About 35 miles north of Turin in Italy, close to the French border, is the small village of Luserna San Giovanni. Buried in the picturesque village is a farmer with an interesting story.
Meet Dino Bellion, who farms his land and, when he can, restores tractors. Speaking in a slightly broken English (one of four languages he speaks), Dino is quick to share his zest for life, and his love for the countryside where he lives.
"I live in a place where I can grow almost everything," he says. "My garden is close to heaven ... full of fruit trees and flowers, from the Mediterranean climate to the Alps. I am now collecting strawberries, soon after raspberries, then red, black and white currants, blackberry and other small fruits, apricots in several steps, peaches from July until September, several variety of plums, figs, 30 variety of apples, medlar trees and kiwis."
Italian agricultural production, he says, has less range.
"Farmers have limited very much the variety of crops as compared with the past," he says. "Wheat, corn and grass are the major production crops, but depending on the latitude, one may find grapes, olives and several other crops."
Like farmers everywhere, Dino toils furiously. Up at about 5 a.m. to start milking his cows, he keeps at it until about 11 p.m., when he gives his prized cattle one last glance before retiring. What does he do for recreation and fun? He works ... on a tractor, that is.
In his community, there are many tractor collectors. Few, however, share his passion for restoration.
"Very few are willing to restore them to the level I did with mine," he says, "as it takes time and requires lots of knowledge and homework."
Dino's interest in old tractors began years ago, when local collectors started showing their treasures.
"I immediately started to search for one," he says. "No doubt that it should have been of the same type and brand of those I used to admire in my childhood, during the threshing days. I soon realized that prices for those machines had risen much, so I tried to identify the type of machine I could have afforded to buy and keep."
His choice of tractor to restore was not one that collectors find easily in the U.S.: a 30 hp Landini.
"My Landini was built in 1955," he says. "It was probably one of the latest series, and has a double fuel tank: a small area for gasoline, but a larger one for diesel oil. It also has a 12 volt starting engine, but it can be started directly using the flywheel."
Dino stumbled across the Landini when he met a man who specialized in them, and had earlier worked as a sales representative for the company in northwestern Italy. He joined Dino on his visit to investigate an old Landini said to be for sale. When the two first saw the tractor, it was rusty, but in good condition, and still had most of the original components. Only the pulley was missing. The price: $2,800 (in U.S. equivalent).
Dino compares the trip to retrieve the tractor to a country doctor's house call on a patient.
"We saw the machine at work with a water pump ... (my friend) did his job as an old doctor visiting one of his old patients, knowing very well where to look, touch and listen."
In the end, the vintage tractor was found to be in good enough shape, was "healthy" and the price was acceptable.
"We then defined the conditions to transport it from there to the 'doctor's house' – my barn," he says, "and we were ready to give hospitality to the new guest."
Then began the work.
"I prepared the nest for the beast, and finally got it home," Dino recalls. "The following nights were full of thinking: where to start from, and how to do the job of restoring. I took it exactly as I use to do with old furniture's: I did first wash it, to take away the old mud – at least the minimum required. This was during the Christmas holidays. I then started to dismount, clean, repair, add material, welding the worn parts, turning, painting and mounting again. I used to do this job each night after dinner, and after we put the kid in bed. Sometimes I was going on until midnight. It was a tiring but satisfactory session, which went on until (the) next Christmas."
Finding parts was not difficult. Accepting their cost was.
"Some people wants to profit too much," he says in a language all collectors understand.
"The only part which was really missing was the pulley, mainly used for threshing," he says. "It took me one year to find it at a good price in very good condition."
Those who engage in collecting solely for investment purposes earn his disdain.
"I know tractor collectors in this hobby think this is a way to invest money," he says. "Their tendency is to buy for nothing, and sell at very high prices. In this way, they made old iron much more expensive than its real value."
Dino's interest in the vintage classics reflects a passion for working the land.
"I do not consider myself a tractor collector," he says, "for reasons that I have no money and room enough for being one of them, and also because I like to have a wider attention to the agricultural evolution – that means not only tractors, but all equipment related to this world."
It is important, he says, "to feel proud of what you've got, and what you've done. I am enthusiast of being alive. I am enthusiast of my family. I am enthusiast of my house, and I am enthusiast of my story."
The farm relics are just another part of Dino's enthusiasm for life. In fact, he credits his hobby as a means to create keepsakes for generations yet to come.
"I have a son of 6, and I am trying to create in him my own interests," he says. "I am having great success, and I hope it can last forever."
And, in a spirit that knows no boundaries, he also hopes to preserve a bit of the heritage of agriculture.
For more information: Dino Bellion, Str. Vecchia 73, 10062 Luserna S.G., Torino, Italy. E-mail: email@example.com.
More information on the Landini line is available on-line at http://www.landini.it.
Jim Romeo is a freelance writer in Chesapeake, Va. He may be contacted at 1008 Weeping Willow Drive, Chesapeake, VA 23322.