Brush Valley club members promote interest in antique tractors
An intermittent morning rain marked the start of the Brush Valley Antique Iron and Power Club's first annual show at Brush Valley Park. But club members and attendees experienced no dampening of enthusiasm for the roughly 20 vintage farm tractors displayed at the Sept. 13 event.
The club's 50 some members hail from Indiana and Westmoreland counties. While there are active farmers among them, a shared interest in older tractors and other agricultural equipment is the only requirement for membership and the common ground that has brought them together.
Passing on an appreciation for and understanding of the sturdy mechanical workhorses is one of the club's primary goals, according to President Tom Wallace of Brush Valley.
“Education is the main purpose of our club,” Wallace said. “We have quite a few kids around, and the older folks work with them to show them how the tractors work.... We have a lot of antique tractors in this area. Many are still in use as the older ones are very dependable.”
Wallace's 16-year-old son, Alex, a junior at United High School, is one of about 15 young members of the Brush Valley club. Wallace said his son's involvement in the group has sparked the teen's interest in the family's farming tradition, as well as in working on tractors and attending tractor pulls.
“I want to bring our old farm back to what it used to be; it was a big beef operation before,” said Alex Wallace. “It's been in our family since at least the 1890s.
“We even have my great-grandfather's tractor that he bought brand new. Before joining this club, I didn't know anything about tractors.”
Tom Wallace plans to restore and retire from service the 1946 Farmall H model purchased by his grandfather, the late Merle Wallace. For now, he said, “It runs really good. It still fires right up. But the clutch is out now, so that needs fixed.”
Tom Wallace's wife, Trisha, the club's activities chairperson, said the organization promotes family members spending time together to explore their common interest. She's encouraged by how active the couple's son has become, noting he spends little time watching television.
“He's always in the garage working on things now,” she said. “He's learned to weld, fix all kinds of things, and he enjoys reading books about agriculture, planting and tractors. He did our garden this year and took numerous firsts at the Indiana County Fair in the 4-H, FFA and open classes.”
Alex Wallace plans to use his skills this winter to restore a 1944 BN model, one of three Farmall tractors of his own he's acquired since he was 12 years old. He also owns a 1948 Cub and a 1953 Super C.
“I like to see old things the way they were when they were first created,” he said.
Brush Valley area resident James Smyers, 12, took part in the Brush Valley show's tractor parade, driving a 1974 International 574 tractor belonging to his grandfather, Tom Paynter. The boy, whose parents are Tim Smyers and Sandra Paynter, noted, “I didn't know much about tractors before the club. Now, I'm learning a lot about how the older ones work.”
Jim Mintmier of Armagh brought his 1955 Farmall 200 tractor to show at the Brush Valley event. “It's the smallest row crop tractor that Farmall ever made,” he explained, noting it's rated at about 22 horsepower and can handle chores ranging from mowing to plowing snow. “It's a nice old tractor with a narrow front end. I still use it, and it gets no special treatment.”
Ronald Jordan of Brush Valley, the club's vice president, displayed his 1953 Allis-Chalmers WD tractor. He said this was the first tractor to have a live power take-off for more versatile operation of attached implements, such as a mower or brush cutter.
“This allows you to get everything running before you start moving,” he said.
Club members Mac and Helen Steel of Jeannette brought the oldest tractor to the show — a 1929 John Deere GP (general purpose) model. The Steels are only the third owners of the tractor, which they purchased in 1982 from two brothers who had used it for nearly half a century to farm 50 acres and raise potatoes.
Mac Steel explained he replaced the original metal cleats on the tractor's steel wheels with rubber so he can drive it on paved roadways.
A member of the similar Westmoreland County-based Fort Allen Antique Farm Equipment Association, Steel said his earliest tractor is a 1920 Hart-Parr. He said he reserves such older models for shows as he does all of his own farm work with five tractors manufactured between 1950 and 1967.
The Steels also displayed an antique Witte hit-and-miss engine, which powers a hammer mill to grind corn into meal. “We want people to know how our grandfathers had to do things,” Mac Steel said. “Not every family had the ability to grind flour and corn meal. Sometimes, they had to trade with each other for services.”
Brush Valley club member Frank Shrokman of Shelocta helped restore a 1969 Speedex garden tractor with a 10 horsepower engine and attachments that the club purchased in Punxsutawney and raffled off at the Sept. 13 show. He noted that “the paint was terrible. The sheet metal was bent up. We rebuilt the carburetor, starter, generator and transmission. Now, it's show-ready and runs beautifully.”
Ken DeHaven of Blacklick Township, who joined Shrokman and several others to work on the Speedex, estimated a total of more than 100 man-hours were devoted to the project.
DeHaven said he has restored more than 30 tractors, for both himself and others. At the club show, he displayed a 1954 John Deere 60 model, which he indicated was one of the first tractors to offer power steering. He bought the tractor three years ago from the original owner, who had purchased it at Holbein's, a past dealership in Indiana. DeHaven, originally of Marion Center, said his first job out of high school was working for that business.
Another club member, Glenn Rhea of Center Township, is an avid tractor collector. He estimated he owns about 180 older tractors, mostly from the western part of the United States and of the Minneapolis-Moline brand. In April 2013, Rhea hosted the national Minneapolis-Moline tractor convention with over 1,000 people attending from all over the United States.
Rhea said he prefers the western tractors as they typically have less rust and are generally bigger machines. At the Brush Valley event, he showcased a 1968 Minneapolis-Moline G-1000. He explained that model's oversized fenders helped keep the dust off the farmer driving the tractor.
According to Rhea, Minneapolis-Molines were no longer manufactured after 1974. He noted any tractor manufactured before 1960 is now considered an antique.
Tom Wallace observed that old tractors need to be operated occasionally. “If you don't, the seals dry up, oil leaks out, and then it'll smoke. You cannot let them sit idle and look pretty,” he said.
The Brush Valley Antique Iron and Power Club was formed about four years ago when a group of Brush Valley volunteer firefighters were manning their chicken food concession at the Indiana County Fair, said Wallace. He said some of those present discussed the tractors they also were showing at the fair, which is held at the end of August.
“The idea for a club came up. It just went from there,” he said.
Wallace said there are other similar clubs around the area but most are too far away for local residents.
According to Wallace, George Staymates of Saltsburg played an important role in getting the club started. Staymates decided to donate and roast peanuts in his 1920s peanut roaster at the 2010 Brush Valley Days festival, held a few weeks after the fair. He donated his $52 peanut proceeds to the club to use for mailing membership materials.
Other club members worked to spread the word about the newly formed club at Brush Valley Days and through other avenues. The news traveled fast enough that the fledgling organization was able to hold its first official meeting that October, with nearly 40 members attending.
Wallace said meetings are held at 7 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at the Brush Valley Fire Hall. “We encourage anyone who's interested to attend,” he said.
“If you have a garden tractor, no tractor, even just a toy tractor, we'd love to see you at our meetings,” added DeHaven.
The Brush Valley club plans to hold a tractor pull Oct. 11 at the Clyde Saddle Club, with a rain date of Oct. 18. Wallace said a track has been developed at the site to accommodate pulling competitions.
For more information on the Brush Valley Antique Iron and Power Club, call Tom Wallace at 724-479-4316.
Pamela Sagely is a freelance writer.