Farm Horizons, September 2000
Tractors red, green, and the very unusual
By Jane Otto
"This might be the only one in the world that runs," Jerome Cafferty said as he cranked the engine of his 1928 Rock Island Model G-15-25 tractor.
The Rock Island tractor is just one of more than 15 rare tractors sheltered at Jerome's residence on the western edge of Howard Lake.
Once started, the Waukesha motor hummed a quiet tune.
"I know of one more like this, but that one doesn't start," said Jerome.
As the Rock Island motor purred, Jerome's son, Matt Cafferty, said one reason for the quiet engine is the bottom exhaust.
The bottom exhaust also keeps water from entering the motor if the tractor sits out in the elements.
Matt shares his father's enthusiasm for old machinery and does a lot of the mechanical work on the tractors for him.
"Water can't sit in there and rust out the engine," said Matt. "But it makes working on them tough because the exhaust is right where you are."
Engine rust wasn't a problem for the Caffertys as there wasn't much work to be done on the tractor.
Jerome picked up the 1928 Model G at an auction in Endeavor, Wis.
"It only had one owner, who bought it brand new from an implement dealer. The guy had the books for it and everything," said Jerome.
After the owner died, his family had an auction. His son didn't want to sell the tractor, but it was accidentally placed on the auction bill.
"The family raised hell with the auctioneer, but it was too late," said Jerome.
Thus, Jerome and Matt Cafferty came home with a 1928 Rock Island to add to their entourage of tractors.
It took Jerome almost 30 years to amass such a collection. He has bought tractors in Indiana, Nebraska, Iowa, the Dakotas, and Minnesota.
In addition to Rock Island, Nichols Shepard, Eagle, Huber, Cockshutt, and Twin Cities are some of the not-so-ordinary tractor lines that stand in his sheds. Almost all are from the metal-wheel era.
"They get a little dusty, but they start pretty easy," laughed Jerome.
His interest in tractors stems back to when he was a kid and rode his brother Bryan's 1927 Huber.
"About all I could do was steer," said Jerome.
"Bryan had an old car light on the front of that tractor and a battery charging all day in the shed. He'd hook up the battery to the light and then work at night until the battery ran out," Jerome recalled.
His fascination with that tractor was so strong, that in later years, he bought one exactly like it for only $150. After some engine work and a little green paint, the Huber with its 4-cylinder Stearns engine, gets a lot of lookers.
"I could get $5,000 to $6,000 for it easy no trouble at all," Jerome said.
Another Huber that graces his collection is circa 1924-25 which also has a four-cylinder Stearns engine and rear wheels more than 24 inches in diameter.
Next in line is a Nichols Shepard, circa 1921-22, with a Lawson-Beaver engine.
Several Twin Cities tractors from the early '20s finish out the row of rare breeds.
Cafferty said Twin Cities also made a variety of farm machinery in Minneapolis. Eventually, the company sold out to Moline, which also bought Minneapolis Tractor. Hence, the name Minneapolis Moline.
Twin Cities made its own motors. A large 27-44 took about three years to get it going, said Matt.
He explained that the 27 represents the horsepower for the drawbar that pulls the plow, and 44 is the belt horsepower.
The Twin Cities motor runs in the opposite direction of those for other tractors. The pulley is on the opposite side. It also runs at 1,200 rpm. It doesn't run fast, but the big pistons give it its power, Matt said.
"Some of these engines burn kerosene and water. That's the way they're designed," said Jerome. "We just use unleaded gas. It may burn the valves if you run it too long on unleaded, but we pretty much usually turn them on and off."
Not too many tractors in his collection have rubber wheels, but one is a 1953 or '54 Cockshutt 20. The sporty-looking yellow and red tractor was made in Canada.
The rarest tractor in his collection is a 1931 Huber Modern Farmer 30.
"It's their baby. Nobody has ever seen one or knows where there is one," Jerome said. "It was built in tough years. I'm not just sure why they built it."
