Spark Plug: Beginning Tractor Collectors
There are those honorable Spark Plugs throughout our nation who
boast of their extensive exhibits of old-time agricultural
Americana of the emerging internal combustion era in numbers of
two, sometimes three digits. Theirs oftentimes comprise the bulky,
lengthy trailer-loads of popping and bursting one-lung outfits, all
bearing name plates of familiarity on the farms of yesteryear–the numerous, sometimes small, sometimes bulky “iron
slaves” that pumped water for the livestock, ground the feed,
turned the homestead electrical generator, churned the butter and
whipped the wash-machine agitator. Theirs too are often the
impressive array of heavy early farm tractors–several to a man–which emblazon the gay midways of our nation’s threshing and
gas-tractor reunions from coast to coast, throughout the land.
Impressive we say–what intensive collectors they be, for over
the years having reclaimed from the American junkyards and the
welder’s torch such extensive exhibits of old-time gas engine
and tractor nostalgia.
But at times we are guilty of overlooking that most-prized of
all tractor collectors: the beginner who is struggling along to gain his
own dubious foothold in the mighty realm of the big-time
exhibitors. His is the thankless and often discouraging task of
combing the once-abundant wrecking yards and junk lots, left vacant
by his predecessors, in quest of what might remain in the way of
old-time gems the “early birds” have overlooked.
“So far I’ve got only one old tractor. I guess I’m
just a beginner,” pined plucky Bob Puckett of Brookville, Ohio, who had fetched along his solitary 1927
Allis-Chalmers to the Darke County Threshers in western Ohio last
year to help swell the impressive array of Tri-State gas engines
and tractors that rounded out the fine exhibits at this
well-established steam show.
Puckett represents the typical ‘Johnny come lately’ in
the collector’s field. A bit backward at mixing in the usual
circles of gas engine and tractor owners, he’d rather tinker
with carburetors and generators, going it on his own, rather than
patting the boys on the back with the blarney of glad “hellos,” complimenting them in one breath, then begging
for help with the next. His is the silent kind of wishing for more,
without leaning on the next guy for a glad hand-out or someone to
help solve his problems by pointing the way. Yes, Puckett may have
even slightly broken one of the Ten Commandments by secretly
coveting some of his fellow-exhibitors’ tokens. But there it
stops, and back to his beloved 20-35 Model-E Allis-Chalmers he
treks–to grab his wrench and begin improving (if he can) the sole
possession that is rightfully his. Reminds us of that old song,
“Once in Love With ‘Allis–Always In Love With
Oh yes, Bob’s worked plenty hard on that ancient
Allis-Chalmers which, by luck (and marriage) he procured from his
wife’s uncle, Simon Limbert, who also lives near Brookville,
Ohio. There were main rods and rod bearings all to be gone over,
tightened and if need be re-aligned, re-babbited, re-bushed or what
have you. Then there were the new rings that he had to put in, as
well as the new wrist-pins and clutch. Some of the parts came
rather easily, through the Rodefeld Auto Parts Co., of Richmond,
Indiana. Others came not so easily as they weren’t manufactured
any more. And he couldn’t find a head-gasket at all around his
usual haunts, but one solitary Allis-Chalmers dealer came up with
one that did fit (like a vest).
Like most collectors of old-time Americana, Puckett has to earn
his daily provender at other menial tasks, for there’s the wife
and four kiddies of the Puckett household to feed. Dad has to
cut in on his collecting time to fly in with the daily worm to
feather the family nest.
“I’m maintenance man at the Kuhn’s Brothers Foundry
in Dayton, Ohio,” explains Puckett. “My job is to repair
all kinds of machinery that is used in the manufacture of
pipe-fittings. They mould, cast, and spread pipe-fittings for all
kinds of industrial and household uses.”
“I’ve learned to like tractors from the days when I used to
work at the Forrest Lightner farm, near Dayton, Ohio, ever since I
was a boy of fifteen,” is the way Bob Puckett puts it. “I
like steam, too, very much, but don’t know too much about it.
If a fellow doesn’t know steam, he’d better leave it alone,
is the way I look at it.”
But not one to be so easily discouraged, Bob Puckett has begun
to exhibit his one-tractor show, his beloved Allis-Chalmers tractor, which he has completely rebuilt and overhauled in the three years
he’s owned it.
First showing was at the local Brookville Fireman’s Ball–a long-established annual one-day civic picnic and engine exhibit
that was started years ago by that veteran steam engineer and
collector, Homer Holp.
Then came his chance to exhibit old “Allis” at the Darke
County Steam Threshers in the Gasoline Alley-Antique Tractor
segment of the show. Here it was that the reticent Bob Puckett had
the thrill of his life, escorting “Allis” all over the
grounds–just for the fun of it and the pride a collector always
experiences in demonstrating his first efforts at collecting and
“I’d like to get some more tractors, if I could just
find them,” says Puckett. “My three boys, Bob Jr., 12,
Johnny, 10, and Timmy, 7, are all anxious that I get more. My
little daughter, three-year Mary, will have to get over playing
with dolls before she starts getting the tractor urge.”
Yes, Bob Puckett’s the typical beginner: hesitant, feeling
his way over junk yard and wrecking lot, asking questions around
old farm shops, eyes peeled for whatever gems might yet remain.
He’s the kind of collector that the already well-established
collectors and organizations are looking for–just the fellow
they’re itching to help by lending a hand and a pat on the back
to “keep on.”
Look for him and his kind, fellows, for he’s everywhere on
the grounds, silently watching your glorious extravaganza of
popping gas engines and old-time tractors doing their stuff. Though
momentarily he may covet what you’ve got, forgive him, for he
won’t steal it. He’s already got his start, and is only
awaiting that friendly nudge from his fellow collectors to keep
To you, plucky Bob Puckett, keep driving that wonderful old
specimen of the grand and noble Allis-Chalmers, vintage of ’27.
The next guy who saunters up to admire that chugging engine may be
the very guy who has a tip leading you to your second tractor.
You’re the loner we must doff our hats to–for your
eternal vigilance, your insatiable interest in the things that keep
old-time agricultural Americana alive.
And who knows? Someday your own exhibit may well be the
grandest, the noblest, yes even the most extravagant on the
whole reunion grounds.
Jim Erdle’s Legendary Antique Tractors Sold at Auction
Jim Erdle’s eye for rare and unique tractors has developed quite the reputation over the years, and allowed him to assemble one of the finest tractor collections of all time. But all good things must come to an end.
1902 8 HP Bates & Edmonds Engine
A 1902 8 HP Bates & Edmonds engine with generating set on display at the Coolspring Power Museum.
1918 Blaisdell Air-Compressing Engine
A 1918 65 HP Blaisdell air-compressing engine on display at the Coolspring Power Museum.