Gary Rasmussen got involved with old iron and Cockshutt tractors at the same time. His father, Melvin, bought a Cockshutt Model 40 in 1951 to use for logging in the Wisconsin woods.
“I grew up on our dairy farm, and ran mile after mile in the woods hooking and unhooking the skidding tongs,” Gary says, “so I also learned how to take apart those old Cockshutt tractors, and put them together again.”
In the 1990s, Gary’s brother Roy told him about the International Cockshutt Club, Inc. (www.cockshutt.com). “That’s how I got involved in antique power,” he says. In April 1998, on another tip from his brother, the Wittenberg, Wisconsin, man attended an auction where a 1957 Cockshutt Golden Arrow tractor was being sold. “At that point I’d never heard of a Golden Arrow,” Gary admits. “But I went to the auction, examined the tractor a couple of days early and paid a lot of money to get it.”
The tractor was not in running condition. When Gary got it home and started monkeying with it, he found it had compression, so he knew the engine was good. He figured out that the points in the distributor were broken, and he got the tractor running.
At that point, Gary really went to work, removing the engine and cleaning it up. “I am very mechanically inclined, having grown up on a farm,” he says, “but I didn’t have to go through the engine or even remove the head or pan.”
He stripped the Golden Arrow down to nothing, removing all the sheet metal, the gas tank and the tires. Then he asked professional painter Jimmy Clemens to pay a visit and give him pointers on painting the tractor. After that, Gary hung the parts, sandblasted the tractor from top to bottom and added several layers of primer and paint. He also added new tires. “I worked day and night on it,” he recalls.
It was not an easy job. “Getting the brake discs out was a real chore, because they were rusted in,” he says. “The previous owner had used it for belt power and PTO power, so he didn’t use the brakes a lot. I had a heck of a time getting them out.”
When he did, he found that the springs that pull the shoes and disc back together, three on each side, were all broken, so he began a search for the brake springs.
“As it turns out, my sister-in-law, Bobbi (married to my brother Tony) worked at a spring factory in Appleton, Wisconsin,” he says. “She offered to make the springs for me. I told her to go ahead, and she brought me a whole bag of them.” That launched a cottage industry, as Bobbi now produces brake pedal and clutch springs that Gary sells to other collectors and restorers.
Gary retained the original 6-volt system with an 8-volt battery. “I gave it a good general tuneup, replaced the coil, wires, condenser, and oil filters, and it ran perfectly,” he says, adding, “It has ever since.”
Gary got new decals from a member of the Cockshutt club just in time to go to his first international Cockshutt show in Baraboo, Wisconsin, in April 1998. “I got the tractor out of my paint shop the day before,” he says. “Everything was finished but the headlights. They were attached, but the wires weren’t hooked up yet.” He displayed it at the gathering and it was a crowd favorite. “Club people were all over that tractor,” he says. “I’ve been hooked ever since.”
But it wasn’t all rave reviews. After displaying his Golden Arrow at several shows, and receiving a series of criticisms about the color of his newly painted tractor at the international show, Gary looked at the tractor in a new light. Many people thought his Golden Arrow was painted the wrong color. In 2005, Gary succumbed and repainted the tractor the correct Cockshutt yellow.
“I took it all apart again, started over and finally got the correct color on it,” he says. “So I painted that tractor twice.”
Gary says the Golden Arrow was an experimental tractor, one of perhaps as few as 135 built, that had a new style transmission and differential with draft hydraulics, different from the old Cockshutt 40s and 50s. With draft hydraulics, when dead furrows were plowed, draft control automatically raised and lowered the 3-point plow hook-up.
The forerunner of the Cockshutt 550, the Golden Arrow is a rare tractor today. Seventy-nine are known to exist. Although Cockshutt Farm Equipment Co., Ltd., was based in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, Gary says many of the surviving Golden Arrows are found in Wisconsin.
Since the Golden Arrow tractors were built faster than the hydraulic system, half were sent to dealers without the draft control system. “They were supposed to be returned to the factory in Brantford, Ontario, to have the hydraulic installed,” he says, “but only a few were, as farmers who bought them liked them so well.”
Another dissimilarity between the Golden Arrow and the early Cockshutt 40s and 50s was a different shifting pattern, so the shifting pad over the dash panel on the new Golden Arrows had to be altered. “Mine also has an adjustable wide front end,” Gary says, “and that’s desirable.”
