Donald Sell’s wife didn’t say anything when he hauled
his first old tractor to the farm, but her eyebrows began a steady
rise as 74 others followed.
‘When she asked me what I was going to do with them, I told
her I was going to fix them up when I retired,’ Sell said.
‘She told me I’d never live that long!’
Sell began restoring his tractors about 15 years ago. The
endeavor grew from a few farm hands helping him to a two-man
full-time shop in Booker, Texas.
Today, two Quonset barns sit on Sell’s farm outside of
Perryton, Texas, housing a vintage treasure of tractors dating from
1911 to 1940, a row of classic automobiles and a variety of
‘I don’t just collect tractors and cars,’ he said.
‘I collect anything that meets my fancy.’
If antique addiction can be inherited, Sell figures that’s
where his habit came from. He said his mother began collecting
small things years ago- although she never got into things like
Sell said he has learned his restoration craft through trial and
error and, in the process of refurbishing the equipment has become
quite a farm historian.
‘I’ve been at it so long, I pretty well know the general
area most things come from,’ he said. ‘But every now and
then I run into something I didn’t know even existed.’
A walk with Sell through his barns is like taking a trip through
the progression of the farming industry.
Although John Froelich built the first mechanically successful
gasoline tractor in 1892, according to Robert C. Williams’
book, Fordson, Far-mall, and Poppin’ Johnny: A History of the
Farm Tractor and It s Impact on America, the first two men to build
commercially successful tractors were Charles W. Hart and Charles
H. Parr in 1902.
Hart-Parr tractors were the most popular brand during the first
decade of the 20th century, the book said, with about one-third of
the nation’s 600 tractors built by the duo.
‘We’ve come a long way since they built that
tractor,’ Sell said. ‘But I’ve always had a soft spot
for the Hart-Parr. That’s what I grew up on, what my dad
Sell has nine different sizes of the two-and four-cylinder
Hart-Parr tractors, manufactured from 1920 to 1931. But his
favorite is his 1916 ‘Old Reliable,’ oil tractor he found
From the same year, Sell has an orange ‘Happy Farmer’
tractor made by La Crosse Tractor Company. He said the three-wheel
tractor was designed to farm row crops.
‘That tractor made the farmer happy twice,’ he said.
‘When he first bought it and when he got rid of it.’
One of the rarest tractors in Sell’s collection is called
‘The Flour City’. The 1913, 14-24 tractor is just one of
three that Sell knows is still in existence, and he said the only
one still running.
‘Their slogan was ‘covers 50 acres per day’,’ he
said. ‘I’d say that was a pretty long day.’
Sell said farmers had 30-foot combines in the teens. And
he’s got proof.
He’s unsure of the birth date for his self-propelled Holt
combine, but he estimates around 1922, when the patent was
registered. The wooden combine has a 24-foot header with a 6-foot
extension. He said it also had a hillside machine to level uneven
McCormick, John Deere, Rock Island, Rumely and Fordson are among
the many other names and colors that grace Sell’s 75-tractor
collection. Each has a story, Sell will tell you, from the steam
engine to the traction drive tractors, that illustrates just how
far mechanized farming has come in the last century.
The attention to detail Sell has for equipment extends beyond
the outer shell. Every tractor he has restored works.
‘I haven’t given up on one yet,’ he said. ‘And
I’ve had some pretty tough ones.’ Sell said the difficulty
of his restorations hinge on where the tractor was stored. Many of
the tractors kept in barns just need to be cleaned up and made to
But those stored outside in the weather, he said, are really a
chore. And, unlike working with today’s equipment, where the
task is basically just changing parts, Sell said he and his
mechanics have a little more of a challenge.
‘Working on these tractors, you don’t just go to the
store and buy the part,’ he said, ‘You have to use what
parts you’ve got and make it run, or go out and build something
that will work.’
Sell said engineers and mechanics today are just perfecting on
the ingenuity of the early-day inventors who actually invented
‘The basic design is still there,’ he said, ‘And
those old engineers 80 years ago were pretty sharp cookies to come
up with that stuff. There wasn’t a combustion engine back
Sell looks upon his hobby as a way to pass history onto younger
‘We need to get these younger people interested,’ Sell
said. ‘Us older ones aren’t going to keep going
The desire to share his antiques and their heritage with young
and old was one reason for Sell’s work in the foundation of the
Golden Spread Antique Machinery Association. Formed 12 years ago,
the association today holds one of the largest antique farm
equipment exhibits in the Tri-State area each September.
Sell said as many as 5,000 people from neighboring states attend
the show on his farm outside Perry ton, where he has built
grandstands, and has allotted areas for campers and for the flea
market that accompanies the show.
This year, the Golden Spread exhibit will be held Sept. 16 and
Donald Sell can be reached at (806-435-5872).