Rodger Zupon does not scare easily. When he decides to restore a tractor, neither stuck pistons nor dinged metal, flat tires nor missing hood shrouds give him pause. The semi-retired Antigo, Wis., logger and truck driver even took on a tractor that had been through a fire.
"A few years ago I found a Cockshutt 30 that had been in a fire,” he says. “There was a fire in a machine shed, and everything in it — including the tractor — had been burned. The owner, Gary Muench, decided he didn’t want to do anything with it. He said I could have the tractor.”
So Rodger lugged it home and began working on it, with Gary’s parting words ringing in his ears. “He said if I ever decided to sell it, he wanted the first chance to buy it back.”
But that seemed unlikely; the Cockshutt was completely burned. Rodger took everything off it, sorted through his parts pile, started adding usable parts and set it back together. “Some things were warped, so I had to put on different sheet metal, a different shroud for the hood, new radiator and replace some of the other pieces,” he says. “I had extra parts for tractors like that so it was no big deal. But it was a challenge to get it running again.”
He also had to put on a different carburetor and distributor. When he was finished with everything, he still didn’t know if the engine was damaged. When he turned the key, the Cockshutt fired right up. Seeing the tractor restored and running, the former owner knew he had a winner and wanted it back — so Rodger sold it to him. “That was all right,” he says. “I worked on it during winter weekends, so it gave me a nice winter project.”
Rodger grew up on a dairy farm using his dad’s tractors: CO-OP and Cockshutt models. When Rodger was 7, his father came home from an auction with a CO-OP E3 tractor. “That was the start of the CO-OP and Cockshutt tractors for us,” he says. “That was pretty much all we drove on the farm, except for a small John Deere. I learned to drive on the E3 once I could reach the clutch pedal.” Except for the paint job, he says, CO-OP E series tractors and Cockshutts are the same tractor. Both were made in Canada.
But the main tractor that Rodger grew up on was a Cockshutt Golden Eagle. “The 1956 Golden Eagle that my dad bought new is the one I drove the most,” he says. “I spent so much time, so many hours on it. That’s why I’d still like to find that original one.”
He’s hunted for the Golden Eagle but, without knowing where it went, he’s had no luck finding the tractor, the last one his father bought. “I have to hope it’s in the area, and that some day I’ll stumble on it,” he says. “Whenever I hear of Cockshutt tractors on an auction, I go to see what they are. I don’t have the serial numbers of the machines that we had. That would be a big help.”
He’s confident that if he ever saw the tractor again, and if it’s still complete, he’d recognize it. “It had Wheatland fenders and there weren’t many of those around,” he says. “And we had also drilled some holes to put attachments on it; I remember stuff like that.” His dad’s Golden Eagle is the only Cockshutt piece he’s still looking for.
The first Cockshutt tractor Rodger bought was a 1960 Cockshutt 560. A local find, the tractor came with a loader on it. The engine was bad so he had to rebuild it. Once that was done, he had a working tractor.
The pride and joy of Rodger’s collection is his 1957 Golden Arrow tractor. “I had been looking for one for some time when my friend, Gary Rasmussen, Wittenberg, Wis., said he knew where there were a couple of those tractors. Gary already had one.”
The two men went to see the pair of Golden Arrows but the owner was unwilling to sell. Three years later as the two returned from Canada, where they’d attended a meeting of the International Cockshutt Club, Rodger suggested they stop in for another look. This time the owner was receptive and the friends left with both tractors. “We sold one to Gary Bocka, another member of the Cockshutt Club, in Ohio,” Rodger says. “I kept the other one.”
It needed a lot of work. “I had to completely rebuild the engine, put in new sleeves, new pistons, new bearings, and have the crank turned. Whatever it needed, it got,” he says. “It’s the kind of work I enjoy, taking tractors apart, getting them fixed up and putting them back together to make them run. It’s a good pastime.” For this tractor, Rodger couldn’t find new old stock sleeves, so he had to turn to aftermarket sleeves to get the job done.
