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The Story Behind the Heirlooms

Author Photo
By Fred Hendricks

This 1939 Oliver 70 Hi-Crop experimental tractor was developed for Rust Cotton Picker Co., Memphis, Tenn.

The start of Ron Grosjean’s collection resulted from the tragic loss of his father in a farm accident. “I was 18 years old, just out of high school, when I signed on with the Air Force Reserves,” Ron recalls. “One week before, a Massey Ferguson tractor rolled onto my dad, resulting in his death.”

A neighbor encouraged the youth to apply for a hardship deferment so he could help his mom keep the farm operating. He applied, but by the time the deferment was approved, his mother had found a buyer for the farm. “Before everything was sold off, mom let me have two farm wagons,” Ron says. “She said I could have anything that would fit in the wagons. I proceeded to fill them with hand tools and mementoes that Dad and Granddad had used around the farm.” Those items were the start of his collection.

Ron Grosjean with part of his collection of scale model replicas.  

As with most kids growing up on a farm, Ron used toy tractors and equipment in a sandbox farming operation. “We had a big sandbox with lots of crops to farm as kids. Naturally, my farm interest resulted in Christmas and birthday gifts consisting of farm toys,” he says. “Those were exciting times as gifts came from both my parents and grandparents.” Oliver toys weren’t nearly as popular, so most of the early toys were John Deere and Farmall. Many eventually became part of Ron’s collection.

When Ron started farming as a young man, a friend who worked as a salesman for the local Oliver dealer suggest he buy a pre-owned Oliver Model 880 diesel. “I took his recommendation and bought that 1959 Oliver tractor,” Ron says. “That purchase resulted in a great tractor. Consequently, I wanted more Oliver tractors. I made that first Oliver purchase in 1971. I have farmed continuously with Olivers for nearly 50 years now.”

An Oliver-Superior No. 9 4-row beet and bean planter. 

Vast collection showcases traditional farm practices

From those meager loads of his dad’s and granddad’s hand tools, Ron launched a collection that’s outgrown several buildings. “I’ve always been interested in how field and construction equipment operated,” he says. “I made a hobby out of collecting equipment that also served to preserve history.”

The first building he used to house his collection of early hand tools filled quickly. He built a second 10,000-foot building; it was filled in five years. “I convinced my wife, Janie, to let me build a third building,” he says. “The latest building is 20,000 square feet with three floors. Now, it’s nearly full. My wife says, ‘There’s no more buildings.’ But I always seem to find another rare piece. Maybe I can rearrange things to squeeze that next piece in.”

A horse-drawn Cockshutt stalk cutter built at Cockshutt’s Canadian manufacturing facility.

Ron’s collection covers the gamut of the Oliver and Oliver-related brands, including Hart-Parr, Superior and Cletrac, along with Cockshutt and Minneapolis-Moline through the eventual ownership by White Motor Corp. At last count, the collection included 100 rare Oliver tractors and related brands, restored like new. Among those 100 are 20 hi-crop versions. 

The buildings contain thousands of farm implements, most of which are restored. On display are more than 100 corn shellers, numerous hay trolleys, thousands of oil cans, numerous single-row corn planters and more. There’s even a vast array of cast iron seats on a section of one wall. “From a historical perspective,” Ron says, “it’s been gratifying to also collect Oliver horse-drawn equipment.” 

His scale model collection is a unique facet. Whenever Ron buys an antique tractor or implement, he attempts to acquire the scale model and pedal tractor version. “At last count, I had about 80 models in 1/16-scale and 20 in 1/8-scale,” he says. “There would be another 60 or 70 pedal tractors. Not all of the tractors and implements were made as replicas, however.” The pedal tractors are interspersed with the original tractors along the building walls. There is also a designated area for the scale model trove.

Ron’s rare horse-drawn, walk-behind Oliver corn/bean planter.

Prototypes put a special spin on tractor collection

With an antique tractor collection of this magnitude, it’s difficult to identify the most unique piece. A 1939 Oliver 70 Hi-Crop Experimental tractor is a very unusual tractor. The tractor was developed for the Rust Cotton Picker Co., Memphis, Tennessee; it was engineered and built at the Charles City, Iowa factory. The tractor is powered by a 3.3-liter (201 cubic-inch) 6-cylinder engine. This single experimental tractor with a 30.37hp rating never went beyond the prototype phase. 

