Antique tractors are growing in popularity as a feature of the Indiana County Fair

| Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, 10:42 a.m.

Farming the soil with a 1968 Minneapolis-Moline tractor was routine for Glenn Rhea when he was a young man. Now, the 60-year-old Center Township resident seeks out old tractors to buy, sometimes restore and to display at antique tractor shows.

“You get to show them off,” said Rhea. “I used to do the tractor pull at the Indiana County Fair. Now, I just go to shows to see the tractors and to show mine. Every year, I take different tractors. I took six or seven to the fair the last couple years.”

It's likely Rhea will be back again with a different selection to showcase when the county fair gets under way this weekend at Indiana's Mack Park.

Rhea, who began stocking gup on antique tractors 23 years ago, had collected 170 of them — including 110 Minneapolis-Moline models — before his recent purchase of a late 1970s White American tractor.

“I feel the White American will be real collectible someday,” Rhea said. “You have to look ahead.”

Earlier this month, he traveled to South Dakota to attend a show, and he planned to stop at an Illinois show featuring Minneapolis-Moline tractors.

“I like to collect tractors,” he said. “I like to go look at the tractors. There are tractors they make less than 50 of so you don't see them too often. Every show has something different.”

Rhea's interest in tractors began with his first Minneapolis-Moline.

“The first tractor I farmed with was a Minneapolis Moline G1000. It was a 1968. The oldest I have is a 1919 Huber. The early ones had steel wheels and a hand start. I have a 1976 tractor I'm working on that's obsolete now. Some you put more in than you'll get out of. I sell my tractors every once in a while.”

His favorite antique tractor is one combined from two Minneapolis-Moline tractors dating from the late 1950s.

“They took the front wheels off both, and there are hinges in the middle,” he explained. “Each tractor was 65 horsepower, so together the tractor is 130 horsepower. Back in the 1960s, it was a big thing to have all that horsepower. You can pull twice as much. They did that up into the 1970s.”

Rhea said that equipment and tractors got bigger and noted, “A 40 horsepower tractor back in the 1930s was a monster. Now they are 400 and 500 horsepower.”

Rhea's largest tractor is an Oliver 2655, a Minneapolis model made for Oliver in the early 1970s.

“It has 200 horsepower. It was LP (liquid petroleum) gas, not regular or diesel,” he noted.

Rhea estimates about 1,000 people attended a national show of the Minneapolis-Moline Collectors Inc. club that he hosted in April in Indiana County.

“There are a lot more people collecting tractors,” Rhea said. “They grew up with them. They are investments.”

Bob Simpson, superintendent of the Indiana County Fair's antique tractor show, said spectators often view them out of nostalgia. Many others may have an interest in farming history or simple curiosity.

“People drove older tractors when they were young,” he said.

Simpson, who lives in Tanoma, owns five tractors — four Farmall models made by International Harvester and a John Deere.

“I was raised on a farm,” Simpson said. “I drove different types of tractors. It was interesting to get back to collecting some tractors. Sometimes you wonder why you have so many.”

His favorite is a 1947 Farmall BN, a gift he received upon retiring from his maintenance job at Graystone Presbyterian Church.

Simpson said the “BN” designates a tractor meant for cultivating row crops such as beets and potatoes.

“It's a neat little tractor,” Simpson said. “It's easy to run. I keep it to plow snow.”

International Harvester produced compact, all-purpose, affordable bright red Farmall letter series models that became a popular choice for use on America's small and medium size farms.

Simpson said collectors like to show their tractors at the local fair and noted the display has grown to about 120 tractors.

“People like to see them because the tractors are old,” he said. “We have tractors anywhere from the 1930s. They have to be at least 25 years old. A lot are 1940s and 1950s tractors, and they run as well now as the day they were made. A lot are restored and better than before.”

Simpson said collectors like Rhea help keep more interest in such shows.

“He usually finds tractors that aren't around here,” Simpson said. “He'll bring different tractors to the fair. He is probably one of the biggest collectors in the East.”

Debbie Black is a freelance writer.

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