Letters to the Editor

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Left: A 1951 Case DV vineyard special. Designed specifically for vineyard work, the DV is 9 inches narrower than the Case DO, which is designed for orchard grove applications.
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Below: A 1942 Case SO.
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Below: A 1947 Case VAO. The VAO is wider than its companion Case SO.
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Below: Three of the Buckerts’ five Case orchard tractors (front to back): 1951 Case DV vineyard special, 1942 Case SO and 1947 VAO.
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Fred Buckert with a couple of orchard tractors, a 1947 VAO on the left, and a 1942 Case SO on the right.
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Alan Buckert with another rare item from the Buckley antique collection, a Case mounted corn picker.
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Below: Danny Buckert.
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Left: A 1947 Case VAO. “That one is my favorite orchard tractor,” says Danny Buckert, “because I found it, and because it was our first one.” Case produced just 5,254 VAO tractors.
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Right: This view of the fenders on the Buckert family’s 1951 Case DV vineyard special shows a fine restoration job.
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The Buckert family of Hamilton, Ill., collects
Case orchard tractors for three reasons. First, as a family,
they’ve collected tractors for more than 40 years. Second, the Case
orchard tractors they favor are different from most tractors found
in Illinois, where they live. And third, Case orchard tractors were
built in small numbers.

“My dad, Fred Buckert, has been collecting tractors forever,”
says Danny Buckert. “All of us kids just grew up around all these
old tractors.” The clan includes Danny’s brothers Kenny and Alan;
Kenny’s son, Kyle; and Danny’s sons Jared and Jeremy.

Fred was president of the J.I. Case Collectors’ Association for
many years. During that time, the association published production
numbers for Case VA and SO tractors. “(VA and SO) were low
production and ‘oddball’ in this part of the country, and we tend
to go that way,” Danny says of the family’s collection of more than
100 tractors.

For Midwesterners, orchard tractors have special appeal. “The
orchards are something different, a specialty tractor used in
Florida or California or Michigan. You don’t see a lot of them in
the Midwest,” Danny says. “Not a lot of them were built, and few
are left today, because they had a tough life, getting pretty well
beat up.”

Case a la carte

Special tractors often come with memorable stories. Take the
Buckerts’ Case VAO. Danny and his wife, Karen, were visiting his
cousin in Riverside, Calif., about 15 years ago, and decided to go
out for supper one night. “We were running down the interstate and
pulled into this place,” Danny recalls. “Everybody was all charged
to go into the restaurant when I stopped. There, sitting in an
empty lot across from the restaurant, was a tractor.”

To make things even better, it was a Case tractor, one of a line
the Buckert family has collected for years. “My wife wasn’t really
happy with me,” Danny says. “I think she thought I should be able
to put tractors aside for a bit while we went into the restaurant.
But first priorities first.” That meant trotting across the street
to take a closer look. As it turned out, the tractor was in decent
shape. All the sheet metal was intact, a miracle in itself, because
orchardists routinely removed sheet metal from orchard tractors.
And if it hasn’t been removed, it’s been pummeled by tree branches
… or worse.

“Orchard tractors were used to pull sprayers, so the sheet metal
gets damp a lot and rusts out,” he explains. “And once the drivers
had a flat tire, they had to take the sheet metal off and then they
usually just threw it away.”

Danny says he’s been told that eventually more than half of all
new orchard tractors were sold without sheet metal. Orchardists
apparently wanted the low-profile tractor more than they wanted the
sheet metal. “They left the shields on over the tops of the hoods
because they protected the drivers,” Danny says. “But the side
shields were usually taken off in the early years after they had to
take it off and put it back on a couple of times.”

Eventually, Danny’s cousin tracked down the owner of the
tractor, and the Buckerts closed the deal. “I was just amazed to
see that tractor sitting there in downtown Riverside, California,”
Danny muses. “It was miles away from any orchard, and to this day I
still don’t know why it was sitting there. There wasn’t a house or
anything there, just a vacant lot. Maybe it had been the middle of
an orchard once and all the trees had been taken out when the
restaurant was put up.”

Seeing doubles

The Buckerts have a pair of Case SO orchard tractors that are
just five serial numbers apart. Both built in 1942, one came from
Arizona and the other from Florida. “The SO is probably our rarest
orchard tractor, production-wise,” Danny says. About 1,800 were
produced.

