Rock Island Reunion

By Staff
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Doug Zillmer (left) and Ken Dinse with their 1933 Rock Island H3 tractors, numbers 33035 and 33033, respectively.
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Ken (left) and Doug take a breather after a day of plowing last October. With the help of a few other old timers, these two Rock Island tractors plowed through 40 acres of corn stubble.
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Ken Dinse receives his trophy for best restored tractor at the 2001 Union Threshermens Club show in Symco, Wis.

These two tractors were born in the same month, December 1933, and went their separate ways in 1934. Although they ended up living only 75 miles from each other, they didn’t meet again until Oct. 19, 2002, when they gathered with a handful of antique tractors to work and play.

Ken (left) and Doug take a breather after a day of plowing last October. With the help of a few other old timers, these two Rock Island tractors plowed through 40 acres of corn stubble.

Time Line

In January 1934 these were brand new, shiny tractors. On a cold winter’s day 25 of them were loaded on flat cars, and the next day a steam train with ‘Rock Island’ painted on it’s side hooked up to the flat cars and pulled away, huge clouds of steam puffing into the cold January air as it headed south to Texas.

They were taken off the flat cars in northern Texas and parked at a dealership, but no one would buy them. How could anyone buy them? These tractors were caught in the middle of the Great Depression, and if that wasn’t bad enough Texas and Oklahoma were blowing away. Everyone, it seemed, was pulling out and heading for California with whatever they could haul.

They sat around at the dealership collecting sand and dust for the next six months, until finally one day the dealer said, ‘This isn’t working, I’ve got to call Rock Island.’ But the boys in Rock Island already knew it wasn’t working, and their books could prove it. They loaded all 25 tractors up again and shipped them off to Wisconsin, where 11 or 12 went to a dealer in Rio Creek and the rest went another 75 miles north to a dealer in Harmony Corners.

Number 33033 was in Harmony Corners a short time when the dealer sold him to his brother-in-law, a Mr. Stidel. Number 33033 got new rubber tires in 1946, and the blacksmith threw his old steel lugs in a heap behind the shop. Number 33033 worked hard for Mr. Stidel for many years, but one day some younger help came along and he was left in the shed.

Some years later Mr. Stidel died, leaving number 33033 with his nephew, who then sold him to his neighbor, Mr. Madson, who in turn sold him to Ken Dinse in Green Bay, Wis. Ken noticed how the years of work and weathering had taken their toll on number 33033, and decided to restore him.

Ken really cared about the old tractor, working on it whenever he could. One night Ken’s wife came out to the garage and asked, ‘Are you going in to work tomorrow?’ ‘Yes, why?’ Ken replied. ‘Because you’ll need to get up at 6 a.m., and it’s 3 a.m. now,’ she said. ‘As soon as 1 finish tightening these rod bearings, I’ll be in,’ Ken said. Ken takes very good care of number 33033, and he’s kind of proud of the tractor, which earned him a Best Restored trophy at the July 2001 Onion Threshermens Clbu show in Symco, Wis.

Number 33035 eventually came into the ownership of Doug Zillmer, Algoma, Wis., and like 33033, it also gets the best of care these days. When the tractors split up at Rio Creek, who would have believed they would meet again 69 years later in a field of corn stubble with two 14s hooked behind them.

Contact engine enthusiast Ken Dinse at: 1012 Royal Blvd., Green Bay, Wl 54303.

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