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Mountain Home Magazine

Tractor Beams

How much thought have you given to the great American tractor? If you have food on your table, you have the tractor to thank for it. While most people will never see the inner workings of a farm firsthand, one can still appreciate the purpose and power of the tractor that brings America’s food supply from farm to table.

In 1890, John Froelich introduced the first gas-powered tractor to the farming industry and changed history.

In 1991, retired vocational agriculture schoolteacher Richard Kinnan was tasked with arranging an antique tractor display for the Tioga County Fair, and changed local history. The initial show had three John Deere tractors, and it was raining “hammer handles and pitch forks,” says Richard.

From this humble beginning the show has grown to upwards of 100 tractors and farm implements from far and wide. Some are completely restored, some in various stages of the restoration process, and a few are “barn finds” to show the “before” look.

In addition to increasing production and saving labor, early tractor use stimulated social change. Rural farming populations decreased as tractor use increased. The beginning of World War II saw thirty million people living on farms with 1.2 million tractors in use. In the 1940s, tractor use peaked; due to social changes brought on by the war, farming communities experienced drastic shifts. Tractor use jumped to four million by 1950, while farm populations dropped to twenty-three million.

A lot of those great old machines are still around. At the Tioga County Fairgrounds on Charleston Road in Whitneyville, you can expect to see familiar names like Allis-Chalmers, Case, Farmall, Oliver, Ferguson, Ford, and International-Harvester, along a few lesser-known varieties such as the Silver King, Minneapolis-Moline, and Fordson Major.

In 2007, John Deere aficionado George Hilfiger assumed the role of Antique Tractor Display Chairman and indicates his job is to babysit the tractors. George got his start in 1974 when he paid fifty dollars for a 1939 John Deere Orchard tractor (that’s them above) to pull firewood from the woods. He ended up being bitten by the antique tractor bug. His collection has since grown to include another tractor, three crawlers, and three lawn tractors. All John Deere.

Restoring these historical machines is a time consuming and costly process, and in this case is strictly a labor of love, as the prize for putting your equipment on display is a certificate of appreciation and a pass to the fair.

The Tioga County Fair runs from August 7 through August 12. When you get there, you will find the antique tractor display near the rabbit and poultry barn. There you will find George talking with other tractor aficionados, strolling down memory lane, giving progress reports, and sharing information on where to look for the parts needed to keep the restoration process moving along. 

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