From rusted to relished

Sunday, September 18, 2005
Dave Powers of Egypt Mills drove his 1939 B Allis-Chalmers tractor 64 feet, 1.2 inches in the antique tractor pull at the SEMO District Fair. (FRED LYNCH ~ flynch@

Farmall. John Deere. Allis Chalmers. Massey Ferguson. Ford.

The names resonate a proud nostalgia for Bob Haggett.

At Egypt Mills Antique Tractor Club's exhibit at the SEMO District Fair, Haggett walked among the orange, red and green steel machines, pointing out the history of each.

There's a 1915 Mogul owned by Truman and Shirley Birk. It's the oldest tractor at the exhibit and was shipped to Cape Girardeau County via train from Chicago by Shirley Birk's father.

Like all the tractors there, the Mogul still runs.

There are antique lawn and garden tractors, smaller versions of their heavy-load brothers that have become more popular in recent years among refurbishers.

One of them, a Pennsylvania Panzer, was so named because "it was built like a tank," explained Haggett.

There's an English-made Fordson that worked on the Little River Drainage Project during the 1920s.

History like that is one of the reasons people like Haggett shovel time and money into bringing the tractors back to life. The other reasons are better illustrated by actions than expressed in words.

"When you find them, they're nothing but rusted junk.You beg, borrow and scrounge for parts," said Haggett. "Then you fall in love with it, and even when someone offers you twice what it's worth, you don't want to see it go."

Some of the tractors have been in families for generations.

Gene Phillips remembers the day his father and grandfather brought home a steel-gray Rock Island tractor from Moline, Ill. in 1929. The family nicknamed it "Rocky."

"It sure beat walking behind a horse," said Phillips.

For three decades, Rocky pulled a thresher over the Phillips' farm land in Cape Girardeau County.

Its original steel wheels were eventually replaced with rubber tires and then, in the 1950s, the entire tractor was replaced with a more modern machine.

It was laid to temporary rest in a barn, and brought back to life years later by Phillips' brother, Ralph.

Like many of the tractors at this year's Southeast Missouri District Fair, Rocky helped shape Southeast Missouri during the early decades of the 1900s.

That's not something the tractor enthusiasts can let die.

"It's something we grew up with," said Phillips.

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