"It is an unusual tractor. It has no power. I don't know what it was designed for," Matt added.
The tractor that started it all Bryan Cafferty's 1927 Huber now is also part of Jerome's collection.
"It took a lot of talking to get it," said Jerome. "Bryan was always going to fix it up, but never had the time."
Bryan plowed a lot of fields with that tractor, said Jerome, until he replaced it with a newer style, all-rubber McCormick W9. The Huber was then drained and sat in Marvin Neumann's woods for 34 years.
"We made some wood before we got it out. It took two tractors," Jerome said. "It had sunk 18 inches into the ground. "
Acquiring a brother's tractor is one thing, but how do they come across the other unusual finds?
The Caffertys attend a lot of auctions. Jerome also has a dealer out west who he works with, and some of it is just luck. (See related story.)
"You pick up a knack for it," said Matt. "When you're driving around and you see something out of the corner of your eye in someone's woods."
It's much the same for Ken Fratzke of rural Hutchinson.
"Whenever I make a trip, I'll see something and stop and ask about it," Fratzke said. "If you're conscious of tractors, you'll see them. If you're not looking for them, you won't see them."
He said if there's nothing for sale at the place that has peaked his interest, often that person will know someone who has something they might want to sell.
Fratzke doesn't always travel with a trailer, but if he finds something, he'll go home and get his trailer, regardless of distance.
He puts on a lot of miles. Tractors have found their way to Fratzke from as far away as Washington, Colorado, and Missouri.
Presently, he's thinking about buying a Cub Cadet in the state of Washington. That's family though, he said, so he has some time to think about it.
Unlike the Caffertys, Fratzke typically buys tractors in the more popular red and green varieties Farmall and John Deere.
"I would like to keep everything, if I could," said Fratzke.
He usually sells his finds after things are pieced together, painted, and in working order.
A Farmall Super A was purchased about 500 miles west of here in South Dakota and is now heading to a buyer in Arkansas.
Not all of his customers are collectors. He said there was one fellow who just wanted a tractor like the one his dad had.
While the Caffertys haul the tractors home in one piece on a huge flatbed machinery truck, Fratzke has brought his tractors home in boxes.
A rare find, the last of the two-cylinders, a John Deere 40W, was disassembled in Colorado and arrived in Hutchinson in a box. Fratzke said the 40Ws were made for only eight months. John Deere made only 1,750 of them.
A John Deere H also came to Fratzke in a box, and a John Deere M was held together with duct tape before Ken applied his magic touch.
He buys from dealers occasionally, too.
"They don't have the time to work on old things. They realize they'll never to get to it, so they sell them," Fratzke said.
People often stop at Fratzke's because the red and green machines stationed along the grass on State Highway 7 often catch their eye.
"They just see something they might have been trying to find," Fratzke said.
As for cost, it is always going up, said Fratzke. The tractor's condition, but more so the desire to have it, probably determines what someone will pay for it.
Tractors aren't all he has; there are trucks, too.
He has a 1948 International pickup which he found in Kansas. It was parked in a shed 20 years ago and never came out until Fratzke came along.
A lime green 1947 Ford pickup sits in his drive, the last one built before Ford changed the body style, eliminating the large wheel fenders.
Up until a few years ago, he had a business in Silver Lake on Highway 7. That was his start in finding and refurbishing tractors. He would also put lawn mowers on old tractors.
It makes it easier if there's a lot of acreage to mow, he said.
Touring both Fratzke's and Cafferty's yards, it's obvious to the occasional observer that these men enjoy what they do. Talk about old machinery and discovering it flows incessantly.
"My dad was an implement dealer in Watertown. It gets in your blood," Fratzke said. "My blood flows red. I only have these green things because they make the red look good."
Jerome Cafferty is not particular about color. He seeks the unusual.
"I like the stuff you don't see every day. There's something to it when you get to only one or two left in the country. Then, you hit the nail on the head."
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