Practically every late afternoon during good weather, after the daily farm work is finished, Henry Van Ruler fires up an IHC tractor and drives it 8 miles around the two sections of farmland he and his 74-year-old brother, Marion, own near Lake Wilson, Minnesota. “It’s something interesting to do around 4 or 5 o’clock,” Henry says. “I look at the country, go 8 or 10 miles, sometimes farther, see what the neighbors are doing, and maybe see a few deer or a fox or raccoon. You can see more on a tractor than you can in a pickup.”
Henry usually takes a battery pack to start the tractor. “It will get me around that distance easy,” he says. “Sometimes we start six or eight tractors with that battery pack.” That’s the easy part. Choosing which tractor to take is more of a trick.
On almost every drive, Henry takes a different tractor. He has plenty to pick from: He and Marion have built a collection of 350 tractors, almost all of which are shedded on their farm. “I get them running and take them for a ride,” he says, “because it’s good to have them run instead of just stand there. I go in road gear, about 15-18 mph, most of the time on gravel, but once in a while on tar.”
Sometimes the chosen tractor of the day won’t start, as when a writer was at their farm recently and they were working on one of Henry’s favorites, an International 1256 Wheatland tractor. They attached the battery pack but the big beast wouldn’t start. After a few quick words back and forth and a couple of changes, they got it fired up and backed it out of one of their 15 tractor-filled sheds and into the sunlight for a photo session. “If it won’t start,” Henry says, “we monkey around until we get it running.”
All the sheds on their farm – including the calf shed, the garage and the barn – are packed with tractors. Ten years ago, when Marion’s legs began giving him so much trouble that he could no longer milk in the stanchions, the brothers quit dairying. “We took the cows out and put the tractors in,” he says. A dozen tractors remain in the yard, unsheltered. “There’s a few more tractors we wouldn’t mind having,” Henry says, “but maybe we can’t afford them.”
After their father’s death in 1976, the Van Rulers took over work on the family farm. Marion has lived every day of his life on the farm; Henry moved there with their parents when he was 2 years old. When they started adding to the International Harvester tractors they’d grown up with, they had no intention of building a collection.
“We just kind of grew up with those old tractors,” Marion says. “Dad had a 1937 F-20 for 20 years, but that one got junked.” The core of what would become a collection was their father’s remaining reds: a 1939 Farmall A, 1948 Farmall H, 1951 Farmall M, 1955 Farmall 400 and 1972 International 966, the first new tractor their father bought. “That one has a lot of sentimental value for us,” Henry adds.
On the 200 acres that the brothers still farm, they use those tractors as well as other red equipment, like a field cultivator, disc, plow and combine, as well as a baler that produces small rectangular bales. “We had some trouble with that baler knotter over the years,” Henry says. “But a good man can fix it and make it work by readjusting it and timing it and putting new knives in the knotter.”
The collection got its start a year later, in 1977, when the brothers pulled a 1936 John Deere B tractor out of a grove on their farm and began fixing it. For a family steeped in McCormick-Deering and International Harvester, it might have seemed an odd choice. But nostalgia worked its magic. “That was the tractor I learned how to cultivate on,” Marion says. “Then we wanted an F-20,” Henry says, “because that was what we grew up on.”
They soon discovered there were lots of red tractors that they didn’t know anything about. “We didn’t know they made some of them, like the Super 6 WDA that they made one year only,” Henry says. “We saw some of the earlier ones on sale bills or went to a sale and found them. Others we read about in magazines like Farm Collector and Antique Power.”
Their oldest tractor is a 1920 McCormick-Deering Titan (Deering dealerships sold Titans; McCormick dealerships sold Moguls). Their newest tractors are the ones they used most regularly on their farm, 1980 red models.
About 30 years ago at a tractor show in Marion, South Dakota, the Van Rulers spotted a tractor they’d never seen before: a 1966 International 806 Wheatland. “Wheat is hardly ever planted around Lake Wilson,” Marion says, “so we had never seen one like that before. We just liked the look of those tractors.”
That began a search for all of the IHC Wheatlands. The collection was completed last summer when the brothers found an IHC 706 Wheatland dating to about 1962. The most difficult one to find was the 1968 International 1456 Wheatland. “Only 295 of those models were made,” Marion says, “and they’re the hardest Wheatland model to find.”
The primary distinctions between Wheatlands and other red tractors are the Wheatland’s non-adjustable front ends, bigger tires and lack of a 3-point hitch. “They were more of a standard tractor,” Marion says, “and better in wheat. They didn’t need all that extra stuff like the 3-point and power take-off. They didn’t use mounted equipment but rather the pull-type, like the disc or plow.”
For the Van Ruler brothers, the Wheatlands had unmistakable appeal. “They’ve got the big fenders,” Henry says, “and they’re something that just isn’t seen around this part of the country.” In southern Minnesota, once home to many IHC dealers, the Van Rulers found many candidates for their collection. “There was a time when every little town there had an IH dealer,” Marion says.
At some point they might have had the idea of getting all the different models of IHC for their collection, Henry says, but eventually they changed their minds. “There are a lot of them to find,” Henry says. “Some of the earlier ones you could probably never get, like a Mogul, a 15-30 Titan or the early 1- or 2-cylinder Titans. “They are very few and far between,” Marion says, “and if you could find them, you couldn’t afford them.”
The Van Rulers’ collection, which also includes John Deere, Ford, Rumely, Massey-Harris and Case tractors, is well-known here and abroad. The brothers regularly give tours to visitors from all over the U.S. and Europe. For them, that’s the best part of their hobby. “We meet a lot of very good people who tell us a lot of stories,” Marion says. “Showing these tractors is part of the fun of owning them.”
As time passes, the brothers’ favorites have changed. Today, their mutual favorite is a rare 1968 1456 Wheatland. But 10 years ago, their 1924 Rumely OilPull tractor held that title. They even considered getting a larger OilPull so they’d both have one. But they never pulled the trigger. “It’s hard to find Rumely OilPulls,” Henry says, “and when we do find one, it costs a lot of money.
“We never thought we’d ever have this many tractors,” Henry says. “But many of them came up for sale cheaply and we bought them.” He’s thoughtful for a moment. “We’re not really looking for any more right now,” he says. “Maybe we should quit.” FC
The definition of a Wheatland tractor is hard to nail down. In some tractor circles, enthusiasts identify Wheatlands as being nothing more than standard tractors that were used in wheat fields. Some say they had adjustable front wheels; others say no. Some say they never had a 3-point or PTO; others disagree. Some say several of the “Wheatland” tractors should be designated “Wheatland-style,” as they have several of the attributes of Wheatlands, like a larger frame and bigger wheels. Others claim all McCormick-Deering tractors were Wheatlands, so there is little agreement on the features of any given model. Some even say the difference between Standard and Wheatland depends on where you live.
Generally, although the “Wheatland” name was only badged onto a few tractors, IHC Wheatland tractors could include these numbered models because most of them have larger fenders, a dust shield (sometimes), no PTO or 3-point, larger tires and frame: 350, 460, 560, 660, 706, 756, 806, 856, 1206, 1256 and 1456.
Some people think the McCormick-Deering W-4 and W-6 should also be termed Wheatlands. The one point of agreement in any Wheatland discussion is that nobody agrees on a single definition of what a Wheatland tractor is.
For more information:
- Marion and Henry Van Ruler, 266 71st St., Lake Wilson, MN 56151; phone: (507) 879-3401.
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.