Been in family for 83 years
ALBERT CITY – Ask Josh Keck about his antique tractors and he’ll tell stories that are filled with details and pride.
Keck, 27, a Washta native, came from his Omaha, Neb. home to be part of the Albert City Threshermen and Collector’s Show, which ran Aug. 9 through 11.
He brought two 1930 Farmall Regular tractors, one with steel wheels and a front-end loader.
“My great-grandfather, Ardie Keck, bought (one of the tractors) brand new on Aug. 21, 1930, the same day my grandfather was born,” Keck said. “He paid $594 for it, and we still have the original check he wrote for it.”
The tractor was used for custom corn picking through 1980, when it was retired for production farm work.
A couple of its more unique characteristics, Keck said, include a high-speed road gear and large tires on the back to travel faster. He said at one time there was a piece of timber mounted on the back of the machine so it could be pushed with a car because it was so slow.
Keck said the tractor came in by rail in late 1929 or early 1930, and was sold from a hardware store in the Washta area.
He said everyone in the family has been on it and around it, and shares the same fondness for something that has been in the family for more than 80 years.
“Grandpa spent thousands of hours on this very tractor,” Keck said. “When I was a kid playing with my cousins in the grove we used to climb on this tractor.
“I remember deciding just a few years ago that I wanted to hear it run, and I did get it running three or four years ago.”
Although that tractor holds more family memories for Keck, it’s the rusty-looking steel-wheel tractor he owns and takes to parades that tends to turn the heads of more people.
“I was at an auction a few years ago in the Storm Lake area and this tractor was (among 150 tractors) on the auction,” he said, looking at the 1930 Farmall Regular. “It was in rough shape and nobody else was bidding on it.
“I bid against an iron buyer and got it because I didn’t want to see it go for scrap iron.”
Keck bought it, refurbished the engine and put the correct steel wheels on it. Now he enjoys taking it to parades and shows and he feels like other people enjoy watching it and seeing how it operates.
He said in his visits with older people, he finds that there isn’t much literature on the Farmall Regulars. He said they were given the credit of being one of the first row crop tractors produced.
“The tractor has a mid-1930’s style loader and I’m unsure about the manufacturer of it. There are no manufacturing marks on it anywhere. It’s an old belt-driven mechanical loader, so there are no hydraulics,” he said. “The belt drive isn’t live, so when you push the clutch it stops.”
The tractor’s loader mechanism has lots of moving parts and chains.
“It’s very rough-riding with the steel wheels,” he said. “In the mud and dirt it’s pretty smooth, but it usually keeps shaking things off and we have to keep tightening things up.
“It takes a lot of grease, and we have to always check the fluid levels. You have to time it right and make sure the fuel is correct.
“It’s a crank start, so there are a few precautions to take when you start it so you don’t hurt yourself or get caught in it.”
Keck said when he drives the steel-wheel tractor, he needs to keep both hands on the steering wheel, because he said a rock in the wrong place can take the steering wheel “right out of your hands.”
“They’re dangerous machines. There were no safety precautions on them,” he said, adding that his grandfather learned to drive steel wheel tractors by placing only the palms of his hands on the steering wheel.
“He broke a few of his fingers over the years when rocks got caught in the wheels and took the steering wheel with it,” Keck said.
Keck said it’s a challenge loading the tractor on trailers to take to shows.
“It’s hard sometimes with the steel wheels getting up and down the trailer,” he said. “The steel wheel tractor has only one brake on one side and it’s a hand brake, so as I try to drive it on the trailer I hold on to the brake.
“The (tractor with the rubber tires that belonged to his great-grandfather) has two brakes, and that’s a rarity.”
The tractor was once gray with red rims. Keck said that was the color of the Farmall Regular before they all were red.
“They weren’t red until the late ’30s, he said. “She’s non-painted, and still in her work clothes. It’s great to show off this part of history.”
Keck has plows for each of his antique tractors, and said he gets them out now and then just to remember what it was like for his ancestors to farm the land.
“We don’t know a day’s work as compared to the farmers of 1930,” Keck said, “who ran from sun-up to sundown.
“It was this or horses. Grandpa was a huge influence and showed me how to start it.
“It’s a learning process every day with this thing.”
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