2001 - Volume #25, Issue #5, Page #33[ Sample Stories From This Issue | List of All Stories In This Issue | Print this story | Read this issue]
Abandoned Tractor Now Attracts Crowds At Shows
He was on a trail in a park along the Little Sioux River near Cornell, Iowa, when he spotted an old green tractor. "It was only about 50 yards away, but we could barely see it because it was under a tree and the area was so overgrown with weeds and brush," he recalls.
He sought out the tractor's elderly owner, who told him he had parked the 1939 John Deere A 30 years earlier when a gear went out. Other than an added-on headlight, the tractor was all original.
After fighting his way through the brush and tall weeds, Steffen got to the old tractor to find it wasn't just under the tree. Rather, a 30-ft. tall elm tree had nearly swallowed up a good portion of the tractor.
He decided the old A's condition made a stark contrast to the bright shiny restored antique tractors you see at shows, and typified the treatment of a lot of retired farm machinery. "After we saw it, I decided there were probably a lot of other farmers who would like to see it that way, too," he says.
"I offered to buy the tractor from him and he refused," he continues. "That was in the fall. I went back in the spring and asked again and by then, he'd had a chance to think it over. He said he might sell it. So I went back again in July and he'd made up his mind to sell it to me. He said he hadn't been back in there since he parked the tractor, so he probably wasn't ever going to use it again."
Having purchased the tractor, Steffen's next challenge was to take possession. "We went in there with weed eaters, chainsaws, and a tractor and loader and cut our way down to the tractor," he says.
His cousin climbed into the loader bucket with a chainsaw and they raised him up so he could begin cutting back the upper branches. They cut the trunk off at the ground.
Steffen says the tree had grown into the left rear wheel and had swallowed the throttle lever and brake pedal and locked up the flywheel as well. "There was no way we were going to be able to roll it on its wheels, so we just dragged it out backwards. When we went by the old man's house, he came out to look at it. He couldn't believe the tree could possibly have grown that big," he says.
Intent on displaying it at antique tractor shows, Steffen and his son and cousin built a cart that allows them to pick the tractor up or put it on the ground using jacks, so it doesn't have to be dragged into place at shows.
"It's been about seven years since we first saw it back in the woods. The bark has dried out and we've fastened some of that back on with baling wire. But we keep it inside all the time, so the log will not deteriorate. We're going to keep it just the way it is, which is as close as it can be to the way we found it.
"We've displayed it a few times at shows and fairs. I've noticed that wherever we show it, the grass is always more worn around it than around the restored tractors nearby. And I'd sure like to record some of the things I've heard people say about it," he says. He says one woman actually wondered out loud how fast the guy was going when he hit the tree.
The tractor with the tree isn't Steffen's only antique. "I collect plows and other pieces of machinery that other people haven't been interested in up to this point," he says.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Jay Steffen, 4675 200th Ave., Sioux Rapids, Iowa 50585 (ph 712 283-2051).
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