OSCAR’S DREAMLAND: A Retrospective

By Staff

4745 Hesper Road Billings, Montana 59106

The year was 1968 and a decision had to be made. With forty
years of ranching and farm equipment sales behind him, Oscar Cooke
was ready to retire and enjoy life. He had been collecting tractors
and steam engines since 1957 and wanted to work full time with the
collection. Maybe open it to the public, share this agricultural
history with everyone. But what to call it?

Oscar’s wife, Marcia, finally hit on the perfect name,
seeing that this vast collection of tools and machinery were from
Oscar’s own past. Dreamland would fit the operation perfectly.
And although no fairies or dragons can be seen at Oscar’s
Dreamland, the dreams and hopes of the American farmer, as well as
the insights of the inventor and industrialist, are spread before
you in a cross-section of Americana.

Oscar was born in 1901 around Emporia, Kansas, where his parents
were farmers. Growing up on the farm set Oscar on the road to a
half-century career in agriculture. At age 16, he started his own
threshing business. His own farming operation soon followed.

In the years before the Depression, farmers were approached by
the big tractor factories to be dealers on their farms. Oscar saw a
good opportunity and became a Rumely tractor dealer.

Oscar enjoyed the farm machinery business and soon pursued a job
with the large manufacturers. He found himself working for the
biggest in the nation, Allis-Chalmers. He worked his way up the
sales ladder and it wasn’t long before he was Midwestern branch
manager for all Allis-Chalmers sales, based in Omaha. This success
proved to Oscar that he could make it in the farm equipment
business, so, with his brother, he opened an Allis-Chalmers
dealership in Chillicothe, Missouri. The dealership grew to be one
of the largest in the U.S.

Farming and ranching in Montana was added to his list of
ventures. Montana soon drew Oscar’s full time and attention. He
sold his interest in the dealership to his son and moved to his
ranch at Decker, Montana. The year was 1957, and Oscar made his
first antique tractor purchase, a small Oil-Pull Rumely circa
1920.

The following years at the CX Ranch saw many additions to the
collection, but no restoration work; just a big line of antique
tractors purchased around the country and lined up at the CX. In
the mid-1960s a 160-acre hay farm was purchased near Billings as
support for the ranch. Tractors, steam engines and other old
equipment trickled in.

By now about three hundred pieces had been collected, but they
were scattered between different locations. In 1972, the CX Ranch
was sold and all the antique equipment was moved to Billings. Added
to the pile there, it represented an impressive amount of
machinery. Restorations had begun on a few pieces at the farm,
which was now known as Oscar’s Dreamland.

In 1975, at age 74, Oscar began working on collecting and
restoring full time. Storage and display buildings were built by
Oscar on the grounds. The collection grew as new interests sparked
collecting. Tractor seats (over 300), antique cars and trucks (30),
original frontier buildings (10), construction and military
equipment, airplanes and airplane engines, boat motors, hand tools,
antique watches, steam engines and tractors, wagons, drilling
equipment and much more. The collection now numbers over 10,000
items and requires 152,000 square feet of indoor display space as
well as 18 acres outdoors.

Of all the different machines in the collection, tractors are
the stars of the show. Rumely, Allis-Chalmers, Massey, Case, as
well as many smaller names and foreign brands are on display. The
tractors are ‘restored to the way they were when last at
work,’ most run. 500 tractors in every size, shape and design.
The 110 Best, forerunner of the Caterpillar line, is a huge
steam-powered monster. Kerosene Annie, the prototype of the Rumely
tractor line, is here as well.

Oscar’s Dreamland is open daily in the summer. Son Riley
Cooke manages the operation. ‘Older folks come out to see the
collection and bring their grand-kids,’ says Riley. ‘I
always hear the same thing. People will see a tractor or a piece of
machinery and it will jog something in their memory. They begin to
tell or retell a story from forty or fifty years ago. The kids have
probably heard it before, but now they can see it, touch it. It
becomes real.’

In the early 1970s Oscar found some historic buildings in the
area being vandalized and in disrepair. At great expense, he
decided to move some of these buildings to Dreamland and restore
them. The Frontier Street is complete with the first schoolhouse in
Yellowstone County, the first church steeple in Billings, the
Mayor’s house, as well as a real railroad depot. Added to round
out the look of ‘Cookeville’ was a fire-house, jail, and
model T Ford garage.

No one could leave Oscar’s Dreamland without learning
something. On a recent day, visitors were amazed by a tractor that
starts with a shotgun shell. One visitor found the early 1900 steam
engine that was made for a merry-go-round. Everyone is awed by the
world’s largest revolving clock.

Located at Billings, Montana, on the Yellowstone River,
Oscar’s Dreamland will continue to be a window on the past. The
collection is more than a museum. According to some, it is a
treasure to be protected, as well as displayed.

No one knows better than Oscar Cooke, who at 92 is still
responsible for preserving a slice of American history.

For more information on Oscar’s Dreamland, contact Riley O.
Cooke at the above address.

Gas Engine Magazine
Gas Engine Magazine
Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines