‘Big Bud’ will remain in Iowa
INDEPENDENCE (AP) – The executive director of Heartland Acres Agribition Center said the ag museum needs more horse power to pay its bills.
Craig Johnson hopes the 1,000-plus ponies produced by Big Bud will suffice. He recently announced the world’s largest tractor will remain at the facility for another year.
The move will keep cash registers ringing at the museum and in town, officials said.
Attendance shot up last year – drawing visitors from around the world – during Big Bud’s inaugural season at Heartland Acres, which allowed the facility to cash flow for the first time and pay off a little debt, Johnson said. A little more than 30,000 people paid to get in compared with 5,000 during the center’s early years. It opened in May of 2007.
There’s no doubt the mammoth machine is the reason.
“The tractor is a big draw,” Johnson said. “Someone will always want to see this oddity. We always knew we had a great place, but we needed that one thing to draw (people) in.”
A perfectly restored Waterloo Boy tractor, antique cars and hands-on exhibits, like milking a cow or shelling corn, are all interesting and fun, Johnson said. The museum is full of artifacts of what farming was like decades ago and how food is grown today.
But Big Bud is the star.
Weighing in at about 100,000 pounds, Big Bud is 27 feet long, 20 feet wide and 14 feet tall. It has two 1,000-gallon fuel tanks to feed its powerful 16-cylinder Detroit diesel engine. Originally built in 1977 to put out 747 horse power, owners Robert and Randy Williams of Big Sandy, Mont. have increased it considerably.
By comparison, a John Deere 9630 four-wheel-drive has 530 horse power and tips the scales at more than 37,000 pounds.
More than 500 smaller versions of Big Bud were made up until 1992, but only one of the size displayed at Heartland Acres.
“We have the biggest tractor on the planet – it’s an easy sell,” Johnson said.
In the past, Johnson said the museum needed to rely on donors and other funding sources to keep the doors open. The administrator is optimistic the mystique of Big Bud will continue to draw people and dollars. The goal is to remain financially independent and whittle down the center’s $3.5 million debt.
That sounds good to Tammy Rasmussen, a Heartland Acres board member and executive director of the Independence Chamber of Commerce.
What’s good for the center is good for the community, she said. Heartland Acres not only tells the story of agriculture, but draws tens of thousands of people to town.
“It’s gratifying to see the people come,” Rasmussen said. “Big Bud is the draw, but now people want to know about other things to do here. People stop by gift shops … restaurants.”
Robert Williams said Heartland Acres is the perfect place to show off their pride and joy. The center is all about ag history, and Big Bud certainly is a part of it.
The brothers purchased the giant in 1997 for $95,000. It cost $330,000 new.
Until two years ago, Big Bud worked for a living. The tractor pulled an 80-foot cultivator on the Williams’ 12,000 acre wheat farm. It could work up 800 acres a day.
“We bought it to farm. It was very cost efficient because it eliminated the need for another tractor and operator,” Robert said.
Part of the tractor’s allure, he said, is it could be put to work in the spring. It’s not perfectly restored, like others at the museum. The white paint is peeling a bit, oil pans catch drips and the original tires are cracked.
Hundreds of people would come to Montana from all across the country each year to watch Big Bud work, Robert said. That indicated a second career as a model was in order. The Williamses get a percentage of gate receipts.
“A lot of people get excited about it,” Robert said. “It has quite a history.”
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