Acquiring A Custom

Custom tractor

Content Tools

HCR 1, Box 54, Rockham, South Dakota 57470

This story takes place in the winter of 1989. First, let me say that I am fairly new at the game of collecting old iron, but I enjoy attending shows and sales where there might be something old and interesting.

We have several tractors, a couple of trucks and several engines here on the farm. My son Dennis farms with me, and shares an interest in old iron as well.

One day a friend of Dennis's by the name of Jerry was out to the farm looking at some of our antiques. In the course of the visit, he said he knew of a tractor I might be interested in. I was all ears and started asking questions about it. I asked what kind it was, and he answered it was a Custom. I said I had never heard of one of those, and he was right, I was interested. He said it belonged to his brother-in-law, that it hadn't been run for years, and that he thought it might be for sale.

Jerry said he would be glad to take us to see it, if we could find a day when everyone could get away. I must point out that it was the first part of January, and that the weather here in South Dakota sometimes dictates when and where you go. After a phone call or two, arrangements were made to go the following Saturday to look at this piece of tired iron. Jerry insisted on driving that day. The fact that he had just bought a new four-wheel drive pickup might have had something to do with it, but as it turned out it was a good thing we had a four-wheel drive.

The three of us struck out after the chores were done on Saturday morning. Jerry's brother-in-law lived north of Kennebeck, which is what we call the west river country here in South Dakota. It is about a three hour drive from our farm. We did not have any snow on the ground at our place, but it wasn't long before we started running into snow. The further we drove, the more snow we noticed along the way.

We arrived at our destination a little after noon and to our surprise there were two to three foot snow drifts all over, and the roads had been plowed. We met Glen, Jerry's brother-in-law and visited for a little while. Jerry had neglected to tell us that the Custom was located on a vacant farmstead about a mile from Glen's place on a dead-end road that had not been plowed, and was clearly impassable. Glen suggested we might get to the other place by going through the fields and picking our way through the drifts. So off we went.

First we crossed a winter wheat field, going where the wind had blown the snow clear. Glen knew the lay of the land, so he would say, 'better head in this direction,' or 'there is a low spot over there, and the snow will be deep there.' We came to a gate in the fence and I walked ahead to open it. There was a draw just in front of the gate, and the snow was deep, so Jerry got to try his four wheel drive. Even with all the four wheels throwing snow, he didn't make it.

Luckily, we'd had the presence of mind to throw in a couple of shovels at Glen's place, so we started shoveling and soon were on our way again. Now we were angling across a pasture, over a barbed wire fence that was down arid went into a milo field. Strips of standing milo had caught the snow, and we could drive where the fodder had been cut off for silage.

We were able to drive within a city block of where the Custom was sitting in a fencerow with a snowdrift beside it. We walked the rest of the way, and I saw my first Custom tractor. I walked around it and thought it looked remarkably good for sitting in the fencerow for so long. The front tires were flat and the rims were sunk into the dirt, but the back tires looked pretty good, and all the pieces seemed to be there. I decided right then and there that I should be the new owner, if we could work out a deal.

After looking it over pretty good, we all piled into Jerry's pickup and made our way back to Glen's place. We were invited in for coffee and fresh rolls, which hit the spot after being out in the cold for so long. After a little bargaining, a deal was made, and the Custom was mine.

We decided to go back the next Saturday and get the tractor. Glen said he would have the road plowed out so we could drive right up to the other place and load. We had our plans all made, but Mother Nature would play a dirty trick on us. During the following week we experienced a typical South Dakota winter cold spell. On Friday night the thermometer stood at 27 degrees below zero. Glen called late that night and said he didn't think we would be able to start his loader tractor to help us, if we came. I wasn't anxious to try to get it in that kind of cold, so we decided to try for the next Saturday. Glen said the road was plowed and we should have no trouble.

The weather warmed the following week and the forecast for Saturday was to be mild and sunny. Just what I was hoping for. We did chores extra early that morning and Jerry, Dennis and I, with my pickup with trailer in tow, took off to bring home our prize. It was a beautiful day as we traveled along, but as we neared Glen's place we sensed that all was not well. They had experienced a severe ground blizzard the night before and the road to the other place had drifted in worse than before. Glen's wife informed us that Glen was out with his loader trying to open the trail through the fields so we might go that way again.

We started out following his tractor tracks but didn't get very far as my pickup was just a two wheel drive, and with the trailer on behind, it was tough going. Soon Glen came back with the tractor and hitched on to us, and away we went through the wheat field, across the pasture and into the milo field right up to where the Custom awaited our arrival. By now it was thawing real good, which made everything wet and the ground was getting smeary. This made loading a real challenge, but after several attempts we had the tractor loaded and securely chained down.

I thought with the extra weight on the back of the pickup, I could probably make it back to the road on my own, but it was just too slick on top and still frozen underneath, Once more Glen hitched his tractor to the front of the pickup and away we went. Kind of a weird looking caravan, if I do say so.

When we got to Glen's place, his wife had dinner ready, although we were late. After we ate, payment was made, and we started the long trip home. We took a shorter route home, through a small Indian town and across the Missouri River on the Dam at Fort Thompson. It was a long pull up out of the breaks along, the river, but soon we were cruising along and arrived home about dark.

The next day we unloaded our prize and pushed it in the shop. Upon checking it over I was pleased to find that the motor was not stuck. Three valves were rusted, but after some soaking and coaxing, these were loosened up. After a valve job, some cleaning up, some temporary wiring, some gas in the tank and a battery, she roared to life. That was a very exciting moment.

But as happens every year in spring, calving time arrives and then spring field work, so the Custom got pushed aside while more urgent things were taken care of. During the next couple of winters I have gotten it cleaned up and painted, and it looks very nice, I think.

A few interesting things about this tractor are that it has a fluid drive coupled to the Chrysler six engine. It also has a hood that tilts to the front and a factory installed tach. I have had the tractor to a couple of parades, and it always has lots of lookers. It has been a fun experience to track down and restore this Custom.