Happy Days for Happy Farmer

Father and son restore little-known Wisconsin-built tractor


| May 2009



Front view of the Happy Farmer tractor

Marshal and Randy Reysen restored this 1917 Happy Farmer 12-24 Model B over a period of months. Few Happy Farmers have survived, Randy says, “I’ve heard of 20 to 25 that have surfaced.”

Courtesy Randy Reysen

Poorly designed, badly built, little known: The Happy Farmer tractor is not a natural choice for restoration.

But after an industrial-strength dose of tender loving care, Marshal Reysen’s 1917 Happy Farmer 12-24 Model B shines like the sun.

Bathed in gallons of DuPont YS 113 orange paint, it ought to. “The whole tractor is painted orange,” bemoans Marshal’s son Randy, who worked side-by-side with his dad on the restoration. “Madison-Kipp painted their oilers black before they left the factory or I am sure that would be orange too.”

More than meets the eye

Marshal bought the 2-cylinder tractor in March 2007. “Randy wanted it,” he recalls, “but he didn’t have the money so he came to me. We looked at it and I said ‘What the heck.’” It was a marriage made in heaven. “Dad had the money and interest in the tractor,” Randy says, “and I had the excitement.”

The two are old hands with antique tractors and stationary gas engines. Marshal began tinkering with old tractors and engines in the 1970s. He restored a 20-40 Rumely OilPull, and then, with an assist from sons Randy and Rob, a 1930 22-45 Eagle. “I’ve just always been interested in old iron,” he says, “and I think Randy took over where I left off.”

Marshal bought the Happy Farmer from the family of the late Bob Knoeck, who’d owned the tractor since the early 1980s. Bob bought the tractor from a Kansas collector who’d owned it for some 20 years. When Bob and his son Matt, West Bend, Wis., went to get the tractor, it was buried under a pile of scrap iron. “Before they could load the tractor, they literally had to dig it out,” Randy says.

When Marshal got the tractor, it was plenty rough: It wouldn’t even roll until the wheels were removed, turned around and put back on, preventing the drive gear from meshing with the pinion. The carburetor was missing (though later found), the engine was stuck and one of the rockers was broken.

Fortunately, there was more to the Model B than met the eye: The tractor came with a nearly complete set of replacement parts. “If it had not been for the previous owner digging around for years and finding spare parts, restoration would never have moved as fast as it did,” Randy says.