A Diet High in Iron: From Fordson Tractor to Essex Coupe

A Minnesota collector, born and raised on vintage tractors, remembers the Fordson tractor that started it all.

| February 2006

As a boy of 10, Lyle Osten decided he wanted to buy a steam traction engine. "My dad took me to the first steam show in our area," he recalls, "and as soon as I got into it, I decided I wanted to buy a steam engine."

He was, of course, too young, so he switched his sights to a Fordson tractor that only cost $20, and he and his dad got it running. Shortly thereafter, Lyle and his dad bought and worked in partnership on a 1931 18-32 Case cross-motor tractor, and the love of old iron was forever embedded in Lyle's consciousness.

Though Lyle shifted his attention to old tractors (he has about 50 today), he never forgot the steam traction engine. "When I was 15, we found a 1906 22 hp Minneapolis steam engine I wanted really bad," he says. "My father didn't want to help out on it, so we found three older gentlemen who said if I was interested in steam, they would buy it for me, help me fix it up, and later I could buy it back from them." He bought a share of the steam engine, and a few years later, bought out the whole thing. "I couldn't legally run it until I was 18, but I ran it the whole time," he says. He acquired his steam license at age 18, and another steam license later.

Wedding bells, wedding tractor

One night at a high school basketball game between Minnesota rivals Pelican Rapids (where Lyle's family farmed) and Barnesville (where Bonnie Bekkerus' family farmed), Lyle and Bonnie met. The couple dated for three years before they married, and by that time, Bonnie not only knew Lyle loved old iron, she did too. When they decided to marry, Lyle figured he would give her an unusual wedding present: a 1930 Minneapolis 17-30 cross-motor tractor. "It was just one of the tractors she liked, a very easy-starting tractor," he says, "and I thought if I gave it to her, it would keep her interested in the hobby."

Lyle and his father had found the Minneapolis in a junkyard, where the tractor was going to be cut up for scrap. "It was in excellent shape, and needed a paint job," Lyle says, "so Bonnie and I cleaned the grease off, sanded it and painted it up." At the time, though, Bonnie didn't realize it was going to be her present.

Forty-three years later, Bonnie remains delighted by the gift, which made her practically the only woman involved in the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers' Reunion at Rollag, Minn., each year. Bonnie's driven the Minneapolis in Rollag's daily parade every year since.