Don Ottema with his Minneapolis- Moline.
23282 U.S. Highway.85, Newcastle, Wyoming 82701.
Don Ottema recalls vividly the day his love affair with antique tractors began in 1978. 'In the local paper, they had this Coates estate sale, and this 1927 McCormick-Deering was for sale. They showed a picture of it. I told Anita, (his wife), 'Ma, give me a checkblank because I'm going to buy it'. Before the day was out, we bought two of them. Buck (his son) bought the '28 ,' he says. Since that fateful day Anita has watched her yard fill with some thirty tractors and Buck has traveled the countryside to buy them.
The '27 which started it all is being worked on now and Ottema plans to leave it on steel wheels. 'Strictly for show,' he says. Five others though have been completed. 'I wanted that iron-wheeled tractor to make sure that your great-great-great grandchildren would enjoy it. It's something I wanted to restore. Keep it as a unit so everybody and their puppy can come out here and look at it. I wanted to salvage one,' Ottema says.
Ottema worked a year on the '28 McCormick-Deering Buck purchased. In the shop at Cambria Forest Industries in Newcastle, Wyoming where he worked as a mechanic, he stripped it down, resealed, and painted it. His boss, he says, was understanding. Ottema paid $225.00 for the '28 and has invested about $450.00 more in it, but it runs and it's a beauty.
Since then, he has restored a 1930 Model L Case, a 1929 1020 McCormick-Deering, a 1938 CC Case, a '37 or '38 Minneapolis-Moline, and a 1948 Oliver. The Oliver was given to him by George Moorman of Stanton, North Dakota who bought the tractor new for $2,750.00. Moorman refused to take payment from Ottema. 'It kind of made his day that it was going to be brought back to life,' says Ottema who promised to bring the Oliver to Stanton in 1989 so Moorman can drive in the centennial celebration.
Ottema estimates that it takes two tractors to have enough parts to restore one. The least he has paid for a tractor is $50.00 and the most is the $700.00 he paid for the 1930 Model L Case. The Case is his pride and joy. Painted a silver-gray, it rumbles across the pasture, sunlight streaming through the windows on its Case-built cab.
Ottema says he follows auction sales and ads in magazines to add to his collection. And he has help with the restoration. Son Buck with whom he also operates B & D Logging says of his part, 'I just paint them and buy them. He sends me to the sales. One time he sent me to Murdo, South Dakota. He said it was thirty miles the other side of Rapid City. I got thirty miles out of Rapid and no Murdo. It was another ninety miles!'
About a year and a half ago, Ottema hired retired handyman Dean Schaeffer to help with the restoration. Schaeffer figures he puts in 5-6 hours a day seven days a week on the antiques. Ottema still works as a heavy equipment operator for Cambria Forest and works on the tractors in his spare time. Last Christmas, he says he was bored watching television after dinner and headed out to his workshed. This time it was no real tractor he worked on. He took an old mailbox that had been shot full of holes and envisioned what was to him a thing of beauty, a tractor. The result of that vision is a small prototype of an antique tractor. Someday it will sit alongside the highway to once again collect mail, but first, Ottema says, it will ride in a few parades.
He's taken the 'Big L' to a North Dakota school reunion parade and ridden another in the Black Hills Steam and Gas Threshing Bee. Wife Anita has even driven his beauties in local parades.
Ottema puts no dollar value on his tractors. 'They are not for sale,' he says. 'I don't put a dollar value on them because I'll tell you why. It depends on the money flow and how broke I am.'
For now, Ottema plans to buy a piece of land on which to store his tractors, but his future plans are to donate them to the city, county, or state for a museum. 'I'd just love to have a museum for these tractors,' he says. 'That means, after I kick off and the kids get tired of them, I'd like to donate them, keep them together somewhere.'
Until that day, however, Ottema will keep buying up old, rusted forgotten tractors and restoring them to the things of beauty he feels they once were. 'I'm just an old farm boy,' he grins.