Monday, December 9, 2019
After five months of work Charlie Lydon unveiled his 1970 Allis-Chalmers 185 at Tomah's Fourth of July parade. This antique tractor and others will be displayed during the Monroe County Fair in the Exhibit Building at Recreation Park.

Antique tractors: A love affair

Restored workhorses of yesteryear will be on display at county fair

They roll slowly through a parade a virtual prism of colors.

Leon Schleusener and Bert Baumgarten driving International/Farmall red. Bob Drier and  Bob Hemmersbach driving John Deere green. Bill Fleming driving Oliver light green. Charlie Lydon driving Allis Chalmers orange. All colors and allegiances were displayed during Tomah's Fourth of July parade.

Those were only a few of the owners who showcased their antique tractors during the parade. That spectrum of colors takes front stage again during the Monroe County Fair in the Recreation Park Exhibit Building when those owners and others will display their vintage tractors.

There may even be Minneapolis Moline yellow and Ford red/blue/gray (depending on model) on display. Lydon, 74, who lives outside Kendall, said Monroe County's antique tractor owners are good friends who showcase their antiques to showcase agricultural history.

Lydon's 15 restored Allis-Chalmers tractors provide an extensive trip down memory lane. His oldest Allis is a 1935 U, purchased five miles from his home farm, the same farm where he was raised and still resides with wife Judy.

"There is a story for every tractor," said the retired Kendall postmaster, who worked as a park ranger at Wildcat State Park near Ontario after that job. Over the years as we got rid of a (dairy) cow we would put another tractor in a (barn) stall."

The 1935 U sits inside his work shop where tractors are painted. Sitting beside that tractor is a late model mint condition Pontiac Bonneville, just to show Lydon appreciates vintage cars, too. Several restored tractors sit in a nearby machine shed.

Most of Lydon's fleet sits inside the former dairy barn beneath clear, heavy plastic. Not a swanky climate controlled shed, it resembles a working man's storage. Each tractor would require only a battery charge to have them road ready, he proudly states.

Lydon credits sons Tom, Tim and Mark for helping with restoration efforts when time permits from their full time jobs. Tom raises crops on the family farm and on additional rented property. Tim drives truck and Mark works at Toro.

Longtime friend Bob Pliner, from Kendall, provides invaluable mechanical assistance, especially with electric wiring, he said. Much of the restoration work is done during winter months, Lydon added.

Lydon and other local antique tractor owners want to share their hobby with others. Some will travel by tractor to Baraboo for their Badger Steam and Gas Engine Days in late August. The trip is nearly five hours. They meet at Lydon's dairy barn. Their routes is on lightly traveled roads.

And while Lydon is not one to throw anyone under the tractor, he did say one member of their group who took the lead last year will likely be replaced. The anonymous driver took a wrong turn and their arrival to Baraboo was delayed. All he would say was the operator was driving an Oliver. (See beginning of the story).

And yes, the group likes to poke fun at each other on the road.

"We all have our own flavor (favorite model), but we haven't kicked anybody out of the group," Lydon jokes.

 

They travel Monroe County during planned antique tractor tours. One starts in Clifton at Rotten Brothers this year. Another is scheduled for Labor Day, starting at Bob Drier's farm north of Tomah. They enjoy seeing people's reaction passing them on the road or passing through a community.

While the interior of the original dairy barn is modest, Lydon had the exterior resided in 2012. Along with that work a recreational addition was built onto the barn.

The "museum" is a tad more posh. The museum includes countless toy tractors accumulated by the Lydon sons as Christmas gifts over the years. The consummate man cave is heavy in antique tractor decor.

Numerous trophies and plaques attest to the commitment of Lydon's restoration efforts.

Lydon's time and financial investment is supported by his wife.

"When I buy one for $1,000 and sell it for $5,000, she likes that," Lydon said. "When we buy one we usually work to get them restored."

But with lessons learned Lydon has gained experience about what it may cost to turn one man's trash into another man's treasure. Lydon's bias for Allis-Chalmers is obvious. But he developed a soft spot for Ford tractors. He owns four, one purchased by Judy. Remember, there is a story for every tractor.

There was a sale Lydon could not attend so he sent Judy to scope out the merchandise. Long story short, the Lydon's became owners of a red Ford Roadmaster that was not in the best shape.

Lydon concedes Judy bid a little higher than he would have, but adds, "women are worse than men when it comes to bidding at an auction."

But the red Ford blends in well with the Allis orange. As he goes down the line Lydon shares little anecdotes about the collection. There is the D-12 purchased in Salt Lake City, Utah. One of Lydon's friends who drove semi spotted the tractor and reported back to Kendall. After counsel with Judy, a trip to Salt Lake was soon planned.

Antique tractor restoration is not getting cheaper. Finding parts is a challenge. Depending on the size, new rear tires can cost up to $800 to $900 - each. The cost for paint continues to climb. But once a player...

Lydon unveiled his latest purchase in the Tomah parade. The 1970 Allis-Chalmers 185 Crop Hustler, purchased locally, took five months to restore. He plans to have the Crop Hustler displayed at the fair. Lydon said the tractor might be in line for some field work to tighten up some seals to make sure nothing leaks.

But he is quick to add, " I want to put it to work but will try to keep it out of mud puddles." And nobody will be riding atop its fenders.

He anticipates between 40 to 50 tractors in the Exhibit Building. Lydon credits Don Kortbein and Dave Schreier for helping build interest in the antique tractor display at the fair. Both are actively involved in restoration.

Lydon's next project may involve something a little bigger in scale. He is looking for an Allis-Chalmers road grader to restore. He is pretty sure it would fit in the machine shed.

Lydon's tractors will also be on display during the Colors of Kendall and Autumn Ridge Tour Saturday, Oct. 8.

 

 

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