Ron’s 1965 Oliver Model 770 Hi-Crop is another experimental tractor. This prototype was developed with an Oliver rear hydraulic lift system. As with the Model 70 Hi-Crop, no information is available to explain why the tractor never went into production.

 

This experimental 1965 Oliver Model 770 Hi-Crop tractor was developed with an Oliver rear hydraulic lift system.

A 1971 Oliver Model 1865 diesel is another rare find. This 6-cylinder 98hp tractor was built at the Minneapolis-Moline factory in Minnesota. Just 45 were manufactured; Ron’s tractor is one of nine accounted for. 

Ron also owns a fully restored Be-Ge Speedhaul scraper. This 7-cubic-yard utility scraper is powered by a converted agriculture Oliver Model 990 tractor. The Model 990 utilizes a 3-cylinder GM diesel engine with a torque converter. The engine was rated at 89hp, with 77.4 drawbar hp and 83.4 belt hp. The transmission has six speeds forward and two reverse. 

This 1971 Oliver Model 1865 diesel is one of nine known to exist; just 45 were produced at the Minneapolis-Moline factory in Minnesota.

Collectible implements tell story of the past

Ron’s collection of Oliver equipment is equally intriguing. An Oliver 2-row, self-propelled transplanter dates to the 1920s. Each person riding the transplanter would place a plant in its respective wheel. The plant would then be positioned uniformly in the row while dirt was firmed around it. The marker cut a groove for the guide wheel to follow on the next pass across the field. This unique implement was powered with a Fairbanks-Morse Model Z engine.

A portion of Ron’s extensive collection of hi-crop tractors. 

An Oliver-Superior No. 9 4-row beet and bean planter hearkens back to draft-horse days. This nicely restored planter was drawn by a team with the operator seated behind the seed box.

Through their relics, collectors often gain understanding of both the items collected, and the companies behind them. “With my emphasis on Oliver, I’ve gained a great deal of knowledge about the company’s history and the various pieces in my collection,” Ron says. “I’m not a whiz on the computer, so I rely on printed material. I’ve also hired a young lady who researched the tractors and equipment. She then created detailed signage that is suspended from each piece.”   

 

The first tractor Ron farmed with: a 1959 Oliver Model 880 diesel he bought in 1971.  

An invaluable education

Ron was 5 years old when his dad taught him to drive a tractor. “I was put on a Ford Model 8N to rake hay,” he recalls. “Dad put the tractor in first gear, and I was instructed to follow the mower lines and go to the end of the field. Mom would be waiting at the end to turn me around. After three or four rounds, I was able to figure it out on my own.

“My next assignment was driving the Farmall Model M to plow. I had to stand up to reach the pedals. Dad bolted 4-by-4-inch blocks of wood on the pedals so I could reach them while seated. Dad was always nearby to watch out for me. It was a special feeling driving a tractor for the first time. And, it gave me bragging rights at school with my friends. Those are valuable experiences that kids miss out on when they don’t grow up on the farm.” 

Cletrac and Oliver Model OC-4 crawlers.

Ron has played an active role in establishing the Buckeye Agriculture Museum and Education Center located on the Wayne County Fairgrounds in Wooster, Ohio. A 19,500-square-foot building there is dedicated to farm history dating to the 1800s. “We strive to maintain local heritage and preserve the contribution of farming in our community,” he says. “We work closely with schools and are available for tours. We want kids to know about agriculture.”

This 2-row, 26-inch Oliver potato digger was produced after the 1930 acquisition of the McKenzie Mfg. Co., a leading maker of potato planters and harvesting equipment. Following the takeover by Oliver, digger production was moved from La Crosse, Wis., to Chicago.

Antique farm equipment has provided a great hobby for Ron. “I’ve met countless wonderful people through the experience,” he says. “Many have become good friends. Janie and I are thankful for the Lord’s blessings on our lives.” FC     

This Oliver 2-row, self-propelled transplanter, which dates to the 1920s, has a Fairbanks-Morse Model Z engine.

For more information: Call Ron Grosjean at (330) 466-8089.

With a 143hp rating, this Minneapolis-Moline Model A4T-1600 was considered a beast when it was manufactured in 1970. The tractor is powered by a Minneapolis-Moline 8.3-liter (506-cubic-inch), 6-cylinder LP engine. The LP tank is positioned behind the seat, slightly above and between the tractor’s rear wheels.


Freelance writer Fred Hendricks of Mansfield, Ohio, covers a vast array of subjects relating to agriculture. Email him at fwhendricks@gmail.com.

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