He calls his establishment 'Oscar's Dreamland' and for all collectors of gas and steam farm engines that is a most appropriate title.
At 85, he is going strong, with a memory like a computer, energy enough for three men half his age, and a zest for life that is unbeatable.
He is Oscar Cook, who wears neat overalls on the job and dresses like a gentleman sportsman in the evening when he entertains at the Billings Petroleum Club.
With the assistance of his wife Marcella he keeps all his operations moving with top executive skill-yet is happy to conduct visitors through the three huge warehouses in which he stores his invaluable collection.
He can reel off the history of every tractor and steam traction engine with ease. He knows who made them, problems the manufacturers may have faced, who used to own them, and how he got them.
He collects old buildings and has enough of them placed on his Dream land property to form a village in themselves.
Nostalgia is everywhere, but he brings everything alive.
And as he is driving visitors to some of the special spots, he may stop and pull some weeds that bother him because they weren't eradicated.
He is known far and wide outside his home in Montana. Mention Oscar and you can get a conversation going among many groups of collectors and restorers. They hold him in awe. No individual can outdo him for the numbers of engines in his collection, or the very special engines within those numbers.
He recently bought five tractors at the Bright sale in California, which has already set a legend for the money it amassed and the crowds that attended.
Our visit to see him this past summer was the second for my wife Margaret and me. We drove over from the home of her cousins, John and Jean Baucus, of Helena, who had visited Oscar with us the first time.
Margaret has assisted me in the preparation of this article. Oscar gave me so much information as he showed us through his buildings and around the grounds, that I couldn't take notes fast enough.
I should have brought a recorder and made tapes of what he said. One tape would not have sufficed. Marcella has tried to persuade him to make tapes on his own, but he has resisted. I hope he will, for he has a fund of knowledge that is irreplaceable.
Many of the engines in the three warehouses covering two acres have identifying placards on them. That is a help to those who walk through on their own. They can also see an air-plane, various pieces of farm equipment that are not gas or steam engines, and memorabilia that help tell the story of the development of agriculture over more than a century.
He has 'a little more than' 300 tractors of many types and models; 42 steam traction engines, and about 150 stationary gas engines.
Oscar is very proud of his Olmstead, 'Montana's only tractor', which was built at Big Timber. It has a four-wheel pull and is fully articulated. The company later moved to Great Falls and this engine is the only one remaining, so far as he knows. The castings were built in the old Billings foundry.
He has a Lion, built in Minneapolis, and knows of no other. He owns a Holt which was shipped to Germany during World War I and then shipped back after being used by the Army of Occupation. It was sold as surplus and went to Nebraska where it served many years before he bought it.
Here are some excerpts from Os car's observations, based on the notes I took as he walked us through the warehouses:
'This 1902 Case is like the second one bought by my Dad.'
'There are only 10 or 12 tractors I don't have.'
'This 48 Avery has 1,036 feet of half-inch tubing in the radiator. I know because I put them in it.'
'I found this Case by accident. A lady called from Casper, Wyoming, saying she had a Case 20-40 and wanted to put it into a museum in eastern Wyoming. I met her at Gilette- half-way between Sundance and New castle. It had been stored over a hill; only one item had been stolen from it. She wanted me to restore it. I promised I would. I sent her a check for $1,000 and she was delighted. She was a school teacher on a low pension. This enabled her to have her teeth and glasses fixed.'
'This is the last Minneapolis built, a 39-57, before they merged.'
'I have every Allis-Chalmers model; all the Avery; all but one Rumely.'
'The early McCormick-Deering was known as a thumb breaker, be cause of what could happen when you had to crank it.'
'Here's an Irish Fordson-built in Ireland.'
'The Moline Universal was the first tractor with an electric starter and battery ignition.'
'The first tractor with air tires with Allis-Chalmers Model U.'
'Here's a Cletrac Model F,' he says. 'It has the most rollers of any tractor.'
'This is a Wheat tractor. It was built in New York. I know of only one other.'
Among other 'very rare' engines are 1918 Case, grey and red; a 'baby' Wallis; No. 3957, 'the last Minneapolis built'; 'the finest Flower City in the country-and I have seen them all.'
Oscar points to his iron seat collection-'the second largest' any where. He likes his Indiana tractor, 'the only one built in Indiana'. His list of firsts, biggests, bests and onlys is staggering. He can remember how he obtained all his engines. One cost him 200 silver dollars.
Marcella can remember how some of the engines got there, too-he spotted the locations from the air and she drove the tractor-trailer to pick them up from their former owners. Over some of those narrow twisting roads, she confides, that is quite a challenge. And she is equal to it.
Oscar knew hard work as a youngster, but he showed savvy too. 'I started milking cows when I was five years old. That's the God's truth. We were all taught to work.'
His father was a Hart-Parr dealer in Kansas. Later, Oscar was an Allis-Chalmers dealer in Topeka, starting in 1925. In a varied career, he has been a large landowner and has flown hundreds of thousands of miles as a pilot.
He is the governor of the Quiet Birdmen hangar in Billings. The Quiet birdmen organization is made up of pilots such as Charles Lindbergh, first to fly the Atlantic solo. Oscar's name is etched in Lindbergh's propellor that flew on that solo trip from New York to France. Oscar's Quiet Bird-men set of wings on his wall is the largest ever made. He is also an OX5 pioneer; he calls the OX5 'the engine that put the U.S. in business after World War I'.
He's retired six times and keeps working. He will be 86 on March 8, 1987. He sets an example for every one-a love of country, an ability to look ahead, and a drive to get things
done. He's rarer than any of his engines-a Montana answer to a re quest made by Daniel Webster in New Hampshire years ago: 'Give me men to match my mountains.'