The sixth time was a charm for Fred Buckert. That's how many times the Hamilton, 111., farmer and old-iron collector tried to purchase a rare 1919 Indiana Silo & Tractor Co. tractor before he managed to corner his prize.
After years on the prowl - and a two-year restoration effort - Fred's elusive tractor now thrills crowds at farm shows across the Midwest. It was even named tractor of the year at the 2003 Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, as part of the annual event's 'oddball' tractor display. (Strangely enough, even though only 12 Indiana tractors are known to exist, two sat side-by-side at the show!)
Fred bought the Indiana tractor in Peru, Ind., in 1992, less than 100 miles from where the unusual-looking farm machine was manufactured in Anderson, Ind., by the Indiana Silo & Tractor Co.
Like many old-iron collectors who dream about owning a rare piece of America's agrarian past, Fred spent years trying to locate one of the elusive machines. He tried to buy an Indiana tractor several times during his five year quest, but without luck.
Fred's search led him to auctions in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Indiana and Ohio, only to return empty-handed.
When Fred finally located the tractor, it was in bad shape. Yet, its owner agreed to sell it along with a slew of accompanying implements, which turned a rare treasure into a real goldmine, Fred says.
When the deal was sealed, Fred went home with the tractor as well as a Syracuse Chilled Plow Co. sulky plow, and Oliver Chilled Plow Works implements including a potato planter, sickle-bar mower and one-row cultivator.
'Those implements were a rare find,' Fred says about his discovery.
Locating the Indiana tractor was just the beginning. Restoring it to operating condition was the next challenge Fred faced, but one he savored after so many years spent locating the tractor. Unfortunately, it needed total restoration.
'It was rough, you'd have to say,' Fred laments.
The tractor's steel was rusted and needed repainting, but its four-cylinder, 5-10 hp LeRoi-built engine was in worse condition. 'It would turn over, but it was just plum wore out,' Fred says about the engine before restoration.
The tractor was restored during the course of two winters with help from two of Fred's sons, Danny and Ken Buckert. 'Everything' was rebuilt, Fred says, and half the work was done in his home shop, while the other half was farmed out to specialty machine shops.
The team used no books or manuals to guide the work, but a trial-and-error approach. Even though Indiana tractors haven't been built for more than 80 years, the restoration wasn't a total mystery. Born and raised on a farm, Fred's had plenty of experience tackling old-iron projects. He operates Buckert Farms Antiques and owns 85 tractors of various makes and models. Fred still uses old John Deere and Case tractors to farm 2,500 acres of corn and soybeans, so he's no stranger to the peculiarities of vintage steel.
The engine received new rings, pistons, rod and main bearings and all-new valves, Fred says. The Indiana is powered by the same LeRoi engine used by the Star Tractor Co., I Findlay, Ohio, on its one I and-only tractor introduced in 1918. That's I understandable, because Indiana Silo & Tractor Co. 'took over Star operations' by 1919, according to C.H. Wendel's Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors.
The two tractors share more than engine types. In fact, Fred's Indiana tractor bears the Star Tractor Co.'s signature star-shaped emblem cast into its iron wheel hubs. Also like the Star tractor, the Indiana machine came without an operator's seat. Instead, a farmer rode atop whatever implement the tractor pulled behind - which also doubled as the tractor's rear wheels.
One stroke of luck came when Fred discovered the tractor's Atwater Kent distributor was usable. 'Those are impossible to replace,' Fred says.
Other components weren't in such good shape. The tractor's transmission also required a total overhaul, Fred says. It was 'torn completely down' and rebuilt with a new main shaft. The chain-driven tractor's transmission pro vides two gears, one forward and one reverse, which makes the machine's top speed a whopping 2 mph, Fred adds with a grin.
The tractor's original radiator was unusable, so a replacement was specially made to fit the venerable machine, Fred says.
Fred sandblasted the rusty iron, and chose a striking gray-and-red paint combination for its body once the tractor was reassembled. The tractor was a rusted mess when he bought it, and no known records exist that detail the machine's original paint scheme, Fred says.
A second restored Indiana tractor displayed beside Fred's at the 2003 Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, owned by Richard Fox (serial no. 2250), was painted silver and black.
Most folks he talked with near Anderson, where the tractors were built, recall that Indiana tractors were gray, so he chose that color for the body and red for the wheels, seat and other highlights. To ensure a lasting paint finish, Fred applied four coats of specially mixed DuPont-made paint.
Finally, Fred affixed tire rubber atop the tractor's steel wheels so he can drive it in parades. Asked what advice he offers for others hoping to restore a rare farm tractor, Fred offers this wisdom: 'Have a lot of patience.'
Fred's understandably proud of his find and the restoration work that made a nearly useless vintage tractor like-new again. He's attended the reunion for 40 years, and his son Alan Buckert serves on the Old Threshers' board of directors, so earning the 'tractor of the year' distinction was extra special for Fred.
Yet, Fred warns, he's not a horse trader and never intends to part with the Indiana tractor. If anyone ever tried to buy it, Fred says, he'd have three words for them: Not for sale. FC
- To learn more about Fred Buckert's 1919 Indiana tractor, write to Fred at 976 E. County Road 1650, Hamilton, IE 62341; (217) 847-2690.
1919 Indiana tractor built in Anderson, Ind. Manufactured by Indiana Silo & Tractor Co., which purchased Star Tractor Co., Findlay, Ohio, about 1919. The Indiana-made tractor still carried Star's emblem cast into its wheel hubs.
Serial no. 766
LeRoi four-cylinder engine
5 hp on the drawbar, 10 hp on the belt
Weight: 2,200 pounds
Chain-driven; one forward gear, one reverse gear; 2 mph top speed