with an exhaust pipe in the center of the hood. “They discovered that it was in the way for planting,” he says, “so the next year it was moved off to the side, so you could see the planting mark.”
The SC’s front wheels were built of cast iron during the war years, so the tractor had a different look than Steve’s 1947 SC. But it was reasonably priced and had a set of new tires, so Steve added it to his collection. “I repainted it, but it didn’t need any mechanical work,” he says. “I use it every year to drill 10 acres of wheat for the Butterfield show.”
Steve’s brother, Dave, once ran a body shop and Steve worked there part time for a while. “The first tractor I asked him to paint, I got it home and realized that he was used to painting big car side panels, but with a tractor, you have to keep moving the gun around,” he says. “I found it wasn’t even painted underneath. It’s a lot more work painting that rounded stuff underneath. But he taught me how to do it all.”
Steve liked the power of a Case LA owned by his neighbor, so when a 1941 Case LA became available – especially one with that chrome strip along the hood – he jumped at it. A previous owner had given the tractor a cosmetic restoration, but Steve plans to grind down welds used to fill cracks in the hood.
The exhaust manifold had a bad leak, so it was removed and planed. Steve added new tires, and all of a sudden he had a tractor he could use to plow at the Butterfield show.
“It’s a 4-cylinder with a big piston stroke, so you can idle it down when you come to the end of a row, and pull up the plow and keep chugging along because it’s got so much torque,” he says. “It also sucks up a lot of gas. That was the last 4-cylinder tractor Case built before they went into the diesel.”
When the LA was new, he says, it was rated to pull five 14-inch bottoms. “Sales brochures showed it pulling five bottoms,” he says, “but now it would be rated a 3-bottom plow due to heavy ground compaction.”
Steve appreciates the LA’s dependability. After the threshing bee at Butterfield, he takes the tractor home, puts it in a shed and the next year it starts running with just two or three cranks. “They’ve always said that this was one of Case’s better tractors,” he says. “They were made for big farms, and I just love driving it.”
At shows, Steve often uses a Case 45 check-row planter with his ’41 SC. Because he worked with a similar planter as a boy, Steve wanted one for his collection. He also figured he’d use it at Butterfield. Eventually, he found one on an auction hayrack. “Someone had used it for target practice so it was full of holes,” he says, “but I thought I could fix that.”
At the auction, he got busy chatting and by the time he turned around, the planter had been sold. An onlooker said that if Steve was still looking for a planter, he had one at his salvage yard near Darfur, Minnesota, in almost perfect shape and ready to go into the field. Steve ended up buying that one, which likely dates to the early 1950s.
During the era when fields were cultivated multiple times to control weed growth, check-row planters made it possible to cultivate a field of corn in every direction.
Though Steve’s memories of the process are largely faded, he figures the first order of duty was to stretch the wire across the half-mile field. “I suspect they pounded in the stake that held the wire and then drove down the field,” he says, “unrolling the wire behind them, until they got to the other end, where they pounded in the other stake until the wire was tight.”
Along its entire length the wire contained a series of buttons at uniform distances (in intervals of 36, 38 and 40 inches), depending on the farmer’s preferences. The wire fed through a V-shaped notch in the center of the planter. As a button hit the notch, it triggered the release of two to four kernels of corn through a cast-iron plate with openings corresponding to kernel size, after which the planter closed up until the next button struck, releasing more kernels. Seed corn came in three sizes in that era, and the plates (which were eventually formed of plastic) were changed accordingly. “A lot of people said the bigger the seed, the better the germination,” Steve says.
At the end of a row, the farmer got off the tractor, pulled the stake, and moved it over for the next row. “Then Dad had to pull the wire tight,” he recalls.
If done correctly, the planter prepared a field for cultivation in every direction.
When Steve brought his planter home, he sanded and painted it. “The only thing I’m missing is a roll of wire,” he says. “I’m sure not a lot of them were saved. They were probably left outside and got rusty.”
At the Butterfield show, Steve often pairs his Case LA with a Case Centennial 3-bottom plow. “Case bragged that this plow was an easier-pulling plow than any other, designed so that it wouldn’t take very much land pressure,” he says. “The Centennial plow came in a regular full-board or slat bottoms. If you had heavier, mushier ground, you could get it in a slat-bottom moldboard so it would scour better than the regular old moldboard, because it had less metal to pull through.”
The plow was designed for heavy, mucky soil. “With a moldboard plow, if you get heavy gumbo, instead of the dirt rolling over, the plow will just push it over, and when you get to the end, you’ll have 3 or 4 inches of mud on it,” Steve says. “You don’t get nearly as good a job of turning and covering if it’s not scouring.”
Several years ago, Steve attended a farm sale near Hanska, Minnesota, hoping to buy a 2-bottom plow for parts. “When I got there, I saw the parts I needed were broken on that plow, the same as mine,” he says, “so I figured it wouldn’t do a whole lot of good to buy it.”
Then he saw a 1968 930 Case Comfort King tractor, in really nice condition. “I’d always heard the 930 was the best of all, and we had an 830 and a 1030,” he says, “so when this one was selling for only $3,900, we wondered what was wrong.” Steve bought the tractor for $4,000. “It took a little explaining to my wife that I went to buy a $200 plow and ended up with a $4,000 tractor,” he says with a laugh. “But she understands.”
Early 930s were lower to the ground, with the gas tank in front of the steering wheel like most tractors, Steve says. “But when they came out with the Comfort King series, they got the platform up higher and moved the fuel tank behind the seat for better visibility,” he says. In the process, the gas tank was modified, increasing capacity to 50 gallons from 30. That extra weight on the rear wheels also gave the tractor better traction.
Early 930s had a hand clutch, one of the last in the business. The model started as a Case L, then became an LA, then a 500, 600, 900 and 930. “All those tractors had basically the same drive train and transmission,” Steve says, “but with the Comfort King, they went from the usual 6-speed transmission up to an 8-speed to keep up with the competition, and the road gear.”
As a boy, Steve loved going to the Butterfield show to see old iron in action. Today, with his collection of Case tractors and equipment, he plays an active role in keeping the tradition alive. “There’s something about going out and plowing in the open, smelling that fresh dirt, compared to today’s air-conditioned cabs,” he says. “It’s a chance to live the history, and it’s kind of nice to preserve it for other people so they can see where it all came from, the way it used to be done.” FC
For more information: Steve Ringen, 35895 660th Ave., Butterfield, MN 56120; (507) 621-0103; email: email@example.com.
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.