Four-Furrow Keans Plow

Interstate 1917-1918, with four-furrow Keans plow. Photo date unknown.

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Reanacoolagh, Lismore, County Waterford, Ireland

On a fine day I was driving alone from one town to another in the southern part of Ireland, where I had a good view of the Atlantic Ocean shimmering in the sunshine. A walled fence along the roadside had some gaps where cattle had knocked the stones off the wall. The gaps were replaced by timber to fence off the gaps. Passing one of the gaps I noticed something like an old tractor, beside a tree-lined fence. This was in the early 70's. I stopped my car, as I had an interest in old tractors and any old farming implements that go with them.

I crossed the road, got over the wall, and walked along beside the fence. Of course you will understand, rows of wire were tied onto the tree trunks dividing one field from the next. I got to the tractor. There were cattle in the field. It was late June, but the cattle had plenty of grass. There were plenty of cow hairs on the tractor. Even though it looked to have been there for a long time, little damage had been done. I walked around it.

Hitched to the tractor's draw bar, by a rusty chain which I had to pull out of the ground, was a three-piece Springtime harrow. A bit further back by the trees was the funniest trailing plough I ever saw. Both the harrow and plough were in fair condition, but plenty of dust and rust everywhere, some parts missing here and there, but things didn't look too bad. I had no idea what make or model the tractor or plough was, and I had never seen anything like them before. I thought of Case-Massey-Harris, and an Austin tractor. I had seen them in collector's sheds and at ploughing matches. But this had no name, no number, nothing.

I was brought back to earth when I looked after hearing a noise behind me. I was confronted by the nicest herd of Shorthorn cows I had seen for many days. The general of the herd was a Hereford bull. He came a bit closer to the tractor. He must have been about three years old, and his weight must have been near one ton. He had a large pair of horns, one of which he caught between two rods that reached from the governor to a point near the steering wheel, and he pulled the rod out of place. I walked over and replaced the rod. It was then that I noticed that the engine was an overhead value model engine.

Just then two young chaps, I would say they were in their mid or late twenties, came up the field. They had a white collie dog with them who barked on seeing me. The cows took off with the bull following them, but not before he hit the wide wing of the old tractor with his hind part, putting part of the wing almost against the right iron back wheel. Both back and front wheels were made of iron or steel. There were cleats on the back wheels which didn't seem too worn. The boys asked me who I was, after a friendly greeting from the dog. He was a big strong dog, with one black ear and one black eye. 'We have this dog for to handle the bull. You had a trial; he is not cross, but we need to keep him under control.'

We talked farming for a while, then I asked, 'Is this tractor a Case or a Massey-Harris?'

By now they had told me their names were John and Pat O'Reilly. They lived in the house in the trees. 'Our father and mother lived up the country,' Pat told me as he pointed northwards, 'but after World War II our father bought this place and we all came down here to live. We like the place. Our mother is still alive, but our father passed away eleven years ago. This old tractor was here when we came. The makers of the tractor? It's a U.S.A. tractor, made by the Killen Strait Manufacturing Company, Appleton, Wisconsin, to the Strait design. This is the Interstate tractor made about 1917 or 1918. It was a World War II colonel by the name of Bush that lived here after the war, but he had gone into the city a few years before. We found all the details relating to this outfit in the house. He had had a room converted to an office, with a large desk in it. Well, that's enough about us.'

'Are you a farmer or a scrap dealer that you have an interest in this old tractor and plough?' asked John.

'Well,' I said, 'if I could buy the lot, I could do something with it.'

'If we were to give it to you to take it away, you could restore it and keep it,' said John.

'Would you consider giving me the whole outfit, tractor, harrow, plough, the lot?' I asked.

'Right,' they said in one voice, 'but you must buy the harrow, price ?20; it's in good condition, even if it is a little rusty. A clean-up and a rub of paint and it would be in working condition again,' John added.

I agreed, and it was a deal.

'Right,' said John, turning to Pat.

'It's okay,' Pat replied.

'Well, then come down to the house for a drink.'

'Well,' I said, 'I don't drink.' Looking at my watch, I saw that it was just after two o'clock. 'I could do with a cup of tea. Is there a lady at the house?'

'Yes,' said Pat, 'our mother, and she likes people to call. We haven't been here long, and aren't very well known. Tell you what-where did you park your car? Oh, I see it,' he said as he looked out to the road.

'Right,' said John. 'I will have a look at the cows and I will see you both at the house.'

Pat and I crossed the field to the road, got into the car and set off for the house. Pat told he was a Church of Ireland. 'You are possibly Catholic?'

'Yes, I am,' but I said it didn't make any difference. 'Where I live, north of the Black water, I have Church of Ireland people living at each side of me,' I told him.

'Good!' he said, as he directed me to the gateway and a tree-lined avenue. We reached the house, a three story in the back, two story in the front. We drove across a small lawn to get to the kitchen at the back. My mind was not on the house so I will not go into details about it. I pulled in beside another car, an old one, and stopped my car.

'I'll be with you in a minute. I will go and tell Mother to get some tea ready for you,' Pat said, and disappeared into the house. I got out of my car, to have a look at the O'Reilly's car. It was a Morris Twelve, could be as far back as the Thirties, but it was in great condition.

John came along. 'Well, what do you think?' he said, looking at the car. 'Come on inside.'

In we went. A lady was getting the tea ready. I was introduced to her. Pat had already told her what I had come for, and the deal we had come to.

'That was Dennis', my husband,' she said of the tractor, 'so I hope you will take care of it and keep it for yourself.' The lady was the mother of the two boys, and was probably in her early fifties.

She went into one of the rooms, and came back with a photo of a man dressed in uniform. 'This is Dennis, he was in the U.K. 8th Army in World War II. He came out alive but his chest was not good; he had to spend some time in the hospital after coming home. He bought the tractor in the U.K. and it was shipped to Cork and then down here with the harrow and plough.'

'Did he do much with it?' I asked.

'No,' she said, 'just brought it to the field and left it there. His chest came at him again, and that was the end for him.'

I said that was too bad, then asked if I could use the phone.

'Certainly,' she said, 'come into the hall.' From there a door led to a room. 'Do you have the number you want?' she inquired.

I said that I did and thanked her. I called the area manager of the Co-op. It was Thursday; I asked him if I could possibly borrow a lorry with a grab for the following Saturday, and told him where I was calling from. I also asked him for the use of a driver, and told him what I wanted the lorry for. He told me that it would be fine, and that I could have the 'Arctic'.

I returned to the kitchen, where I explained to the lads and to their mother exactly what was happening. The lads told me that they would have the whole lot in the yard early Saturday morning. I thanked all of them and drove myself home.

Everything went according to plan. I got the whole outfit here on Saturday morning. My family-wife, son, and daughter-all helped with the cleaning up of the machinery and repainting of the lot. I've done some work with it on and off since it came here. I still have it all. Some repairs had to be made, but everything is still working!