If you like antique tractors, then the national Oliver show held this past weekend at the Wayne County Fairgrounds likely piqued your interest.
That is, of course, if you were able to make it and if you were able to deal with all the heat and rain. The weather certainly was not the highlight, but the display of tractors — several hundred entries of Oliver — was something to see.
If you missed the show, you can still see some of the many displays by watching this slide show I created.
I visited the show Saturday morning prior to a family wedding. So I didn’t stay long, but I enjoyed the hour or so that I spent walking around, finding rare and unexpected models, and many of the models I’ve come to know by memory.
Oliver was a popular tractor in Wayne County and for a few farms, it still is. Part of the reason is because of the Oliver dealership days of Shearer Equipment, which now specializes in John Deere.
And Maibach Tractor of Creston also has a big role in local Oliver ownership, as they continue to be a leader in Oliver parts, sales and service.
I won’t pretend to be an Oliver expert because I’m not — and there’s quite a few folks who know a lot more about the line than I do, but over the years I’ve always appreciated the brand. My grandfather on my dad’s side had Oliver tractors, starting with an Oliver 70, then a 77 and later a 1600 or 1650 — I can’t remember.
But I do remember the 77, which is still in the family and runs well, after being fully rebuilt with new engine parts and paint. My grandfather bought the tractor new, complete with a six-cylinder engine that was popular in its day. For several years he used it as his main plow tractor, pulling a three-bottom moldboard plow. I never plowed with the 77, but I have used it to rake hay, spread manure and pull hay and corn wagons. It’s a good machine and still a lot of fun.
But the 77 was little comparison to the latest Oliver my grandfather would buy. Sometime around 1987 he bought a White 120, which was part of White Farm Equipment — the company that eventually took over Oliver. The 120 was the closest thing to a modern tractor he owned and had a nicely fitted cab, with most of the electronic bells and whistles a tractor would of had in the 1980s. Air conditioning and an electronic rpm gauge might seem modest today, but those were among my favorite features.
The tractor ran on a Cummins Diesel engine factory set at 140 hp. It was more than enough power for anything we did — our heaviest task was pulling a five-bottom plow, and our field disc was only 12-14 feet wide.
In a neighborhood surrounded by John Deere green and International red, the silver color of the White was quite the standout. I remember seeing the White for the first time. I was no more than five years old and my family had just returned home from a vacation to find a large silver tractor in the shed. I had never even heard of a White and I wondered if my grandfather knew what he was doing when he bought it. I think some of the neighbors probably wondered the same thing.
But in the dozen years we farmed with it, the tractor proved its value. The White had the power, maneuverability and the longevity that we liked. And, it was affordable.
Today, we hear a lot about John Deere and Case International, as well as Ford. And those companies have done well to stay in business and continue to offer farmers new choices.
But Oliver and its successors are a tractor family that have always rivaled them all, and their history to agriculture is important. The show this past weekend was a real tribute to that history, and its organizers did a commendable job of sharing the legacy.