Rural Kansas man finds three Gibson I tractors that fall in line
A set of three: From the left: Gibson I serial #609, purchased by brothers Art Wilkens, Stockton, Kan., and Jim Wilkens, Atwood, Kan., from the Eldon Bright estate; Gibson I serial #608, owned by Bill Anderson, Superior, Neb.; and Gibson I serial #607, owned by the Tri-State Antique Engine and Thresher Association, Bird City, Kan.
Numbers have a way of adding up for Jim Wilkens.
Jim, who lives in rural Kansas, has taken a shine to Gibson I tractors. But he never expected that he'd come in contact with three Gibson I's with sequential serial numbers.
It all started when Jim and his brother, Art, bought a Gibson I at the Eldon Bright sale at Grantville, Kan., last spring.
"The body was fairly straight," he says, "but the steering wheel and exhaust were bent two years earlier when the shed in which it was being stored collapsed under the weight of snow. The motor was also stuck because of the water from the melting snow."
Art Wilkens had earlier bought and restored a Gibson D, and later a Gibson E. The line's roots held appeal for Jim.
"The fact that the Gibsons were made so close to home, at Longmont, Colo., sparked my interest," he says. "Gibson made between 50,000 and 60,000 tractors, which included eight different models. Approximately 500 Gibson H's and approximately 500 Gibson I's were produced."
The tractor was rare enough, Jim says, that he and his brother decided to have it professionally restored. Their choice? Bill Anderson, owner of Bill's Repair Shop in Superior, Neb.
"Bill happened to have a Gibson I of his own that he had restored," Jim says.
Later, the Wilkens brothers passed through Superior, dropping off parts needed in the restoration project. While studying Bill's Gibson, Jim noticed a similarity.
"I happened to look at the serial number of Bill's Gibson I, and noted it to be I 608," he says. "Our tractor was I 609."
Time passed. Later that summer, Jim got the call that restoration work on his Gibson was complete.
"We took our Gibson I to its first show in Stockton, Kan.," he recalls. "When that show ended on July 25, we loaded a load of tractors and headed for the next show at the Antique Thresher Show in Bird City, Kan."
"On July 26, I arrived at Bird City with our first load of tractors," he says. "I noticed a Gibson I out in the line of tractors, so, after unloading, I took a minute to to over and look at it. I wanted to see the difference between it and ours. It was equipped the same."
Then he took a look at the serial number ... it was I 607, completing the trio.
"I was so taken aback, I had to take a second look," he says. "I had heard of two consecutive serial numbers, but have never heard of three of any brand. It just doesn't happen. I couldn't believe it ... I found three! That was like winning the lottery."
Jim, though, didn't have time to stand around and gawk: he had more tractors to haul from Stockton. On the way back, he called his brother to tell him the story. The further he got from I 607, the less he trusted his eyes.
"I must have looked at it wrong," he told his brother. "It couldn't be."
Accompanied by his son-in-law, Lonnie Coon, Jim loaded two trailers and returned to Bird City. There, the two hurried to unload ("Lonnie thinking I had lost my mind," Jim remembers), and then went back to look at the serial number again.
"Sure enough," he says, "it was true: The number was as I first read it: I 607."
During the show, Jim called Bill Anderson to tell him about the rare trio.
"I told him it sure would be nice to get the 'Three of a Kind' together," he says. "Bill said he was not planning on taking his Gibson I, and it would take some work to get it dug out."
But on July 29, Bill and his wife, Peggy, surprised Jim and Art by pulling in to the Bird City Threshing Show with their Gibson I.
"We now had three Gibson I's with three consecutive serial numbers at one show," Jim recalls.
The three tractors were displayed together at Clay Center, Neb., last summer; Bird City will play host to a reunion of the trio at this year's Antique Engine Show there, July 27-30.