Tractor fans gather in Spencer

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 10, 2011

By David Freeze
For the Salisbury Post
James Culp owns a vintage John Deere B tractor.
He displays that tractor in an unusual way. The tractor is running and the wheels are turning, but the restored tractor sits on three Coca-Cola bottles.
The engine is balanced so that there is very little vibration. It’s so smooth that a nickel perches on edge without toppling.
Although it takes Culp a while to lift the tractor with wooden boards and hydraulic jacks, he sees it as a worthwhile effort. He loves to tell others about his hobby.
“There is nothing better than talking tractors,” he said.
Culp, of Albemarle, is a member of the Ironpeddlers, a group of antique tractor owners who were instrumental in Saturday’s 4th Annual Antique Tractor and Trains Day at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer.
In 2006, Culp went to Indiana to a tractor show and saw the tractor running there, while its owner sat asleep under a straw hat nearby. Culp woke him up and asked if he could buy the tractor.
The owner, Ralph Bauermeister, said that particular tractor was not for sale, but he did have another show tractor available.
Culp was hooked. Culp and Bauermeister became great friends, and when Bauermeister fell ill with health problems, he decided that he wanted Culp to have the original tractor.
Culp agreed and now owns those two John Deeres and one other tractor. He shows them three to four times a year.
“Every old tractor has a story,” said Don Williams of Richfield, who owns a 1948 Minneapolis-Moline. Williams saw the tractor in an old shed and asked the owner for a price. The owner told him to simply come and get it.
Williams called him back in a couple of days, and asked him for a price again. The owner emphatically told him to “‘Just come and get the tractor.’ So I did,” Williams said.
The Moline took eight months to restore and is now painted in its original bright orange.
Williams prefers rare tractors. Many of the tractors were rare, indeed.
Norris James of Kannapolis displayed a 1934 Plymouth tractor.
Only 214 were made in Plymouth, Ohio, before an agreement with Chrysler ended the Plymouth tractor production.
James owns tractor No. 32, which he bought in Grand Rapids, Mich. It was built by a company that specialized in locomotives, and has the same silver paint scheme.
“It would do 25 miles an hour, and was the first tractor made to use rubber tires. I don’t know of another Plymouth tractor left in the south,” James said.
The Plymouth brand eventually became Silver King.
While this is the fourth year for the exhibit at the Transportation Museum, it has grown each year.
Brian Moffitt, head of educational programming for the museum, thinks the tractors are a perfect fit.
“The meticulous restoration is similar to what our volunteers are doing with the antique trains. Often railroad flatcars delivered the tractors from the factory. We plan to keep working with the Ironpeddlers to have this event early in April every year. All of this is wonderful for our museum,” Moffitt said.
The love that the owners show for the tractors is exemplified by Bill Barnhardt of Mount Pleasant. He restores only Ford tractors.
Barnhardt travels to about a dozen shows between Indiana and Florida each year. While two of his 1946 Fords were on display at the museum Saturday, he usually keeps them in his home.
Barnhardt has four Ford tractors in his living room, and six more in his basement.
“There is not a bolt on any of them that I haven’t turned. My tractors are going to be in the house. Me and my wife might not,” Barnhardt said.
He is also especially proud of his collection of 33 children’s pedal tractors.
It was a chilly and gray day as the museum visitors looked at and listened to the antique tractors. Yet the warmth in the words and smiles of the tractor owners, and sounds of the trains in the background, made it possible for just a few moments to escape back to an earlier and simpler time.