The Quest to own an Antique Gas Tractor

Spark Plug of the Month features Russell Flora, Jr. and his dream of owning an antique gas tractor.

Joe Fahnestock

Photo courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana.

JOE FAHNESTOCK

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Russ Flora finally owns an antique gas tractor. 

Dayton Daily News & Radio's "Joe's Journal".

Father & Son in "Cab to Cab" Chat — Russ Flora, at the helm of his 1917 20-40 Case Tractor chats with son, Bruce, at wheel of the 20-30 Rumely Oil-Pull at Darke County Threshers, Greenville, Ohio.

Sometimes the Spark Plug of the Month is a many-faceted personality — comprising of such strange admixtures as early boyhood impressions of Granddad's steam threshin' rig, modern engineering trends and piloting one's own plane. To which add generous proportions of religious and civic responsibility to one's own community as well as a hitch at army life in the service of one's country.

"It all started when, as a kid, I used to sit on my grandfather, Ed. Hollinger's big Baker Engine and watch the wheels go 'round while he was threshing," reminisces Russ Flora from over Tipp City, Ohio-way.

Somehow the mighty impressions of the barking stack and reciprocating piston and valve-gear, the wail of the steam whistle and rhythm of that vibrating, pulsating engine deck carved unforgettable memories in a little boy's mind — as if any man today who once sat on Grandpa's engine could ever forget.

Of course there followed the usual routine of a boy growing up into young manhood, graduating from high school and going off to college, such as the College of Engineering at Ohio State University where, for young Russ Flora, Grandpa's old-fashioned ideas of steam threshin' lent solid foundation for an eye to the future.

Came the usual hitch in Uncle Sam's army, and, following right on the heels of that, burst the sudden necessity of mustering the total experience into the forging of one's destiny back in the home society.

But, instead of working out that destiny at the farm home of his parents in Troy, Ohio, the enterprising Russell Flora, Jr. ventured to the neighboring town of Tipp City where, for the past eleven years he has climbed from Project Engineer and Vice President of Engineering to Vice President of Production and Director of The Process Equipment Company.

Though his much traveling for the concern necessitated the acquiring of a personal airplane, and the license to pilot it, Russ Flora had not forgotten those indelible memories of the big engines and pulsating power, the flopping of the big leather belt that set the grain-separator to whirring and the saw-blade to whining.

"It was during this time, several years ago, that Milton Deets of Dayton, Ohio, (likewise a Spark Plug of note), invited my boys and me to attend the Darke County Steam Threshers Show, then being held at Mechanicsburg, Ohio," explains Russ.

"When my eyes first saw that big 20-40 Case Gas Tractor, things began stirring in my veins," muses Russ Flora, a nostalgic glint in his eye. It was an old one — built back in 1917. The mighty chug of its big cylinders, the whirr of the belt-wheel, the smell of heavy oil and exhaust fetched out the 'goose-pimples' on even the young ex-soldier and modern engineer, recently become fledgling pilot.

Would there be room and time enough in a flying engineer's life and mind for such as a lumbering old Case Gas Tractor, vintage 1917 ? And what might the wife have to say, should such a huge contraption come lumbering up the country lane with hubby at the controls? Or what admonishments might be portending from the church fathers of the Brethren Congregation where young Russell Flora presides as spiritual Moderator?

But, after all, wives and church fathers disregarded, did not some philosopher of old say, "Chickens always run back to the side of the road where they were hatched?"

And, true to philosophy about both chicks and men, Russ Flora found himself already back on the childhood side of life's road the moment he gawked at that grinding, chugging Case Gas Tractor.

Before he left the grounds at Mechanicsburg, that day, he made it a point to talk to Dave Wood of Catawba, Ohio, who owned "the thing".

"After we got the machine home, we rebuilt the engine, cleaned and painted it," says Flora with a spark plug of victory in his eye.

