A Birthday Present

Birthday Tractor

Courtesy of Steve Helle, Room C131, Hillcrest Dormitory, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa 52242

Steve Helle

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Room C131, Hillcrest Dormitory, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa 52242

Fay Strait, 44, an Iowa farmer hailing from near Center Point, realizes his collection of '80 or better' gasoline engines and 40 antique tractors might not be the most beautiful sight to behold.

'I don't have a whole lot of 'em painted up yet, but I figure I can always paint up. I can't always buy up,' is his philosophy. 'Besides, if they're painted, it takes some of the oldness away from 'em.'

His wife, Lila, added that they had been thinking of putting the sign 'Rust Museum' over the 44 by 90 foot steel shed Fay built to house part of his treasures. But they didn't want to discourage the Sunday visitors that always seem to drop by either to browse or buy. The first tractor model Fay usually shows curious tourists is his favorite, a circa 1923 Rumely oil-pull. He calls it his 'birthday tractor.' His wife bought it for him on his 40th birthday and its been his proudest possession since. But perhaps not so for much longer.

'I've got one coming next week that is three times bigger. It'll be a 30-60 Rumely and weighs eight and three-quarter tons. That's the biggest one they ever made.'

The Rumelys are called 'oil-pulls' because they have no water in their cooling system, explained Fay. 'They're all oil-cooled and run on kerosene,' he said.

Fay's 'birthday tractor' was his first Rumely, but it wasn't the first tractor in his collection. He bought a 'D' model John Deere in 1968. He began his gas engine collection with a horse and a half Sandwich model in the same year and has had the collector's bug since.

Among his tractors, the majority of which are gasoline-powered, Fay boasts of five Rumelys, a Massey-Harris, Fordsons, Hart-Parrs, a Silver King, Avery, and Titan.

He just recently bought the Titan 10-20 from a fellow collector in Stewartville, Minn. 'He was an antique nut just like me,' said Fay. 'He had bought 18 of 'em, and was selling what he didn't want.'

On his journey home with the Titan, he stopped off at a cafe. Another fellow came out of the cafe to inspect the tractor and told Fay he knew where he could get hold of another antique. The next day, Fay returned and bought the tractor he'd gotten the tip on.

Fay related that the best way to get tips was to 'drive home slow. People notice the tractor and just start talking,' he continued. 'Some of 'em about drive off the road when they see me coming.

A 1923 'Birthday Tractor'.

'' I even had one guy turn around and drive behind me for awhile until he was satisfied and then drove away.'

When he first brings a tractor home, they're usually a long way from running condition. But that's all right by Fay because he loves to 'piddle.' His brothers, Bud ('Whenever I want to get him mad, I call him by his real name Alvin) and Clair, both of Urbana, help restore the tractors.

A Titan 10-20 recently bought by Fay Strait.

Fay plans on building his collection of gas engines and tractors powered by the same 'until I get old and then monkeying with 'em.'

With some 40 tractors at his disposal, what does Fay use for work on his 65-acre farm? It's no surprise he plows with a '49 'A' John Deere.