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World Class Expert Tractor Restorer
Wendell Kelch has been restoring tractors for himself for more than 50 years and doing it professionally for others for more than 30. When not working on old tractors with his five-man crew, he is doing color commentary for RFD TV coverage of Meacham Auctions of antique tractors.
    “It’s like sports commentary, except we’re telling stories about old tractors,” says Kelch. “I also have more than 800 videos on YouTube about tractors I’ve restored.”
    Kelch has more than 50 tractors in his own collection, including an F12 that was his first restoration in 1971. He also has a Farmall 300 that his dad bought new in 1956. Among his more uncommon tractors is a 1917 30-60 Titan he bought in 1998 at the historic Oscar Cooke’s Dreamland Museum auction. He also has a 1908 International internal friction drive bought before the sale. He has a 30-60 Mogul as well.
    Kelch has worked on hundreds of different tractor models and brands. Some are rare, like a Line Drive La Crosse that is one of only two in existence. The early tractor was designed to transition farmers from horses to tractors. The operator steered it with reins.
    Kelch is currently working on one of three John Deere Dain tractors, a brand that Deere built before buying Waterloo Works. It was an autogas, 4-cyl., all-wheel drive, first experimented with in 1914. One hundred were built in 1917.
    An even rarer tractor he worked on was the Bathtub D Waterloo Boy. It was an experimental precursor to the John Deere D with a bathtub-shaped main case. The main case had been buried near the original Waterloo Works tractor factory. It was one of a kind with no blueprints, only notes from an early Waterloo designer. Kelch and Dan Thomas, who bought the main case and parts buried with it, used Waterloo Boy D parts to recreate the tractor.
    Kelch had to fabricate a lot of parts for the Bathtub D. “If I have to make a special part for a tractor, I’ll make extras to help cover the cost of engineering and fabrication,” explains Kelch. “I had to make a special breather for a Rumley, so I made five or six extras and sold them. I’ve done the same with timers for 1913 International Auto Wagons with their high wooden wheels.”
    Kelch simply lists the parts on collectors’ Facebook blogs. “I don’t sell all of them as I may need an extra myself,” says Kelch.
    Kelch describes tractor restoration as a two-tiered business. One is the increasingly rare tractors collectors cherish. The other is what he refers to as dad’s tractor.
    “Dad’s tractors have a sentimental value, and the restoration will cost more than what the tractor will be worth,” says Kelch. “A customer may spend $30,000 on a $10,000 tractor.”
    He says the business continues to evolve. Where most customers once were farmers, now most are doctors and professional people with farming in their background.
    “The technology has changed as well,” says Kelch. “We have better materials to work with, and the standards are higher.”
    FARM SHOW readers interested in seeing Kelch’s work and his collection can do so at his annual open house on the first Saturday in May. In addition to old tractors, there are also old cars and trucks, plus tours of the shops and work underway.
    “We get a bunch of stuff out and run it,” says Kelch. “We cook a bunch of hot dogs and smokies, and everyone brings a covered dish to share, and we make around 20 gals. of ice cream.”
    Kelch also offers private tours of his collection throughout the year. He encourages people to call ahead to schedule.
    Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Kelch Restoration Service, 3727 Starling Rd., Bethel, Ohio 45106 (ph 513-543-9477; wkelch2501@aol.com; www.facebook.com/wendell.kelch).

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2022 - Volume #46, Issue #6