International Harvester collector sets lifetime goals for his old iron collection.
Andy Kappers started small when he went International. But oh, how his old iron has grown.
“Back in the early 1990s, my dad and I restored a Farmall 350, which we then sold,” he says. “After that, I kind of went away from it for a while — my dad did, too — but in high school, I started going to auctions.” Today, the rural Spring Valley, Minnesota, man has a full collection of tractors, plows and pickers he’s accumulated since his first “old iron” tractor and implement auction.
A lineman for Tri-County Electric, Andy says his after-work passion got one bolt bigger than he ever anticipated. It’s taken over a stand of pine trees and the perimeter of his 3-acre property, and worked its way into his garage, if not into his house as well. “I ended up buying stuff at, say, 34 local auctions,” he says. The collection is limited to International Harvester, Farmall and McCormick-Deering. “It’s all IH because my grandparents and parents farmed with IH,” he says. “That’s just the way I am. I bleed red.”
Andy’s collection showcases the equipment local farmers have used to produce crops for the past century. He believes in sharing that history with the next generation. “The stuff I have got here is typical of what you’d see around the area,” he says. “The closest I’ve bought something was from a neighbor about 2 miles straight over.
He prefers the older tractors, because they’re easier to work on. “Like this one from 1936,” he says. “Anybody who could have farmed with that F-12 over there is probably gone, though. What they farmed with didn’t have air conditioning and lights. A lot of stuff that people knew about the different models has been lost, like if one model did better with a certain kind of oil than another.” Manuals, he says, contain useful information, but firsthand experience can’t be replaced. “And even though the farmers are gone,” he says, “the tractors are still around.”
Andy’s collection currently numbers 25 to 30 tractors. “I’m thinking that when I’m done with my collection, it will probably be up to about 50 tractors,” he says. “His collection ranges from the 350 he restored with his father, Jeff, to a long lineup of Farmalls and McCormicks. “One of my favorites would have to be the 350 Diesel, but it’s really expensive to buy the parts,” he says. “Probably the rarest tractor I own is an IH 186 Hydro.”
Andy owns a “hobby farm” just east of Spring Valley’s Forestville-Mystery Cave State Park. “I have 3-1/2 acres, and I’m guessing at least an acre of that is equipment,” he says. “Probably the oldest tractor I’ve got right now is a mid-1920s McCormick-Deering 10-20, and the newest is a 1977 IH 186 Hydro, which is the Hydro version of the 186.” His first tractor was a 1953 Super H he bought as a high school junior.
Much of the inventory is stashed in the pines. “I can’t tell you piece-by-piece what I have, but I’ve got a good idea of it. I’ve gone to auctions, loaded up parts in a hay rack and backed up to the trees and unloaded them there,” he says, adding, in the immortal words of many a collector, “you never know when you’re going to need a part or two.”
But the inventory may be on hold for a while. Andy admits that his girlfriend has informed him that he is to buy no more tractors until he’s built his shop on a plot of land east of their driveway so that the parts can finally come together to be fully restored tractors.
Eventually Andy wants to restore his 1920s-era Farmall Row-Crop, the “very first row-crop tractor that International made,” he says. Once he gets his shop built, he plans to put together his own Super MTA Diesel; he already has the block and can find parts.
International made everything from tractors to refrigerators, and Andy is a fan of all of it. “I have always wanted one of the M1 Garand rifles that International built during World War II and the Korean Conflict,” he says. “I’m hoping to find the complete rifle someday.”
He’s not afraid to hit the road to add a piece to his collection. “The farthest I’ve gone to get equipment was a couple years ago when I bought some steel wheels for a Farmall H,” he says. “Before the auction ended, the guy said that they would ship the wheels. But after the auction, he said I would have to come and get them, so I jumped in my car and drove to Denver. I got an unusual plow when I went to western Nebraska, and I’ve been to Buffalo, South Dakota, to get a parts tractor. And Dad and I brought a pull-type combine back from Chicago on a trailer.”
The single exception to Andy’s International habit is the little gray Ford that he inherited from his family. “That 1941 Ford is the family tractor,” he says. “My dad and my uncle restored it years ago. One of my projects is to get it fixed up and turn it into a parade tractor again.”
For now, the projects outnumber the hours in a day. “I’m like the guy who wants to have every Mustang that was ever made,” Andy says. “I can’t be happy with having one nice one. I’m thinking there’s nobody my age in the country who’s got what I’ve got here. I’m 28 years old, and everybody wonders why I have all these old tractors, but tractors interest me. I always like to have a wrench in my hand. A lot of people have cars and trucks, but in this area, farming is a big part of our culture.”
Andy hopes someday to create a tractor and implement museum to house his collection. “When I’m 68, all these tractors will look brand new and be in a heated museum, and hopefully, my kids will take over,” he says. “Some of my tractors are already almost 100 years old, and others will be within five to 10 years. I want to keep these tractors going so people can see how farming was done in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. I want to help keep history alive.”
For more information: Andrew Kappers, 17660 180th St., Spring Valley, MN 55975; (507) 272-6724; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Freelance writer Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy has worked for Bluff Country News Group, covering the back roads of Fillmore County, Minnesota, for the past 16 years. Contact her at email@example.com.