A 1942 SO they found in a Yuma, Ariz., junkyard was in the worst
condition of any of their finds, Danny says. “A guy took a torch
and cut the sheet metal off it, cutting the bolts and ripping the
tin, so we had a lot of patching to do. It needed a complete
overhaul of the motor, too, because it was just about worn
out.”

The fenders for the SO were a problem, because – as with the
Case DO orchard tractor – the fender is flat on the outside and
rolls up as well as back around. “When you’re trying to make them,”
Danny says, “the metal looks like a giant soup bowl, flat in the
bottom, and then you cut them in half.”

The Buckerts have tried to get the fenders made in different
ways, like having them spun-cast, for example. “There was a guy out
east who worked for an airplane company, and he thought he could
spin them and cut them in half, but I haven’t seen anything come
out of there yet,” Danny says. “People are trying to reproduce
them, but they really cannot do it.”

The fenders the Buckerts made for their orchard tractors (both
the SO and DV) eventually were pressed, cut, formed and welded
together. “Dents and scratches are smoothed out with body putty by
my older brother, Kenny,” Danny says. “We’re pretty particular
about getting them right.”

Other orchard tractors in their collection include a 1953 Case
DO, which came out of Florida; a 1951 DV (just 582 were produced);
a Case 730 LP, a Minneapolis-Moline Jet Star LP and a 1936 John
Deere BO.

Playing favorites

Aside from orchard tractors, Danny’s favorite tractor is a 1919
Indiana tractor, followed by an Allwork. The Indiana is probably
the family’s rarest tractor, and the Allwork may be next in that
category. “The reason the Allwork is up there is that I’m just
amazed that we ever found it,” Danny says, “and then got it
together.”

The Buckerts had been looking for an Allwork for more than 20
years, Danny says, partly because the tractor was built 35 miles
away by the Electric Wheel Co. of Quincy, Ill. They found theirs at
an auction north of Peoria, Ill. “A guy had started restoring it,
and then died, so we bought it in pieces,” Danny says. The Buckerts
hauled the frame and four wheels on a trailer, and put the rest of
it in the back of their truck. When the time came to assemble the
tractor, the crew had little to go on other than some sales
brochures and an owner’s manual.

Home-grown hobby

Collecting tractors is clearly in the Buckert blood. “Dad’s been
doing it forever, so it’s something the rest of us just fell into,”
Danny says. “We’re always working on at least one tractor in the
shop. Lots of times there are two or three or four in various
states of restoration, waiting for parts or the right weather to
paint, or different things.”

The family runs a complete operation, doing nearly all
restoration work themselves. Danny’s favorite part is the
mechanical work, tearing motors apart and putting them back
together again. “Generally that’s not a problem, because the
orchard tractors have standard series motors that you can find
parts for,” he says. “The DO had a DC motor in it, and it’s pretty
common for parts. You can still get a lot of parts from the company
and automotive suppliers for the VAO.”

And that’s part of the key to the Buckerts’ interest in orchard
tractors. “It costs only a little bit more – for paint and body
work – to restore one of 1,100, as compared to restoring one of
5,000,” Danny says. “You might as well do a low-production tractor,
because it will be worth more in the end.”

The family’s collection is not yet complete. They’d still like
to get hold of a Case 630 orchard, which had a limited run, and a
Case 400 orchard (built in the mid-1950s), but only 125 of those
were built. “We have a couple of guys in Florida looking for them,
but like a lot of these tractors, they’re getting pretty well
picked up and dozed down, and leaving the country,” Danny says.
“One of those guys says there are more orchard tractors in Illinois
now than there are in Florida.”

Going to shows and talking to people is the best part of the
hobby, Danny says. “A lot of people call and want information on
different tractors, so we get to talk to people from all over the
country,” he says. “I’ve been going to shows virtually all of my
life, and have a lot of friends from all over. A lot of times, the
only place I get to see them is at shows.”

The Buckerts display tractors at five or six shows each year. In
the off-season, you’ll find them in the shop, where they finish two
or three tractors each winter. It’s a demanding hobby, but a
rewarding one. “You get a great feeling of accomplishment when you
start out with a piece of junk,” Danny says, “and eventually roll
it out the other end, done.”

For more information, contact Fred Buckert, 976 E. County
Road 1650, Hamilton, IL 62341; (217) 847-2690
.

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; e-mail:
bvossler@juno.com

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