A patch of gently rolling prairie west of Madison, S.D. turned unseasonably green this past August -Oliver and Hart-Parr green, that is. Historic Prairie Village played host to the 14th Annual National Summer Show of the Hart-Parr Oliver Collectors Association (HPOCA) at their park on the shores of Lake Herman. The Aug. 27-29 event drew Hart-Parr and Oliver enthusiasts from around the country, and Canada, and included a fine display of tractors, equipment and memorabilia.
‘We made the proposal to the national board and met all of their criteria about three years ago, but that’s when the hard work began,’ says Leroy Hardick of Sioux Falls, S.D., president of the Great Plains Oliver Collectors Chapter of the HPOCA, explaining how the show arrived at Prairie Village. ‘I think the hardest part was getting all of the volunteers lined up.’
Club volunteer Lowell Herlyn reports that more than 300 pieces of Oliver and Hart-Parr equipment were at the show, with thousands of additional pieces of memorabilia and toys on display. Past president of the Great Plains Chapter of the HPOCA Ken Steinberg, Colton, S.D., noted that the show would have been even larger if the 80-plus volunteers had been able to set up their own exhibits. ‘The only downside to hosting the show is that most of us don’t have the chance to exhibit,’ Ken says.
Club members Gary and Jackie Copperstone of Gayville, S.D., didn’t let volunteer duties deter them from bringing along their Oliver 770 and plow. ‘Since the show is featuring the Oliver 770 and the plow, we decided to kill two birds with one stone,’ Gary explains as he wipes some dust off the family’s beautifully restored 1958 Oliver 770 row crop tractor – attached to a Model 5440 Oliver semi-mounted plow.
Oliver’s Model 770 tractor was produced from 1958 to 1967 in a number of different configurations, most of which were seen on the grounds at Prairie Village. For example, 770 row crop tractors with gasoline, LP-gas, or diesel fueled engines, and narrow- or wide-front axles were all well represented. Likewise, the Standard or Wheatland versions of the 770 with their lower stance, and non-adjustable, wide-front axle were out in force as well. Among the scores of 770 tractors on display, Gibbon, Minn., resident Dalmar Ranweiler’s 1961 Model 770 Industrial was a real show-stopper with its beefy front axle, truck-type front tires, industrial rear tires and brilliant orange paint.
Some 770 tractors were displayed with semi-mounted Oliver plows, but plows weren’t only associated with those tractors. When considering that the Oliver Chilled Plow Works shipped more than 60,000 plows a year by the late 1870s, and that various iterations of the Oliver plow were sold for at least the next century, it would take many more acres than are available at Prairie Village to accommodate all of the different models. However, the show attracted a nice representation of walking plows and tractor-drawn plows of virtually every vintage.
Morris Harrison of Sioux Center, Iowa, a retired 39-year veteran of the Oliver Co. and its successors, took the call for plows seriously, bringing several walking plows to the show along with a beautiful brass-and-wood display-model plow and related memorabilia. ‘I got my first Oliver walking plow from a relative in Wall, S.D.,’ Morris explains. ‘I restored that one and went looking for another; now I have about 14 of them.’ Morris doesn’t only collect Oliver plows however. His collection includes thousands of Oliver related items, from tractors to matchbooks.
Donie and Bev Fischer of Waterville, Ohio, created a mobile memorabilia museum and towed it to the show, much to the crowd’s delight. ‘We have been collecting for over 30 years and had thought about the traveling museum idea for a long time,’ Donie explains. ‘We finally bought the trailer, and I spent three weeks in May putting it together.’
Inside and around the trailer, the Fischers displayed hundreds of items, including toys, signs, literature, advertising, pedal tractors and three rare outboard boat motors. The museum also featured a Chris-Craft boat model and a tiny, battery-powered Oliver outboard motor model that were available only briefly through Oliver dealers to promote their marine line.
Dan Mettler of Menno, S.D., displayed an interesting set of steel Oliver toys from the 1950s alongside pens, match-books and lighters. Willard Zeeb, also of Menno, had his Superior Drill Co. patent model on display accompanied by several lovely Superior Drill Co. trade cards. Morris Harrison also had several Oliver Chilled Plow Works trade cards on display.
