Deane May with his Oliver 88 and Oliver 77 tractors
Folks haven't stopped getting their kicks on Route 66, and neither has Deane May, a veteran tractor collector who lives in Atlanta, 111.
Deane started collecting vintage tractors and gas engines about 35 years ago, working on them in his shop, which sits along old U.S. Route 66. His collecting focus today is on Oliver tractors and implements, but that wasn't always the case.
He'd quit farming and taken an off-farm job back in the late 1960s, and he found that 'going home at 5 in the evening was boring.' He went to an engine and tractor show at a Case dealership, saw single-cylinder, hit-and-miss, open-flywheel engines and thought, 'I ought to have one of those to give me something to play around with on the weekend.'
By the time Deane returned to farming, he'd collected and restored about 25 gasoline engines during those evenings and weekends. 'The engines were just sitting there, and no one was doing anything with them,' he recalls. 'I thought it was foolish to let them sit around, so I sold them.'
Although Deane sold most of his collection, he held on to three engines that he had obtained locally. All were produced between 1912 and 1915. He kept the first engine he purchased, a 7-hp Lausen, as well as a 3-hp Empire and an International. The International, made by the International Gas Engine Co., has a five-spoke flywheel. Deane has it mounted on an old railroad freight truck, along with a vertical piston air compressor, a post drill press, a twin vertical piston water pump and a single-bladed disk sharpener. These four machines are run from a cross shaft driven by the International.
In the mid-1970s, Deane decided to buy again. This time, he bought an old tractor, an Oliver. His father had owned Oliver's, and Deane had fond childhood memories of them.
His father lived in southern Indiana, he recalls, and some times traveled to central Illinois to shuck corn at harvest time. During one of those stays, he became acquainted with an Oliver dealer; the following year, they renewed their acquaintance and the dealer offered to help Deane's dad rent a farm if he wanted to stay in the area.
'My dad rented that farm,' Deane says, 'and consequently, anytime he bought a piece of machinery, it was an Oliver machine. That says something about the older generation. Loyalty meant a lot to those people. Their word was their bond.'
After acquiring his first old tractor, Deane bought and restored seven more while he still was farming. Currently, the count is up to 10. At first, he collected all kinds; now he collects only tractors and implements made by the Oliver Farm Machine Co. and its predecessors, Hart-Parr, Nichols & Shepard, American Seeding Equipment Co. and Oliver Chilled Plow Works. His only non-Oliver tractor now is a 1928 Huber, made in Marion, Ohio.
One of the most exceptional tractors in Deane's collection is a Hart-Parr 18-36 model produced in 1928. 'Nothing's been done on it,' he says.
'I will not do anything to that tractor. It runs beautifully. I've been told by a lot of people, 'Don't touch that tractor.''
He has one other tractor produced in 1928: a Lausen, built for Nichols & Shephard Co., and he also owns a Nichols & Shephard 2844 threshing machine.
Deane went to Iowa to buy an Oliver 60 row crop tractor, made in 1940, and to Pennsylvania to buy a 1941 standard model Oliver 60. He bought two Oliver 88 standard diesel tractors, made in 1941, and used one for parts while restoring the other. His newest tractor is a 1949 Oliver 77 standard.
He rates his Cletrac model H crawler-type tractor, built in 1917 by the Cleveland Tractor Co. (later purchased by Oliver), as his most exciting find. That tractor currently is being restored.
Deane says he prefers older styles to the more streamlined versions produced after World War II, when manufacturers 'began dressing up their tractors a little more, putting on lights and other options.'
He also owns three Oliver plows; a 4-foot-cut, pull-type Oliver model 15 combine, and a single-row Oliver corn picker produced in 1958. He has a few old hand tools too, and some historic advertising memorabilia that others have given him but that he doesn't personally collect. And, he's interested in old mills, lathes and line shafts.
Deane used to do all his own restoration work but for the past five years, he has focused on cleaning up the machines and getting them running again, and paid others to do the painting.
Restoring the combine, an upcoming project, may be one of his biggest challenges. 'I'm going to have a few pieces of sheet metal custom-made for it,' he says, noting the young people who work at his favorite sheet metal shop seem to enjoy the challenge of working on his 'old stuff.'
The combine, manufactured in 1948, was in running condition when Deane brought it home, but he says he expects to replace all the belts and give it a new paint job, in addition to having the sheet metal work done.
He saw it advertised in a collector's magazine, called the owner in Pennsylvania, and asked if he could come and take a look at it. He was attracted to it, he says, because he'd never seen one like it; the combine has no grain tank. Instead, it has a sacking platform, where an operator rode and sacked the grain. 'I never saw a sacking attachment on a combine in central Illinois,' Deane says, 'and I never saw a 4-foot combine in central Illinois.' He adds the owner 'gave it to me because he didn't want it to go to a scrap heap. It was the best deal I've made.' On the same trip, Deane found his 1941 Oliver 60 standard tractor (the 199th made by the company) and ended up trucking both machines home at the same time.
A member of the Abe Lincoln Antique Tractor & Engine Club, Deane participates in four to five tractor and antique engine shows each summer, and some times adds to his collection at the shows. He says he's occasionally tried to control his collecting urge, without much success. A few years ago, he was heard to say, 'A tractor would have to run over me before I would be interest ed in another one,' but today, he chuckles and says, 'That didn't hold up, did it?'
Dianne Beetler is a freelance writer and antique tractor lover who lives in rural Altona, III.