11326 Scott Road, Arbor Vitae, Wisconsin 54568
You want me to go look at a what?’ I asked my father.
The year was 1954. We lived just outside of Lincoln, Nebraska,
and I was a junior in high school. We had been looking for a
tractor to mow and to pull wagons and do other odd jobs around the
‘The Ford dealer has a VAI Case tractor with a mower on it
they will sell cheap. I want you to go take a look at it and see if
you think it is any good.’
I picked up my girlfriend, who was looking forward to going for
a ride that afternoon, and we went for a ride-to the Ford
dealership. There it was, complete with a Case-Detroit # 14 mower
and new paint. It seemed to run good and the mower worked, so my
father made the deal and we became the proud owners of the only VAI
Case tractor for miles around.
We used the VAI for all kinds of things around the farm, but
soon found out the tractor was a lot better than the mower. It had
been purchased as a tractor-mower by the U.S. Government in 1944
and was used by the Air Force to mow around airfields. The mower
had no end of problems and by fall was nearly unusable.
Come spring, my father asked what we needed to do to fix the
mower for the next season and I suggested what we really needed was
a different mower. My father called around and found the John Deere
dealer in Friend, Nebraska, had not only a mower, but most of a
tractor too. We bought it for $50, loaded the mower in the back of
our ’41 Plymouth, and brought our treasure home.
The new mower was much better than the first one, so we put it
on the tractor and kept the other one for parts. It proved very
durable and was still working well fifteen years later.
As a teenager I fell in love with the tractor instantly. It
would travel down the country roads at 20 miles an hour and mow at
eight-if you could hang on. The sickle bar was raised using a
gearbox and cable lift, and would mow in a vertical position as
well as straight out.
In 1954 our whole family went to the Nebraska State Fair. I
spent most of my time looking at the farm machinery and other
equipment. Later, while looking over the Fair program we had
received at the gate, I saw there was to be a Tractor Derby on
Thursday. Could my little VAI be a winner? A call to the Fair
office and I was registered. I drove the tractor 15 miles into
school and, after morning classes, made my way to the Fairgrounds
where the man at the gate waved me through.
There were other races before ours, but before I could race I
needed to get a pit pass to let me on the race track. Pass in hand,
I waited hopefully until, finally, the Tractor Derby was called. We
lined up, I drew the inside track. The checkered flag fell and off
we went! The VAI sprang out in front of the others but could not
outrun all of them. I had to settle for third place and a $40
The next year found the VAI as the tractor of choice for our
class hayride. Unfortunately, it was pouring down rain that night
and we all partied inside instead. I graduated high school in
Around 1960 came the bad news. The Detroit Mower Company was
going out of business. We stocked up on sickles and other parts for
the future at bargain prices.
In 1965 I left the farm to go to Michigan to teach elementary
school for the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and left the little VAI
behind. Sometime later a friend who was mowing for the folks tore
up the PTO gear. When the folks sold the farm in 1969, they gave
the little tractor away.
I gave little thought to the VAI tractor for many years until
seeing an ad in the local paper. Nestled in the ad along with other
tractors was a VAI Case. I hesitated, and the opportunity was
In 1997 I saw a VAI Case at a swap meet. It was not what I
wanted, but it spurred me on to start looking further. An ad in
GEM produced a call from Frank Werner down by Detroit who
had a tractor and part of a mower. He had bought the tractor a
couple of years earlier at a government auction. He said it ran
okay, but didn’t have a starter so they had to pull it. After
seeing pictures of the tractor, I called back asking Frank’s
son if there were teeth on the flywheel so one could put a starter
on. He took his phone to the garage, removed the starter blanking
plate and announced all was well. I sent a check.
How could I get the little tractor home? After considering my
options, I called a man who advertised in Hemmings Motor News and
although it was not an antique car, he agreed to bring it to
Wisconsin for me.
I now had a tractor, but only a part of the mower.
Having lived in Missouri a few years back and knowing there were
once a lot of these tractors used by the state and county road
commissions, I placed an ad in a local paper and received a call
from Minor Moore who had a Case-Detroit #16 mower. (Same mower
except it had a hydraulic lift instead of a gearbox and cable
lift.) We made a deal over the telephone and I picked it up the
next time I was down that way. I now had more parts but no cable
My wife received the not unexpected news that her sister had
passed away and we were on our way to Nebraska for the funeral.
While I was in town I stopped at Lansing Salvage which I had often
visited in the past. The owner said he had part of a mower
somewhere. Half an hour later we found it under a pile of sheet
metal-the cable lift complete with a good drawbar assembly. What a
find! The rest of the mower had been sold in the fifties.
Answers I received to an ad in GEM uncovered another
mower and some parts from Paul Miller in Indiana. So now I had
enough parts to put most of the mower together with a lot of what
we called ‘Southern Engineering’ when I lived in
Time and space make it impossible to tell of the countless trips
to salvage yards, telephone calls received, and letters sent. Of
people who helped locate and send replacement, missing or worn out
tractor and mower parts. Of locating parts and installing a
complete electrical system on a tractor which never had one from
No wartime VAI ever had all the accessories which I have found
in salvage yards. While available, such things as a horn,
driver’s step, hourmeter, fire extinguisher, and sickle
carrier, not to mention starter and lengths seldom found their way
onto government tractors.
And so, I have my dream tractor once again. While the tractor is
about finished, I still need parts for the Case-Detroit #14 mower.
Does anyone have any parts or a mower stuck away somewhere?