Among the many unusual full-sized pieces of machinery at Prairie Village, a 1963 Oliver Model 1600 LP-gas High-Crop tractor owned and restored by David Lulich of Lyndon Station, Wis., literally towered above the crowd. David has a number of rare Oliver machines in his collection, but this tractor, originally delivered to Louisiana, is one of his favorites.
Darrin Folie and his dad Darrell, both of Somerset, Wis., discovered that it wasn’t only tall tractors that attracted a crowd. Their Model 77 Orchard tractor’s mirror-like finish and beautifully-curved sheet metal drew a steady stream of delighted spectators. ‘It took us about six years to find all of the parts for the orchard, but it was worth it,’ Darrin says, nodding at the gathered crowd with a smile.
William Campbell from Kinmount, Ontario, Canada, had the first six-cylinder Oliver tractor with electric start on display – a 1935 70 Row Crop. His beautifully restored machine, built in July 1935, is the oldest-known of the first 125 Model 70s. Brian Kroon of Rock Rapids, Iowa, proudly displayed his uncle Harlan’s Detroit Diesel-powered Oliver 990 earth scraper. Brian says that very little is known about that machine, and that most people have never seen one before.
It wasn’t only about High-Crops and high horsepower at Prairie Village, however. Ken Beske of Elko, Minn., had lovely examples of each of Oliver’s five models of lawn and garden tractors on display. ‘They were made for Oliver by Jacobson in 72, but most were sold in 73,’ Ken explains. The little tractors ranged from 7 to 14 hp and were powered by Briggs & Stratton or Kohler engines with gear or hydrostatic transmissions. Ken says quite a few Jacobson parts are still available for the tractors, but body panels specific to the Oliver models are nearly impossible to find now.
Amber and umber hues of winter have now replaced the last vestiges of green on the Dakota prairie, and all but the hardiest of working tractors have been tucked in their sheds until next year’s show season. If you are looking for a mid-winter glimpse of green, then consider attending the HPOCA’s National Winter Get-Together in Moline, 111., Feb. 24-27, 2005. For a late summer pick-me-up, look for Oliver and Hart-Parr green at Baraboo, Wis., during the 15th Annual HPOCA National Summer Show, hosted by the Badgerland Oliver Collectors, Aug. 19-21, 2005.
For more information, visit the Hart-Parr Oliver Collectors Association website at www. hartparroliver. org
By the mid-teens of the 20th century, tractor manufacturers had set their sights squarely on the horse by designing small and relative lightweight tractors that were tiny compared to the huge traction engines used for plowing, road construction and heavy belt work. At that time, a large percentage of farmers still used horses for light fieldwork such as seeding, dragging, haying and hauling. Small tractor marketing strategies generally focused on ease of operation, maneuverability, economy and versatility, but it was still a hard sell.
The Hart-Parr Co. used a unique, but spectacular demonstration where a small tractor such as the Model 12-24, with a trained operator, would seem to lift itself off the ground, stop and reverse back to earth smoothly, using heavy leather straps attached to the front axle and rear wheels through overhead pulleys. The demonstration was called the ‘Bootstraps Test’ and was carried out on farms, dealer lots and at fairs around the country. Marketing materials associated with the Bootstraps Test called particular attention to the fact that the tractor was light enough to lift its own weight, that it could do so with no throttling – proving that the governor was smooth and automatic, and the tractor remained fairly even -proof of the effectiveness of the differential drive system.
Gerold Mettler, owner of Mettler Implement in Menno, S.D., re-creates the ‘Bootstraps Test’ with his 1928 Hart-Parr 12-24 tractor and lift frame he constructed of wood, just as the originals were. Gerold employs steel cable rather than leather straps because it is safer and easier to find. Gerald’s demonstrations were a big hit at the 14th Annual HPOCA National Summer Show, where under his steady hand, the tractor pulled itself up, held, and lowered itself back down with smooth and controlled power. Gerold says the test requires some careful practice and attention to clutching and braking, but it isn’t really dangerous.