Lovin’ the green ones
ALBERT CITY – From the behemoth “Old Reliable” Hart-Parr 30-60 to any number of smaller Hart-Parr and Oliver tractors, collectors brought an estimated 400 of these green machines to the 2015 Albert City Threshermen and Collectors Show in Albert City Saturday.
Although there were plenty of tractors of other colors vying for attention, along with century-old steam-traction engines, Oliver was the featured tractor of this year’s show.
The Hart-Parr is a distinctively Iowa-made farm machine. The company was headquartered in Charles City. It remained an independent entity from 1901 until it merged with Oliver Chilled Plow Co., in 1929.
And it’s that Iowa-ness of Hart-Parr that led Eileen Ruble, of Hanlontown, to purchase the big, attention-getting 1914 Hart-Parr 30-60 in 2008.
“That’s my hard-saved money,” Ruble said, referring to the gas-powered workhorse machine the company nicknamed Old Reliable.
Ruble’s husband, Jerred Ruble, is a life-long enthusiast of old tractors, growing up among a family of men who practically idolized farm machines.
“Not everyone has one of these things,” Eileen Ruble said. “And it has a unique sound when running.”
The 30-60, Jerred Ruble said, was one of the first in a line of tractors that started the transition from steam power to internal combustion.
When asked what she’s learned about the tractor, Eileen Ruble said “it’s kind of a beast” to operate.
“It’s too big for me.”
It’s so big, the Rubles said, that someone has to walk ahead and off to the side because the driver has an obstructed forward view.
“On the steering wheel side, you can kind of see ahead,” Jerred Ruble said. “But not on the flywheel side.”
The 30-60 was designed to start with gasoline, then the operator could gradually transfer to cheaper kerosene.
The Rubles said they mostly bring the 30-60 to shows for display and run it in parades.
“It’s eye-candy for people who see it and stop and have their pictures taken with it,” Jerred Ruble said.
When not at shows, the Rubles keep the tractor stored at Heritage Park of North Iowa in Forest City, where they’ll have the machine running during the Steam Threshing Festival, Sept. 19 and Sept. 20.
After the traction giants had assumed the heavy-duty role of prairie sod-busting from horses, Hart-Parr, and later Oliver and others, began designing smaller tractors for lighter work around the farm.
Don Hoover, of Webb, said he has 19 of what he calls lightweight Hart-Parrs, manufactured between 1918 and 1930.
“I restore them as I buy them,” Hoover said. “I have five now waiting to be restored.”
Hoover said his fascination with Hart-Parr started with his great-uncle Herbert Hoover, not the president, of Woodbury, Pennsylvania.
The elder Hoover owned a water-powered grist mill that was put out of commission when the dam that diverted water through it broke in a 1930 flood.
Hoover ordered a one-cylinder, 25 horsepower Hart-Parr stationary engine to power his mill while the dam was being repaired.
He later ordered a 50 hp engine from the Charles City company to use as a back-up power source if the dam broke again.
“Well, that dam never broke again,” Don Hoover said. “And eventually that engine came into my possession.”
He took it to the Ageless Iron Show in Ankeny in 1970, where he bought a 36 hp Hart-Parr engine and from there the collection evolved to include nine stationary engines, 19 lightweight tractors, 75 hit-and-miss engines and plenty of spare parts.
“I have all of the (Hart-Parr) lightweight tractors except for one model, a 1020 C,” Hoover said. “I have a 1020 B, which is hard to find, one of just a handful thought to still exist.”
Restoration includes taking every machine down to its individual parts and cleaning, replacing or manufacturing a new one.
He overhauls the engine and transmission, repairs fuel tanks and fenders and bores the sleeves for the pistons. If he can’t do a job, he has a number of regional machine shops he uses.
“If I really work hard at it,” Hoover said, “it’ll take four months to do a tractor.”
He supplemented his hobby by teaching farm equipment mechanics at Iowa Lakes Community College in Emmetsburg for 30 years, retiring in 2006.