Farm Collector

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

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

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

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

Allis country

Lyle grew up with Allis-Chalmers on his parents’ farm, so he has
a soft spot for orange tractors. As a fairly new collector, he
picked up a pair of ACs on the same day: a 1937 WC wide-front, and
a 1939 unstyled WF. “A friend said he had to buy five tractors to
get the one he wanted – one of those all-or-nothing deals – and
asked if I was interested in the pair of Allis-Chalmers tractors
he’d bought, along with two John Deeres and one Minneapolis.”

They agreed on a price on a Friday, and Lyle said he would come
pick them up, but didn’t set a date. On Monday, Lyle got a call
from the owner asking where he was, and Lyle said he wasn’t quite
ready to come down. The owner, though, insisted he come right away,
so Lyle set out with a trailer. After the two tractors had been
loaded, Lyle asked why the sudden urgency to pick up the tractors.
“The guy said, ‘I collect John Deere, and I don’t want anybody to
see me with any Allises.’ He was a true green collector, with about
150 John Deeres in his collection.”

Other ACs in Lyle’s collection include a 1949 styled WF from
Canada. “We were at a museum in Yuma, Ariz.,” Lyle says, “and a guy
from Alberta started making small talk. He asked if there were any
special tractors I was looking for, and I said I was still trying
to find a reasonably priced styled WF. I told him what I’d pay, and
he took my card.”

Three months later the man called to ask if Lyle had found his
WF yet, and he was happy to find out Lyle hadn’t. “Good,” he said.
“I bought one for you. I have it in my shop. You come up and stay
with us, and pick the tractor up.”

Because the Ostens didn’t know the Canadian man and his wife,
they planned to stay in a motel, but he insisted they stay in their
home. When the Ostens said they preferred not to, the man said “If
you don’t stay with us, I’m not going to show you where the tractor
is,” as it was stored at a different site.

The Ostens discovered the Canadians were very gracious, and the
two couples have since become good friends. The styled WF was not
in working condition, but Lyle’s new friend got it running, and
didn’t charge for any of the work he had done.

Another one of Lyle’s Allis-Chalmers tractors – a 1955 CA with a
single front wheel – was the result of a deal five years in the
making. He bought it from a Phoenix, Ariz., man. “I have not seen
many CAs,” Lyle says, “although I think there are more out there.”
The Osten grandkids use the CA to make small square bales and drive
in parades.

Orange plus

Lyle’s collection is not limited to Allis-Chalmers. He has a
B.F. Avery tractor he found advertised in a Pelican Rapids-area
newspaper. “The guy who had it before me used it for lawn
landscaping, so he shortened the frame, put a blade on it and took
a steering sector off a car to raise the blade up and down because
it didn’t have any hydraulics.” After he got the big Avery, Lyle
decided he wanted a miniature, and finally found one. “The
miniature cost me only $50 less than the tractor,” he says with a

One of his favorites is his 1920 (or 1921) Frick tractor. “I
have two of them, but only one runs,” he says. “These are the only
ones we know of west of Chicago. I belong to the Frick Engine Club,
and nobody has seen any other Fricks west of Chicago.” Manufactured
by the Frick Co. Inc., of Waynesboro, Pa., just 820 Fricks were
built, and only about 15 are known to survive.

Lyle got one of the Fricks in a complicated trade. “We had two
Allis-Chalmers 15-25 tractors after we bought out an antique dealer
in Escanaba, Mich., so we decided to get rid of one.” He knew of a
man attempting to collect one of every Allis-Chalmers model, and he
hadn’t been able to find a 15-25, so Lyle offered it to him in
trade for another tractor. “He came up with a list of tractors he
would trade for it, and on this list was a Frick. I’d never heard
of it, so I said I’d get back to him.”

After doing some research, Lyle decided he wanted the Frick, so
he and his dad loaded up the 15-25 and met the collector in Iowa,
and swapped for the Frick, which turned out to be a bit on the
rough side. “The Frick really needed a lot of work. The fenders
were gone, the top and bottom of the radiator was gone, though the
core was there, and the gas tank was gone, so we figured it would
take a couple of months to get it running.”

