Classic Tractors Become Daily Drivers

Minnesota man enjoys regular outings on tractors from his fleet of Massey-Harris classics.

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by Nikki Rajala
Because Barry Hatch often takes his tractors on the road, having a good rearview mirror is a necessity.

Lots of people like to stop in at McDonald’s for a cup of coffee, but most of them don’t pull up on an antique Massey-Harris tractor. For Barry Hatch, though, the 2-mile jaunt on a tractor is a great start to the day. “People come out and take a look,” he says.

Barry enjoys keeping his fleet of eight antiques on the road — in season. “I take the tractors all over,” he says. “We have parades in Princeton every year, so I get my tractors into those.” In the summer, he and likeminded friends occasionally drive tractors to restaurants in neighboring towns. “I have umbrellas for the tractors, and we have wide-open spaces here and good roads, so it’s nice to go,” he says. “These Masseys are real fast, so I can get around.”

His interest is rooted in nostalgia. “When I was a little boy, my dad, Howard Hatch, bought the first rubber-tired tractor — a 1936 Minneapolis-Moline Model JT — in Mille Lacs County here in Minnesota,” he recalls. “At that time, farmers didn’t think rubber tires would pull anything, but they found out different.”

Barry was born in 1935. His older brother was all of 1 year old then, so their mother had her hands full. “To help out, my dad built a box on the side of that new Moline, and put me in it,” he says. “I went wherever he went, cultivating and doing other work. He said I slept a lot, but I liked to ride. That’s how he babysat me while he did field work. He rode me around on a tractor when I was a baby.”

Entering the workforce at age 5

In 1939, Barry’s uncle bought a new John Deere Model H. “It was a small row-crop tractor with a hand clutch,” he says. “During threshing time, he hooked up a hay rack to his new tractor and take me along to the field. He’d set the throttle on the tractor at fast idle, and stood me up behind the steering wheel. He told me to push the hand clutch to go, and follow him to the next grain shocks, so he could throw grain bundles on the hayrack. That was the first time I drove a tractor, and I was 5 years old.”

Later, in 1944, his dad tired of dealing with rocks in the north, so he bought a 200-acre farm near Princeton, Minnesota, and started raising row crops. At age 8, Barry helped with the work, including operating that MM JT tractor. The tractor also had a hand clutch, and by then, he knew how to operate it. “By the time I was 8,” he says, “I could do almost anything with it.”

In those days, he says, most farmers had cows and milked. “We lived on an 80-acre homestead with a dozen milk cows, six or seven young stock, six pigs and 50 laying hens,” he says. “We raised corn and oats and put up reed canary grass for hay, all for the livestock.”

Eventually they started raising soybeans and rye as cash crops, and had to have a combine and machinery to go with it. “For those times, my dad was big on machinery,” he says. “During wartime, getting machinery like that was difficult to do. But we did it.”

The first diesel tractor in Princeton

By the time Barry returned from military service in Korea in 1953, his father had bought another tractor, a 1938 Case CC row crop. “I needed a car,” he says, but his dad had another idea. “I want to put in 450 acres of soybeans this year,” he told his son. “If you will stay and help get it done, I’ll buy you a new car this fall.”

Barry jumped on the Case and plowed until the work was finished, cultivated four times with his father and then helped with harvest. After that, he didn’t linger. “I got my car and went to St. Paul to work for the winter,” he says.

The next spring, his father said that he had rented land, and had seed for soybeans. “In those days you could use your own seeds,” Barry says. “He announced that we were going to farm a lot more land, and put in 1,000 acres of soybeans.”

Barry protested, saying the small machinery they had couldn’t handle all that work. “That’s a big order, and we can’t do it with our little machinery,” he told his dad. “I said it was going to take bigger and better machinery, including a bigger tractor.”

Howard countered with a new Massey-Harris 44 4-cylinder. Using a 4-14 plow, Barry did all the plowing and his dad tackled the planting. In 1956, a local John Deere dealer got in a new 70 diesel, a row-crop tractor with a pony starting engine. “I thought it was cool, so I told my dad maybe he should buy it to save fuel and get more work done,” Barry recalls. “He said, ‘I have enough tractors; you buy it.'”

