Golden Spread Antique Machinery Association

Holt combine machine

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Donald Sell's wife didn't say anything when he hauled his first old tractor to the farm, but her eyebrows began a steady rise as 74 others followed.

'When she asked me what I was going to do with them, I told her I was going to fix them up when I retired,' Sell said. 'She told me I'd never live that long!'

Sell began restoring his tractors about 15 years ago. The endeavor grew from a few farm hands helping him to a two-man full-time shop in Booker, Texas.

Today, two Quonset barns sit on Sell's farm outside of Perryton, Texas, housing a vintage treasure of tractors dating from 1911 to 1940, a row of classic automobiles and a variety of early-day implements.

'I don't just collect tractors and cars,' he said. 'I collect anything that meets my fancy.'

If antique addiction can be inherited, Sell figures that's where his habit came from. He said his mother began collecting small things years ago- although she never got into things like tractors.

Sell said he has learned his restoration craft through trial and error and, in the process of refurbishing the equipment has become quite a farm historian.

'I've been at it so long, I pretty well know the general area most things come from,' he said. 'But every now and then I run into something I didn't know even existed.'

A walk with Sell through his barns is like taking a trip through the progression of the farming industry.

Although John Froelich built the first mechanically successful gasoline tractor in 1892, according to Robert C. Williams' book, Fordson, Far-mall, and Poppin' Johnny: A History of the Farm Tractor and It s Impact on America, the first two men to build commercially successful tractors were Charles W. Hart and Charles H. Parr in 1902.

Hart-Parr tractors were the most popular brand during the first decade of the 20th century, the book said, with about one-third of the nation's 600 tractors built by the duo.

'We've come a long way since they built that tractor,' Sell said. 'But I've always had a soft spot for the Hart-Parr. That's what I grew up on, what my dad had.'

Sell has nine different sizes of the two-and four-cylinder Hart-Parr tractors, manufactured from 1920 to 1931. But his favorite is his 1916 'Old Reliable,' oil tractor he found in Nebraska.

From the same year, Sell has an orange 'Happy Farmer' tractor made by La Crosse Tractor Company. He said the three-wheel tractor was designed to farm row crops.

'That tractor made the farmer happy twice,' he said. 'When he first bought it and when he got rid of it.'

One of the rarest tractors in Sell's collection is called 'The Flour City'. The 1913, 14-24 tractor is just one of three that Sell knows is still in existence, and he said the only one still running.

'Their slogan was 'covers 50 acres per day',' he said. 'I'd say that was a pretty long day.'

Sell said farmers had 30-foot combines in the teens. And he's got proof.

He's unsure of the birth date for his self-propelled Holt combine, but he estimates around 1922, when the patent was registered. The wooden combine has a 24-foot header with a 6-foot extension. He said it also had a hillside machine to level uneven combining.

McCormick, John Deere, Rock Island, Rumely and Fordson are among the many other names and colors that grace Sell's 75-tractor collection. Each has a story, Sell will tell you, from the steam engine to the traction drive tractors, that illustrates just how far mechanized farming has come in the last century.

The attention to detail Sell has for equipment extends beyond the outer shell. Every tractor he has restored works.

'I haven't given up on one yet,' he said. 'And I've had some pretty tough ones.' Sell said the difficulty of his restorations hinge on where the tractor was stored. Many of the tractors kept in barns just need to be cleaned up and made to run.

But those stored outside in the weather, he said, are really a chore. And, unlike working with today's equipment, where the task is basically just changing parts, Sell said he and his mechanics have a little more of a challenge.

'Working on these tractors, you don't just go to the store and buy the part,' he said, 'You have to use what parts you've got and make it run, or go out and build something that will work.'

Sell said engineers and mechanics today are just perfecting on the ingenuity of the early-day inventors who actually invented tractor automation.

'The basic design is still there,' he said, 'And those old engineers 80 years ago were pretty sharp cookies to come up with that stuff. There wasn't a combustion engine back then.'

Sell looks upon his hobby as a way to pass history onto younger generations.

'We need to get these younger people interested,' Sell said. 'Us older ones aren't going to keep going forever.'

The desire to share his antiques and their heritage with young and old was one reason for Sell's work in the foundation of the Golden Spread Antique Machinery Association. Formed 12 years ago, the association today holds one of the largest antique farm equipment exhibits in the Tri-State area each September.

Sell said as many as 5,000 people from neighboring states attend the show on his farm outside Perry ton, where he has built grandstands, and has allotted areas for campers and for the flea market that accompanies the show.

This year, the Golden Spread exhibit will be held Sept. 16 and 17th.

Donald Sell can be reached at (806-435-5872).