Iowa inventor's prize found and restored
So it’s no wonder the rusting, scattered parts of an old tractor abandoned in a friend’s shelterbelt caught Wayne’s eye. When he inquired about the possibility of buying the remains, Wayne got the green light.
“He knew I’d try to restore the tractor and not just leave it lay,” says Wayne. “But neither of us knew it would take me 16 years to find all the pieces and actually rebuild it.”
Wayne’s friend had rescued the tractor parts from an iron buyer a few years earlier at an auction. From the tractor’s markings, the two men knew it was a Wetmore. Beyond that, they had no idea where it was manufactured or where to find parts to restore it. “I thought I could advertise for parts,” Wayne recalls. “But I kept coming up empty. No one knew anything about a Wetmore.”
Wayne and Roxie began searching newspaper archives at the Sioux City, Iowa, library. The time-intensive process paid off when they found Wetmore advertisements that included photos of the tractor. “It took hours to look through records for information about Mr. Wetmore and the tractors,” Roxie says. “We thought it might help us locate another tractor or at least give us ideas about finding parts.”
Next, the couple placed an ad in the Sioux City newspaper. That got the attention of local historian John Roost, who told the Ebrights he might know the location of some Wetmore tractor parts. Unfortunately, Roost passed away before the Ebrights could visit the supposed owner of the Wetmore parts.
“We knew they lived around McCook Lake, [S.D.],” Wayne says. “We just weren’t certain of their name or if they were really interested in selling the parts.” Happily, the parts owner tracked down the Ebrights and a meeting was arranged.
“When we went to see what they had, we immediately recognized the Wetmore wheel spokes,” Wayne says. “They’re so unique we knew the other parts were genuine. The parts were actually property of a family enterprise, so acquiring them was not an easy accomplishment.”
After three more years and half a dozen tactful phone calls, Wayne finally loaded the tractor parts he’d been waiting for, parts that were essential to his project. “They had the transmission clutch differentials,” Wayne says. “That’s what I needed to get the restoration started.”
Drawing on skills learned over the years, Wayne created a hood for the tractor and worked with a local company to build a radiator. But finding the right engine proved to be a challenge. Three years passed before he received a response to an ad he’d placed in a vintage truck magazine. “I had run out of ideas and thought an ad in that magazine was worth a try,” he says. “I could only hope something would come from it.”
Then a call came from an Ohio collector who had the Waukesha engine Wayne had been searching for. Wayne wasn’t surprised that the serial number on the engine didn’t match the tractor. He never expected to find the engine intact, just hoped to find the same model.
“The engine serial number is just 17 numbers earlier than our tractor,” Wayne says. “Ours is 222; the engine is 205. We searched to find out how the engine ended up in Ohio. It was initially sold in Thurman, Iowa, then went to Portland, Ind. It was sold again to the Ohio collector at an Indiana swap meet. He thought it was a truck engine.”
Finally, Wayne and Roxie completed restoration of the Wetmore and began displaying it at shows and driving it in parades. Although they were fairly confident that their restoration was correct, they’d never been able to find a color photo or illustration of a Wetmore. They used a small trace of color from one of the tractor’s parts as a baseline, but that area was faded and grease-covered. On the basis of little more than an educated guess, they painted the tractor red and green.
When the couple attended a threshing show at Granite, Iowa, they found the answer they were looking for. An elderly man beamed with delight at sight of the Ebrights’ Wetmore. He said his family had once owned a Wetmore. Wayne took advantage of the opportunity to ask the question that had plagued him. “How’s my color?” he inquired. “You’re right on,” the man answered.
As word about their unique tractor spread, news of it reached H.A. Wetmore’s grandson, Mark, in Vermillion, S.D. When he heard that a Wetmore had been found and restored, he was determined to find out more about the tractor he describes as one of a kind. “As far as we know, it’s the only one in existence,” Mark says. “Our family has been watching for one for more than 50 years. I doubt there’s another one out there.”
When the three met, Mark brought records maintained by the Wetmore family, including a copy of the original invoice for sale of the Wetmore serial no. 222, shipped to C.A. Leetch, Scotland, S.D., on Nov. 11, 1922. It provided an unusual ending to the story of an unusual tractor. “This is probably one of the most difficult projects I’ve ever worked on,” Wayne says, “but it’s also been the most rewarding.” FC
Read about H.A. Wetmore and his tractor: “ H.A. Wetmore Turned Adversity into Advantage .”
Take a closer look at the Ebrights’ Wetmore on Farm Collector’s YouTube channel with Loretta Sorensen’s video “ Starting a Wetmore .”For more information: Wayne Ebright, 47036 279th St., Worthing, SD 57077; (605) 372-4144. Loretta Sorensen is a lifelong resident of southeast South Dakota. She and her husband farm with Belgian draft horses and collect vintage farm equipment. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.