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Rural relics

Organizers seek more antique tractors
for July show in Madison

Collector Cart will display his fleet of iron

By Erin Lehman
Contributing Writer

(May 2008) – Fifty years ago, no farmer would have predicted that his tractor would ever be central to the fastest-growing sport in America. Yet, today those same 50-year-old tractors are being collected, restored and displayed in shows across the nation. Added to this growing list of shows is the second annual antique tractor show at the Jefferson County 4-H Fair.

Richard Cart

Photo by Erin Lehman

Tractor collector and restorer
Richard Cart with one of his
restored antique tractors.

Why is tractor collecting and showing the fastest-growing sport in America, according to “Classic Tractor Fever,” a popular television show on the Rural Television Network? Some think the current generation may be the cause of such popularity.
“Baby boomers are looking for the old-style tractors they grew up with,” said Richard Cart, 50.
The Madison, Ind., resident is a contractor and retired farmer who started collecting tractors a decade ago. Cart began the hobby by collecting Oliver tractor toys with his son, Oran Cart, now 20 years old. Then Cart graduated to gathering actual Oliver tractors and restoring them. Today, he owns 10 antique tractors, numerous antique tractor accessories, and 600 collectible tractor toys.
Last year, Cart was able to convince the Jefferson County 4-H Fair organizers to allow a tractor show. Tractor shows have been a popular staple in other county fairs. For example, Jackson County has held a tractor show for more than 20 years. Although the organizers were initially hesitant, Cart told them the tractor show could be a treat for the community.
“My selling point to the fair was that these tractors are our heritage. Seeing them would be a learning activity,” Cart said.
This summer, is planning the second annual antique tractor show at the fair. The tractors will be on display all week during the fair, July 6-12. Cart is planning for more exhibitors and organizing a tractor parade.
There were 22 tractors in the 2007 show. Cart exhibited eight of his tractors and was surprised to see how many local residents had an antique tractor. Exhibitors would emerge with their father’s tractor, which had been sitting in their garage.
“People came out of the woodwork here, there, and yonder with a tractor,” Cart said.
Auctioneer Don Dunlap was one of the exhibitors who had a tractor in the show. He describes antique tractor collecting and showing as a family and historical affair. “My father and grandfather had them,” Dunlap said.
Like Dunlap, Cart grew up around tractors, specifically Oliver tractors. This explains Cart’s decision to collect only Oliver brand tractors and toys. His careful descriptions of each piece of farming equipment give his collection a story. The 1940s cultivators used to be his grandfather’s. The 1961 corn planter is exactly like one his father used to use.
“We always had an Oliver on the farm. I grew up on Olivers,” Cart said. “It was the first tractor I ever drove.”
This “sentimental thing” behind tractor collecting, as Cart describes it, is evident in old and young collectors alike. In last year’s tractor show, Cart observed how tractor exhibitors stood proudly by their tractor all day long. He witnessed how grandfathers brought their grandchildren to the show, excitedly pointing out the tractor they used to farm with.
Antique tractors that are beautifully restored can become wise financial investments. Some, like Dunlap, do not do their own restoration work, and the hobby can be pricey. Dunlap paid $7,000 for his favorite tractor, an orange-and-white Allis Chalmers.
“It is expensive,” said Dunlap. “But I like to spend a lot of money for my toys.”
Other collectors, like Cart, do partial or whole tractor restorations. The restoration is part of the hobby for Cart. It involves careful research and intricate labor.
One of Cart’s most successful restorations was a 1963 Oliver tractor manufactured just for mowing Indiana’s state highways. There were only 250 made, and most were torn up through rough mowing and poor handling.
Cart paid $500 for the worn down tractor in 2000. It was the first investment in his antique tractor collection. The restoration process involved taking the tractor shell off, sandblasting the pieces, getting the engine and mechanical parts functioning, then painting the shell pieces individually and putting the tractor back together again. Cart invested another $4,000 in the restoration process.
However, those investments paid off when Cart was awarded “Best in Show” at the State Fair. An older gentleman even offered Cart $10,000 for the rare and restored yellow mowing Oliver. Cart declined the gentleman’s offer.
“I brought it home and fixed it up just to have it,” Cart said.
Cart and Dunlap agree that the antique tractor fair could become a growing Jefferson County 4-H Fair tradition. The tractor show is open to the public, and Dunlap encourages community members to exhibit tractors and visit the show.
“Come and enjoy the tractors of yesterday,” Dunlap said.

• For more information, contact Richard Cart at (812) 871-6452 or (812) 273-9773.

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