Tried and True: Leander Wetter Builds Varied Tractor Collection

Minnesota collector glories in history of old machines, especially tractors that worked on the farm.

| November 2007

Leander Wetter is a man in love with history. His rural Buffalo, Minn., home is filled with historical artifacts, old movies, rows of ag-related books, boxes of old farm literature and magazines, collections of Marx train sets, pedal tractors, toy trucks, construction toys, farm toys and more. "I'd like to turn time back 50 years," the 67-year-old says, "to the lifestyle we had then. Even if it meant doing away with the air conditioner in the cab of my tractor," he adds with a laugh.

Leander is a curious mix of new and old. As a farmer, he was in the forefront of change: the first in his area with a four-wheel drive tractor, first with a Haybine, first with a grain dryer, first to plant grain in 30-inch rows instead of 38 or 40, one of the first to use chemicals on cropland, second to purchase a skid-steer tractor. The local veterinary supply business learned to send its rookies out to Leander's farm so he could hear about the latest techniques. "There was always talk," he says. "People would say, 'There goes Wetter with another wild one.'"

But he also believes in the powerful value of history. "The process of restoring and showing old tractors, for example, is a way of teaching young people how agriculture used to be, and how far we've come, of showing them how simple our country was at one time, that it wasn't always as modern as it is now."

Recalling the early days

Unlike many collectors, Leander has never had a favorite line of tractors, probably because he used so many varieties of them while farming as a youth. His earliest tractor memory was when he was 5 years old. "I drove a Farmall H at my uncle's, and to step on the clutch I had to slide off my seat down onto the seat brackets. After that, I grew up on Dad's Ford 8N."

He got into farming in a most unusual way. "The banker said I had two choices: I could go to college, and then he'd foreclose on our farm, or I could try farming and see how it went." Leander says he always regretted not going to college, but he loved farming and it was good to him.

In 1961 when Leander and his father farmed together, they bought a Massey-Harris 44 - for greater horsepower - at a time when many neighbors had John Deere tractors. One neighbor had Farmall tractors, another had a Massey-Harris Model 30, still another an Allis-Chalmers Model C. "I worked with the neighbors and drove every breed of tractor in the country," he says, "so I couldn't get to a favorite."