A LOVE AFFAIR WITH TRACTORS

By Staff
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Don Ottema with his Minneapolis- Moline.
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Don appears with his two Case tractors and friend Dean Schaeffer who helps him with restoration.
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Don with his 1938 CC Case.
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Don Ottema's finished fleet of restored tractors, which now number six.
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Don poses with the '28 15-30 McCormick Deering, the first tractor he restored.
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Dean Schaeffer (left) helps Don with restoration. Here they are with the 1948 Oliver 99.

23282 U.S. Highway.85, Newcastle, Wyoming 82701.

Don Ottema Collects

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.

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