Gary had a magnetic information badge made for the Golden Arrow, with his name and information about the tractor, including its serial number, 16030 (meaning it was the 30th built). While attending a show in Caroline, Wisconsin, he lost the badge. A few weeks later, a good Samaritan found it and left it on Gary’s doorstep.
Gary’s Model 40 Deluxe has had a rough life. Originally it was stored upstairs in a barn’s hayloft – until the barn caught fire. The tractor was consumed by the blaze, and when the floor beneath it gave way, the tractor crashed through, landing on a cement floor. It’s not too hard to picture the condition of the tractor at that point.
“John Kasmiski, longtime editor of the Cockshutt Golden Arrow magazine, bought that tractor for parts for his private salvage yard, and people (including me) bought parts off it for a couple of years,” Gary says, “even though it had clearly been through a fire.”
One day Gary suggested that he buy what was left: the frame (minus the rear end), the engine and a broken steering section. He figured he’d use the remnants for parts for the 15 tractors in his Cockshutt collection. “John asked if I was willing to pay $200,” Gary says. “I said I was, so I bought it.”
Gary and his friend Rodger Zupan were driving home with the jumble of parts on a trailer when Rodger asked Gary what the frame’s serial number was. Gary didn’t know, so they pulled over, found the rusted-over serial number tag and scraped it so the number could be read. Then shock set in.
“There it was, serial no. 31001: the first Deluxe 40 ever assembled by the engineering department at Brantford, Ontario, Canada. I had stumbled over that frame three years before I bought the rest of it, so it could have gotten away from me. I was lucky it didn’t. I’m only the third owner of this tractor.”
Another unusual aspect of Gary’s Deluxe 40 is that it is one of just 21 that Cockshutt put together by hand. “The engineering department was experimenting with different speeds in the transmission in fourth and fifth, slowing one down and speeding the other up,” he says.
Owning the first Deluxe 40 built is both a thrill and a challenge. “I had to find engine parts that had the right casting marks on them,” Gary says. “And I had to find a different rear end, because the one that was in there was rusted tight. The engine had to be completely gone through, all new tires were put on, I had to find good sheet metal, brakes and wiring harness, and I had a brand new belt pulley made.”
He had to find correct and perfect Deluxe fenders, and support ribs for them. He added new clutches into the PTO and did a lot of other work. “It took me six years to round up all the proper parts,” he says, with a lot of help from fellow Cockshutt enthusiast Carl Reeder.
After setting the tractor together, he discovered another problem. One of the adjustable hubs for the rear wheels was broken in half. “I searched and searched, but couldn’t find one,” Gary says, “so I bought another Model 40 tractor and changed hubs to a solid cast center, and got the machine up and running, even though it had the wrong hubs in back.”
A friend of Gary‘s had one hub, but wouldn’t sell it, so Gary sold him the one he had. A few months later, Gary bought a Model 40 with a stuck engine, sight-unseen over the telephone. When he got it, he discovered it had a pair of good hubs. “I tore the back end off my Deluxe 40, took the wheels off the rims, sandblasted it, and put the right rims on it, so it was absolutely perfect, the way it came off the line from the factory,” he says. “Keith McClure (a member of our club) made perfect vinyl decals, and I put them on. I love that tractor.”
So do a lot of people. Crowds gather around the tractor at shows and Gary has been offered thousands of dollars for it, but he won‘t sell. “Some people say it’s worth $25,000, but I laugh at that,” he says. “You can buy a used pickup for that. As rare as this tractor is, it’s worth a lot more.”
Not to mention the thousands of dollars he’s put into the machine. The correct shade of vermilion red paint, for instance, is $200 a gallon. A casino electrician, Gary says he wants the tractor to stay in the family with one of his children.
Owning a tractor with the exceptional serial number is a thrill all its own. “The most fun is painting them,” he says, “but it’s exciting to add a brand new decal on it, and do it right, and go back the next day and see that the cloudiness in the decal is gone. New decals and new paint always make a tractor so beautiful and so perfect.”
Next up on Gary’s to-do list: a Cockshutt Model 20 Deluxe. It’ll slip right into the rotation in his 40-by-60-foot shop (complete with paint booth). “I do my own heads, and I’ve worked on those Cockshutt Buda engines so long that I know them inside out. I could probably take them apart blindfolded,” he says. “Collecting is a fever. I buy duplicate models and fix them up and sell one so I can buy two more tractors, but I love doing it.” FC
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.
For more information: Gary Rasmussen, 18920 McPitt Rd., Wittenberg, WI 54499; phone (715) 253-2921; email@example.com.