At last Russell Flora had the one ambition of his boyhood finally come true — that of actually owning a big antique gas tractor. Even his wife, yes and the church fathers, seemed satisfied that he had reached the ultimate of his passion — and would stray no more.

But one has wisely said that the collecting of things, be it clocks, Indian arrow-heads, buttons or baubles, is worse than a disease — for at least one can be cured of a disease but not of collecting. (I should know with twenty-five clocks all ticking and striking, both off-beat and on-beat, in tune and out-of-tune, about me,)

For a while it was "back to the drawing-board" for Russ Flora and business as usual, showing folks that he wasn't going to spend his days doting on his newly-acquired prize.

But drawing-board or no drawing board — Russ felt mighty bored (spelled differently) with only one antique gas tractor — even if it was a 20-40 Case. After all, getting the big Case was just tantamount to getting bit by the bug for the first time.

Soon he was rumbling up the country lane with an odd-ball three-wheeled Ideal tractor, powered by a four-cylinder engine and steered and clutched by two levers. Boy, was he in class now! But, then again, what might the Missus say — not to mention the church fathers of such earthly foibles?

"I bought that old Ideal of Mr. M. H. Link of Loveland, Ohio," says Flora. "He didn't know the year it was built in Lansing, Mich., but a number of engine men tell me it could date from 1919 to 1923."

And now a third tractor — a 20-30 Rumely Oil-Pull — came rumbling one day up the Russ Flora country lane. The already resigned better-half didn't bother to raise an eye-brow this time. After all she thought it safer for Russell than flying an airplane far a field. And the church fathers had long ago resigned Russell Flora to his chosen earthly doom.

"The boys can drive this, while I run the Case at the reunions," explained Russ to his wilted spouse.

From thence the "disease" spread to the collecting of a few odd-ball antique gas stationary engines — the most unusual of which is a 6-horse-power, two-cycle Bessemer which Russ and his boys, Bruce and Tom, have rehabilitated like new.

Says Russ Flora, "The only trouble is that the time I spend in my regular work and fooling around these old engines, I don't have as much time to fly as I'd like to."

Replies Mrs. Flora, "I'd rather see him work at these things on the ground than being 'up there'."

It's indeed a reassuring sight to see Dad Flora chugging around on some midwestern steam engine reunion at the helm of his big 1917 Case while son, Bruce or Tom, rumbles by on the "li'l ol' " 20-30 Rumely Oil-Pull.

And now that the church fathers of Russ Flora's Brethren congregation have apparently left off with pointing the finger of impending doom at their Moderator, for enjoying such earthly foibles as collecting old gas tractors, we might wonder what ye editor, Preacher-Elmer might offer in the way of a few words of spiritual redemption lest others be "unchurched" for doing the same thing.

Could the preacher-editor comfort some of the rest of us who daily gather in such unholy objects to satiate the appetites of the ungodly, world without end? AMEN!


A familiar scene at Taylor, Wisconsin 54659 on, or about, Labor Day each year. This is our seventh year of threshing oats at the annual Old Time Festival and Fiesta. Mr. Joe Olson operates the engine ("Casey" 36 H.P. Roadroller) and Bert "Boss" Skaar is making his 42nd consecutive fall as separator man in Wisconsin. The machinery belongs to Wilbur A. Skaar so it is very much a Community Day Old Time Get-Together for the. entire neighborhood. Everyone enjoys pitching in and helping. The separator is a nice 28 feet by 46 feet Huber Supreme.

This is my 1923 Case 18-32 which I use on my Huber thresher.

This is my latest find — a nice 6 hp Galloway on factory horse trucks.

Watching the "big wheel" make the big wheel go 'round! Dad, Russ Flora, adjusts carburetor of big 20-40 Case at Darke County, Ohio, Steam Threshers. Left to right, sons, Bruce, 13, and Tom, 9, learn for day they can "take over".

Here is a Model D John Deere which I purchased last winter at a farm sale. It seems to be in good shape.