After paying a visit to his banker, Barry did just that, buying implements as well, and became the owner of the first diesel tractor in Princeton. “There weren’t any diesels around at that time, and nobody needed diesel fuel,” he says. “We were lucky that there was one Skelly station that had diesel, so we could use the 70 and farm.”

With the equipment, Barry doubled his silo-filling business. “If I figured my investment, I knew there wasn’t much profit in it from custom work,” he says, “but I was having fun, and the farm wives fed you like it was Thanksgiving every day.”

MH 101 among the most powerful tractors of its day

A 1939 Massey-Harris 101 Super Twin Power tractor is among the pieces in Barry’s collection. At the time this standard, or western, model was built, he says, it was one of the most powerful tractors made. “It carried a 6-cylinder 207 Chrysler motor of 47hp on the belt, and was also the first one that came with a starter from the factory,” he says. “You can’t cultivate with a standard model like this. For that you need a row crop with a narrow front or a high wide front. But this standard model is nice to haul around.”

Besides that, Barry likes the 101 because it works well when he and friends go on tractor drives. “A bunch of guys and I go down the road,” he says, “sometimes 20, 30, 40 miles.”

When he first got the 101, it was a piece of junk. “It barely ran,” he says. He had a lot of work done on the tractor. Local restorers took it apart down to the frame, sandblasted everything, rebuilt the engine, repainted the tractor and did a ground-up restoration. “They went through it pretty good, and put on new tires,” he says. “You always put on new tires when you restore a tractor.”

The name “Super Twin Power” was conceived to sell tractors. “That was the Massey-Harris sales plan, meaning it had one speed for use in the field and the other speed for belt power,” Barry says. “It had two throttle settings. When you were working in the field, the governor kept it at it 1,500rpm, and it wouldn’t open up and run faster. When the throttle was set for on the belt, it went at 1,800. So they gave it two different power ratings.”

Most farmers, he says, removed the equipment that limited it to 1,500rpm, and ran it at 1,800, in four forward gears, no matter what they were doing. “I think maybe Massey-Harris figured they couldn’t trust the farmer,” he says.

At that top rpm, Barry can take the tractor down the road at 20mph to visit restaurants in nearby towns like Cambridge and Pease, or go on caravans with friends.

Junior Twin Power priced to sell

The Massey-Harris Junior came out a year after the Super Twin Power. “Canada was already involved with World War II, and farmers were saying they couldn’t afford the $1,125 cost (roughly $20,786 today) for a brand-new 101 Twin Power,” he says. “‘That’s too much money,’ they said. ‘We can’t pay that. You’d better come out with a more reasonably priced tractor.'”

Using the same frame as the Twin Power, Massey created the Junior, which included a smaller 4-cylinder 140 Continental engine. They removed all the frills, like the grille and side panels, but included a cigarette lighter and smaller tires. The model sold for $925 (roughly $17,091 today). “It was the wartime economy model,” Barry says. “They bought out the Wallis factory in Racine, Wisconsin, and built the Juniors there.”

The Junior that Barry bought at a Wisconsin auction in about 1980 needed a new engine. “I bought a different 4-cylinder Continental engine and had it rebuilt,” he says. “I put new brakes on, sandblasted it and did a complete new paint job.” He also added his personal touch, just as he’s done on all his tractors. “I have my name on all my tractors,” he says, “so when I go to shows, people know who the tractors belong to.”

Once Barry rebuilds a tractor, he takes proper care of it, knowing that it’s never going to wear out with the use he gives it. The pieces in his collection are purely hobby tractors. “I built a pole barn at my son’s, and keep them there,” he says. “He has a couple of old tractors too. None of them come out of that shed until we start having some nice weather.”

Once that happens, don’t be surprised if you see an antique Massey at McDonald’s. FC

For more information: Barry Hatch, Box 477, Princeton, MN 55371; (651) 336-6744.


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: bvossler@juno.com.

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