By LaRayne Topp
The Greater Nebraska Tractor Ride gathers together not only farmers and tractor enthusiasts but also teachers, accountants, truck drivers, students, and even apharmacist, a funeral director and others. Sponsored by a local radio station, the annual two-day event — typically held in June — sends tractor drivers roaring along a 135-mile route through various parts of Northeast Nebraska at the greater tractor ride speed of 13 miles per hour.
Tractors in all sizes, colors, and makes turn out, most them 20 years old or older. Among the drivers is Gail Anderson of Wisner, Nebraska, who loans a half dozen or more of his vintage tractors to friends to accompany him on the ride.
Anderson and his friends enjoy the ride so much they plan shorter, one-day rides that cover routes of less than 50 miles, still at the breakneck speed of 13 miles per hour. Traveling primarily on gravel roads, this life in the slow lane allows them to see much of the countryside as they putt-putt along.
Anderson likes to call the rides he plans the Lesser Nebraska Tractor Rides. These rides and similar others take place in Anderson’s neck of the woods from Father’s Day weekend throughout early fall. And Anderson has enough tractors in his collection to drive a different one on each ride.
When he tries to count how many tractors he has, Anderson finally decides he has 23 Farmalls plus one Cockshutt. When asked why anyone would own so many shiny red, fully restored Farmall tractors his response is simple. “I ran red all my life. That’s the only answer. This is my hobby.”
Some of the tractors in Anderson’s collection have personal ties, but even if they don’t, he speaks of them as if they’re old friends, pointing out the differences and similarities in each. “That’s a 340 over there. There’s not many of them around. Most of them were sold down south in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas.”
He bought his Farmall 656 new in 1972, he says. He farmed with that one. His 1943 M and 1953 Super H were once owned by his uncle.
The rest he’s collected here and there and wherever, he says, although all are from Nebraska. He scouts for them at farm sales, consignment and Internet auctions, plus he learns of them by word of mouth.
“Guys stop around when they have one for sale,” Anderson says about his reputation as a collector.
“That they’re all in one piece and that they’ll run tomorrow,” is what Gail cares about most, says his wife, Joleen.
Many of the tractors weren’t running when Gail got the title. He locates parts at salvage yards, plus as word gets around among the tractor collectors, people who have parts he’s looking for, let him know. New tires, a variety of work on mechanical issues, and lots of time go into restoring a tractor.
“Things wear out. You never know what you’re going to find,” Anderson says. “You get a tractor fixed up. You think they’re all ready to go and something else goes wrong.”
Anderson does much of the work to get the tractors running smoothly once again, although he calls on a local mechanic to assist with the tough jobs and contracts for the intricate work of repainting, a job Anderson calls a “big item.” However, a couple of tractors in Anderson’s collection haven’t seen a new coat of paint.
“There’s a couple I won’t restore. They’re original, and I want to keep it that way,” he says.
They’re as original as the day International Harvester’s Farmall tractor appeared on the ag scene. The Farmall’s tricycle-like design, with two big wheels in the back and two small wheels side by side in the front, had been specially created for a market as yet unmet. Farmers needed a tractor to drive through row crop fields, clearing the height of young plants.
Designers of the new Farmall were so concerned that the spindly tricycle design would be laughed right off of the assembly line, they released the new Farmall only in Texas, minimizing its exposure plus their embarrassment if farmers scoffed at the new design.
Farmers didn’t scoff, however. They laid down their money instead, and took the new Farmalls to their corn fields where ease of maneuverability between the rows, and the tractor’s high clearance were a hit. By 1926 International Harvester was ready for large-scale production in its new Farmall Works plant in Rock Island, Illinois.
By 1932, a Farmall with a powerful engine rolled off that assembly line, the F-20. More followed: the F-30, F-12 and F-14. About that same time, International Harvester turned from painting its models a deep blue-grey to an entirely new color: Farmall Red. This was a step already taken by competitors Allis-Chalmers with its branded orange and John Deere, painting its tractors and implements with bright green and yellow brushes. It was a wise move on the part of tractor companies. Farmers, with a quick glance across the field could see — by color — the new tractor the neighbor happened to be driving.
Other Farmall series tractors followed the letter series: the Super, Hundred series and the large, six-cylinder 60 series. Anderson’s collection includes tractors from all the different International Harvester Farmall series.
By 1973, International Harvester officials dropped the Farmall name from tractor models, ending an era. The company merged with Tennaco, Inc. in 1985, and Case IH tractors began to roll off the production line.
Even so, the era of Farmall tractors has not ended in the lineup at the Nebraska tractor ride.