Snapshots in Time

| June 2003

When Richard Birklid spotted a Buffalo-Pitts gasoline tractor photo postcard on eBay, he couldn't believe his eyes. 'I've been collecting old farm photos for more than 50 years, and I'd never seen one of them before,' Richard remembers. This discovery is among the many thrills that the rural Nome, N.D., farm photograph collector seeks from the photo postcard hobby, which is just as much about the hunt as it is the reward.

Richard showed the postcard to his friend Danny, who immediately remembered a rare Buffalo-Pitts tractor in the Hickson, N.D., area, near his boy-hood home. Not only was Danny correct in thinking that the picture was taken in the Hickson area, but the eBay seller confirmed that the Buffalo-Pitts tractor picture was taken about 4 miles from Danny's home, so the duo left at once to investigate.

They easily located a well pictured in the postcard, and they also found a small wooden windmill that had stood over it on the farm. 'That's where that Buffalo-Pitts gas tractor had been standing 80 or 90 years ago when the picture was taken,' Richard says, shaking his head in disbelief. 'We talked to the son of the original owner, and he remembered that it was junked here in his yard. When you find a postcard like that, it's quite rare.'

Richard, 68, collects old farm photos for moments just like that. He also collects them for many other reasons, including their beauty, the history they evoke, the unceasing hunt for the rare and unusual and for just plain fun.

Setting the scene

Richard's collecting hobby began at the young age of 5, when he discovered some Indian artifacts. Over time, watch fobs that depicted tractors - especially Avery, Aultman & Taylor and John Deere models - piqued his curiosity. His search led him to flea markets, and his interest broadened to include other old collectible tractor items. In turn, he grew curious about the history of old tractor companies. Eventually, he gravitated to threshing shows where he discovered photos of historical farm implements and tractors. 'The photos of old tractors were my biggest priority over the street scenes and stuff like that,' he remembers.

Memorabilia dealers at the shows began to save watch fobs and old photos specifically for Richard. 'Nobody else was collecting them at the time, about 40 years ago,' Richard says. 'I think the dealers thought, 'Here comes that dumb old farmer again. We'll unload this stuff on him.'' Richard paid $2 to $3 for fobs and photos at the time. Today, these relics are more elusive and costly. 'There is only one photo known of some tractors, like that one of the Buffalo-Pitts gas tractor,' he explains. 'The 40-hp Reeves steam traction engine photos are very scarce also.'