In fact, restoration took a year, partly because the Frick had a
Beaver engine, and parts were hard to find. Finally, they took
valves out of a Caterpillar D-8, cut them down and made a crank.
They didn’t have a Frick magneto on the engine, and a friend kept
urging them to get an original one, which would have cost $380.
Another friend had shelves of old magnetos … including three
non-working Fricks. Combined, the three were used to create one
good magneto. The finished result is a beauty. “When we take it to
any show, it’s a real eye-catcher.”

Another of Lyle’s favorites is the Allis that isn’t an Allis.
“I’d known where this Allis-Chalmers UC tractor was in Yuma, Ariz.,
for three years, and after bugging the guy about it, he finally
sold it to me,” Lyle recalls. “He said he’d bought it in Louisiana.
After I brought it home, I described it to a friend.” Then his
buddy came to see the tractor. “You don’t have an Allis-Chalmers,”
he said. “That’s a Thomson.” “He’d been down to Louisiana looking
for one, and finally found one,” Lyle noted. “He had a book on
Thomsons, so he photocopied it so we could know more about it. I
had never seen or heard about the Thomson.”

The Thomson, built by Thomson Machinery Co. of Thibodaux, La.,
was originally an Allis-Chalmers Model UC cane tractor. After Allis
quit building the UC, the Louisiana company bought Allis parts and
used them to produce the Thomson UCD.

Lyle’s 1935 Allis-Chalmers WC is another of his favorites,
because he used it on the farm. “In 1963 I needed an extra tractor,
and an elderly gentleman had one with no starter, no lights, no
nothing on it, but it ran. He wanted $125 for it, so even though
the tires were ragged, one had fluid in it and the back wheels
didn’t match, I bought it from him. I told him I didn’t have any
money, and he said, ‘You milk cows. Give me $25 now and $25 for the
next four months.’ We farmed with that tractor for six years. It
was my second tractor, for the manure spreader and that type of

A few years after he parked the tractor, Lyle decided to restore
it to original factory condition, so he hunted up steel wheels,
scraped it down, and cleaned it and gave it a paint job. “I still
have it, and I run it at shows. Every time I get on it, I think of
all the hours I used it on the farm.”

The Essex

One of Lyle’s most unusual finds was an old Essex coupe
automobile he found in a ramshackle garage when he was 15. “Some
friends and I were hunting ducks and were going through a slough on
the back side of the farm when we saw it in the shed.”

The farm was abandoned, so Lyle found out who the owner was, and
visited him in a nursing home. “He lit right up and said, ‘Of
course that was my car.’ He was a bachelor, and the car only had
15,000 miles on it. I asked him if there was any chance I could buy
it, but he said, ‘No, you can’t buy it.’ My heart just sank, but
then he said, ‘If you can get it out of there, you can have

After agreeing on a purchase price of $10, Lyle and crew used
jacks to get the Essex out, as the car’s roof was holding up the
roof of the garage. After some work, Lyle drove the Essex to a job
in Pelican Rapids (a 16-mile round trip) every Saturday.
Eventually, he put on 2,000 miles making the commute, but the car
hasn’t been used regularly since.

Contented tractor owner

Today, Lyle’s content with his collection. “I don’t have
anything in the back of my mind that I really want right now,” he
says. “It would have to be something that we would stumble across,
like that Thomson. That was just a fluke.”

“I just enjoy collecting tractors,” he muses. “I’m doing it for
my kids and grandkids, so they’ll have something their dad or
grandfather had.” He and Bonnie still like to drive around the
countryside, both in Minnesota and in Arizona, where they winter,
looking for old tractors. “You never know what you’re going to
find,” Lyle says.

For more information:

Lyle Osten, Route 1, Box 95, 28572 172nd Ave., Callaway MN
56521-9682; (218) 375-3285

Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several
books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372,
400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56569; (320) 253-5414; e-mail:

  • Published on Feb 1, 2006
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