“The body and fenders were dinged up, like a lot of them that have seen some use,” he says, “so I took out the dents before I had it repainted.” When he restores tractors, Rodger does all the work but painting; he hires that out.
Cockshutt built just 135 Golden Arrows in 1957. “It was just before the 500 series came out,” he says. “The Cockshutt 550 has almost the same components as the Golden Arrow, with the same engine and same transmission but an altogether different hood style. I don’t know why they built only a few Golden Arrows before the 550s came out, but they did.”
Only about half of those Golden Arrows are known to have been found. Rodger wonders if higher prices for scrap might not have had something to do with that scarcity. “That one is kind of my favorite,” he says, “because it’s so rare and a lot of people don’t have one.”
Rodger’s also restored two CO-OP E3 tractors. “Because that was the first one my dad had, I ended up with some of those,” he says. “A lot of those were sold in this area by a CO-OP and Cockshutt dealer in town.” He also bought a neighbor’s CO-OP E4 and later, after hearing about it at an auction in Illinois, a 1962 Cockshutt 540.
Rodger’s added another dimension to his collection by gathering up plows. He’s restored two Cockshutt Model 1230 plows. “They were built roughly from 1952-1958,” he says. “I found the 3-point plow in western Wisconsin; it was in rough shape. It required quite a bit of work on the moldboards and coulters to get it back in shape.”
Having grown up on a farm, Rodger has solid working knowledge of such plows. He immediately recognizes problem areas, such as points of wear on a moldboard. Once he restores a plow, its working days are over. “I have another plow, a Cockshutt 280, that I use for the tractor club plow day,” he says. “Once they’re restored, I just use them as part of a show display.”
Cockshutt plows are rare and hard to find, he says. “There’s just nothing out there anymore,” he says. “I think when junk prices shot up a few years ago, a lot of them were junked. Some people didn’t know the value of them.” He’s held on to an extensive parts inventory. “I have full engines and odds and ends that I’ve accumulated through buying stuff,” he says. “I do sell parts when somebody comes along looking for something. Some Cockshutt parts are hard to find, especially for the Perkins and Hercules engines.”
Cockshutt and CO-OP tractors were very competitive with the industry leaders from the late 1940s through the 1950s and 1960s. One of Cockshutt’s major advantages was the introduction (in 1946) of the first independent power take-off.
“Cockshutt was the first tractor to have live hydraulic and live power take-off,” Rodger says. “That meant the hydraulic pump was turning all the time. When you put the clutch in on all the other tractors of that era, the hydraulics would stop and so would the power take-off. With Cockshutt, when you put the clutch in, the pump kept turning and the independent power take-off kept turning, too.”
That meant that when too much product got into the machine when baling hay or chopping corn, threatening to clog the works, the operator could put the clutch in and keep it running until the implement cleared itself out. “You had to stop other tractors, disembark, clear the blockage, get back on and get in gear again before work could continue,” he says.
People are generally surprised to learn that Cockshutt got its start as a plow manufacturer, and that both plows and, later, tractors were built in Brantford, Ontario, Canada. “They usually don’t know about the live hydraulics and live power take-off, either,” Rodger says.
Rodger and friends Gary Rasmussen and Gary Bocka travel as a trio to shows, where they’re often hailed as “The Three Musketeers.” They’re accustomed to drawing attention while hauling a load of restored classics. “When we stop to get gas, somebody will stop and make comments about the tractors,” Rodger says. “There’s always a reaction when they see old tractors fixed up.” He understands that completely.
“I enjoy seeing these old machines run, taking them to shows and meeting people and seeing members of the International Cockshutt Club,” he says. “It’s fun showing off what we’ve got. I love those old tractors. I like driving the tractor and plow just like I did years ago when I was a kid. It’s something I grew up with and will never forget.” FC
For more information:
–Rodger Zupon, 310 Center St., Antigo, WI 54409; phone: (715) 623-3922.
–International Cockshutt Club Inc.
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: email@example.com.
Learn more about Cockshutt in Cockshutt Manufactured Tractors Through the 1950s.