Bonnie Bauer’s collection of Allis-Chalmers tractors includes a pair of AC Model Gs with engines (at left), a pair of rare Model G pedal tractors (right), and a 1948 Model G Allis-Chalmers tractor (far right). Photo by Bill Vossler.
Even though there were other tractors on the farm near Faribault, Minnesota, where she grew up, Bonnie Bauer was allowed to drive only one: an Allis-Chalmers WD45. “That was the only one Dad would let me drive while raking hay or straw,” she says. That was also the one that started her collection of Allis-Chalmers tractors of all sizes.
Today she’s gone full-force in collecting Allis-Chalmers machinery, including Precision Model AC farm toys, two sizes of what might be called “mini” Allis tractors that she takes to shows, and 20 full-size Allis-Chalmers tractors.
Go big or go home
Bonnie attends several antique tractor shows every season. At one, she met an exhibitor who had an Allis-Chalmers B and an Allis-Chalmers Industrial B. “He called the IB an ‘Itty Bitty’ instead of its real name,” she says, “and I decided that I needed one of those small Allis tractors.” Luckily for her, one turned up at a household auction soon after.
As Bonnie added larger Allis-Chalmers tractors to her collection – a WC, RC, C, CA, WD and WD45 (she and her husband, Paul, set up the WD45 for their daughter, Mary, to use at tractor pulls) – the Bauers began to run out of room for storage on their farm. They solved the problem in a unique way. “Paul restored 38 of his John Deere tractors, and we sold them so we’d have more room,” she says.
Over time, Bonnie has built a nice collection of big Allis-Chalmers tractors. “With the bigger tractors, I have the Allis D12 with a dirt scoop, a D14, a D15 with a slat plow, which has open slats in it, and a D17 with a mounted field cultivator on it,” she says. “But I’m missing the D10. I’ve found several, but they were beat up on the front end and the grilles, which are difficult to find and replace. I’ve always liked the D10 better than those larger ones.”
So she keeps looking. “I always watch what’s being sold at auctions,” she says. “I recently saw a D10 in an auction quite a ways away, so I told Paul we have to hit that auction and see if I can finally get one.”
Bonnie says she’s noticed one big difference at auctions in recent years. “When I started going to auctions 25 years ago, I was the lone woman there,” she says. “But things have changed a lot. Now there are a lot more women coming to the auctions. I think some of it is how you grew up and what you had at home, and whatever that was, you want that to collect as a connection to the past.”
Collection has a nostalgic touch
For Bonnie, an Allis-Chalmers Roto-Baler was a link to the farm where she grew up. “I found an old one and Paul restored it,” she says. “He put all new belts on it, but it still doesn’t work real well. They never did tie worth a darn.”
The Roto-Baler came with an unusual bonus. The seller worked as a custodian at a church where old confessionals were being removed. “So he bought them,” Bonnie says. “They had really nice wood carvings, so we bought them with the baler. We restored and repainted all the woodwork, and now it’s set up in our shop, available to anyone who needs to confess.”
Initially, Bonnie tried taking the Roto-Baler to shows, but she gave up on that pretty quickly. “It’s very difficult to take,” she says. “It’s so close to the ground that it’s very difficult to get on the trailer. You almost have to pull it instead of putting it on a trailer.”
The farmer who sold Bonnie the Roto-Baler was also selling other odds and ends, including an Allis-Chalmers bale loader designed to pick up small round bales and throw them onto the wagon. “I’d never seen one restored,” she says, “so Paul worked on it. But it’s a hazard just waiting to happen, because it picks up the bale and just flings it on top of the wagon. We’ve taken that to several shows, too.”
When the Bauers had trouble with pieces of large Allis equipment, they had a handyman who would come work on them. “But he passed away, and it seems like the younger guys don’t know how to fix the old tractors,” she says. “It has to be someone with a background on that kind of tractor.”
Big collection of small tractors
Bonnie started collecting farm toys and pedal tractors about 25 years ago. Her collection includes a couple of rare and difficult-to-find Model G pedals. As she saw other toys or pedal tractors that she liked, she added those to the collection, too.
But she always comes back to the Model G. She has Model G farm toys, the two Model G pedal tractors, two scale-model Allis-Chalmers tractors that are larger than the pedal tractors, and a full size 1948 Model G.
The pair of Model G pedal tractors represent Bonnie’s first foray into miniature Allis-Chalmers tractors. The pedal tractors are very rare and difficult to find, and come with serial numbers. “They’re quite sought after,” she says, “so we had to go quite a ways to different auctions to get those two.” The two-pedal tractors were in good shape, needing nothing more than fresh paint, and that’s the way she likes them. “The Allises that I want to buy have to be in good shape,” she says, “or I don’t buy them.”
Bonnie’s pair of roughly 1/3-scale Allis-Chalmers Model G tractors have working engines; one has an under-slung plow, and the other is a lawnmower. “I just liked those,” she says. “They’re fun to drive, and our grandkids like to drive those around the yard. When we take them to shows, we drive them in the parades. We had the kids practice at home first. They have to be very good at driving or they can’t drive in the parades.”
Although the two scale models work, they’ve been modified for safety. “All they needed was to be painted,” she says, “but we disconnected the belt so the blades won’t turn. Our grandkids sure have fun driving them.”
When Bonnie bought the downsized Model G tractors, they were in pretty good shape. “The main problem was matching the paint, because they had some scratches and had to be repainted,” she says. “Or sometimes we might have to put on a new wheel or something like that, but not much else. Paul does all that work. There are so many different shades of orange that it was hard to find the proper match. When we weren’t sure, we didn’t paint them at all, but left them as we bought them.”
Small pieces mirror the big ones
Bonnie has found small pieces – like a mini AC Roto-Baler – to go with full-sized Allis-Chalmers machines in her collection. “I saw the mini at an auction,” she says, “and I decided I wanted that to go along with the big one.”
But it wasn’t easy to get. The mini Roto-Baler attracted a lot of bidder attention. Because few builders are willing to take the time to handcraft such a machine, there aren’t many of them. “The builder has to be a special person to design those little machines and make them look realistic like the real ones,” she says. “They’re not factory-built, but just machined and designed by one person. So they’re even harder to find. In fact, mine is one of only three that were made by that builder.”
Allis-Chalmers Roto-Balers are very popular now, she says, so that makes the models very collectible. “You don’t see them very often, so the bidding went on and on, until it was way too high, but I just hung in there,” she says. “If you want something, you have to just keep bidding and hope somebody else stops.
Decals add a level of detail
For Bonnie and Paul, the biggest challenge with the mini-Allis tractors is decals. “We checked the books for every year to see what some of the colors were,” she says. “Some were blue and black. If we thought the decals should be different, we changed them. We got them from a decal maker who is very good at making the correct color and size for different model years, and who is experienced with what we wanted in terms of size. We just told them how big we wanted the decal, and they always did a very nice job figuring out what we needed.”
Bonnie is fascinated by showgoers’ reactions to her display of smaller Allis-Chalmers machinery. “Here we are at these steam and gas shows, and all the people walk around and look at tractors and the giant steam engines,” she says. “Then they see these little ones, and they stop and look at them because they’re something different. You don’t often see little models that were made so intricately that they look like the real thing.”
Meeting people at show is a highlight for her. “Paul and I have met a lot of nice people,” she says. “And going to shows gives us some time out from the farm, where all we do is work, work, work. FC
For more information:
Bonnie Bauer, 9605 Canyon Blvd., Faribault, MN 55021;
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.