Farm Horizons, November 2011

Winsted man’s love for farm tractors started small

By Linda Scherer, Staff Writer

Harlan Hecksel’s love of tractors began at a very early age.

“As soon as I could crawl, I started pushing toy tractors around,” Hecksel said.

“Everything was John Deere and I had a full line of planters and pickers and discs,” Hecksel said.

The Sterner Zimmerman John Deere implement dealership on Main Avenue in Winsted was one of his favorite places to go with his dad, Wallace Hecksel, because he would see equipment for his toy tractors, and sometimes he was able to talk his dad into getting a new piece to add to his collection.

It was just before his fourth birthday when Hecksel saw a John Deere 50 pedal pull tractor at Sterner Zimmerman, and he wanted it.

“Every time I would go with dad to town, I would beg him for that tractor,” Hecksel said. “Finally, it got close to my birthday and Clarence Sterner, one of the co-owners, told my dad, ‘I will knock a few dollars off that pedal tractor if you will buy it for the kid before he wears it out in the store.’”

Riding back home with the John Deere 50 in the back of the pickup, Hecksel remembers both he and his father had “smiles from ear to ear.”

Hecksel has no idea how many hundreds of miles he put on that pedal tractor, but he drove it until the rubber was worn off the back tires.

It didn’t take him long to move from pedaling a tractor around the yard to driving the real thing out in the field.

Hecksel’s father had a John Deere A with a hand clutch he used for farming. Although Hecksel was only 5 or 6, he learned quickly how the clutch made the tractor go forward and stop, and he was able to save his father time when it came to picking up hay bales that were dropped in the field.

“He didn’t have to walk back to the tractor to drive ahead, or keep jumping up and down off the tractor,” Hecksel said. “But I was so small that I couldn’t reach the steering wheel so every once-in-a-while, dad would have to come and straighten the steering wheel out,” Hecksel said.

Hay raking with a John Deere H was the real beginning of Hecksel’s farming career at about 6 or 7 years old.

His father took him out to a hay field, the farthest one from the house. “We went around the field a couple of times and he said to me, ‘It’s all yours,’” Hecksel said.

Hecksel raked for awhile and choked off the tractor which had a hand-start with a big fly wheel. He was too small to start it up, so he had to walk all the way home.

When Hecksel got home, his father took him back out to the hay field in a pickup truck, and hand-started the tractor.

“But he gave me a lecture on the way out there on maybe I wasn’t big enough to be doing this job,” Hecksel said. “I never choked it off again and made sure the tractor stayed running. Even though I was a pretty little guy, I didn’t want to lose that job because I felt like a big man sitting on that tractor.”

As Hecksel grew into his teens, he discovered another love besides tractors. Her name was Pauline Parish and they met at Watertown High School, where Hecksel graduated in 1967 and Pauline graduated in 1968. They were married Feb. 15, 1969.

Pauline was the perfect mate for Hecksel. She proved it by spending her honeymoon helping him look for a tractor.

“We went from implement dealer to implement dealer looking for a John Deere 720 or 730 tractor. They were made about 1958 or 1959,” Hecksel said.

This was Hecksel’s first tractor, which he planned to use for farming. He ended up buying a John Deere 730 in Benson.

“Pauline was excited about it too,” Hecksel said.

But the Hecksels soon outgrew the tractor and looked for something bigger and better.

“After 42 years, I still have my original wife, but the original John Deere 730 that we purchased was traded in to buy another tractor.”

However, Hecksel did go searching many years later to find another John Deere 730 to replace the original honeymoon tractor and it’s now part of his collection. Also, part of his collection is the John Deere H and John Deere A, which were the first two tractors his father let him drive.

Hecksel owns 34 tractors.

“Collecting tractors has always been in my blood. A lot of those tractors I had originally when I was young and wanted to have the bigger new stuff. Now I am getting old and the old stuff looks so much better to me. So many memories go with each tractor,” Hecksel said.

Some of the tractors he buys with plans to fix them up.

“I do the painting myself. I thought when I got older I would have more time. This year I didn’t have time to get a single tractor done,” Hecksel said.

He has also purchased tractors that are already restored from Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota.

“If I am traveling and see a tractor on the side of the road that would be neat to own, I will stop and take a look,” he said.

His favorite tractor is the International 1066. It’s also Pauline’s favorite.

“It was my second tractor,” Hecksel said. “I traded the John Deere 730 for it and it’s the only tractor I bought brand spanking new. That one will stay on the farm until I am gone. It isn’t for sale at any price.”

Other tractors Hecksel has in his collection are: a John Deere MT, a John Deere 620, a Minneapolis Moline R, Farmall H, a Farmall Super M single wheel, a Case SC, and a Farmall 450.

In addition to his collection of full-size farm tractors of every make and model, Hecksel also has a collection of 70 model tractors on display.

Hecksel is the owner of H H Fabrication in Winsted, a business he started to supplement the farm income. The company makes between 35 and 40 different attachments for the skid-steer, and custom-made attachments and parts for tractors. It also does work for other local companies.

When Hecksel isn’t busy with his fabrication business, he is farming. Eight years ago, he and Pauline sold their livestock which included 2,000 hogs and 700 beef cattle to concentrate on the business. Some of the livestock buildings have been turned into manufacturing space for H H Fabrication and tractor storage.

Although the livestock is gone, Harlan and Pauline love to crop farm.

“Pauline does the tillage work and I am on the planter in the spring. In the fall, I am in the combine,” Hecksel said. “I consider it better than a vacation.”

The Hecksels have three children:

• Tricia is married to Jeremy Hirsch and they live in Winsted.

• Troy is married to Kris and they live in Watertown.

• Amy lives in Winsted.

The Hecksels also have five grandchildren.

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