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Father, son share hobby for 30 years

    When Wilfred and Philip Byer started their hobby of collecting and restoring tractors in the early ‘80s they were still in a joint dairy business. With the demands of operating the dairy they were not left with a lot of free time to work on tractors they didn’t need for the farming operation. “Once we decided to quit milking cows we had more time to go to auctions and start projects like tearing a tractor apart and getting it up and running again. Since we started collecting we have 80 some tractors, if you include the ones we still use to run the farming operation,” stated 84-year-old Wilfred of rural Arco, Minn. Every building that once housed cows or feed now is wall-to-wall tractors in various stages of aging as they await their turn in the shop. Wilfred has many fond memories of his early years of farm life, which included working with horses instead of tractors. Though it is obvious he has a great love for animals, it is apparent that his love of tractors is just as strong. Both men appreciate all the changes that have taken place in the manufacturing of farm equipment over the years. “In 1964 I bought this 806 Farmall and some people thought I was crazy, a couple of my brothers-in-law asked me if I was crazy and wanted to know what I needed such a big tractor for. But it was really my wife Betty’s fault I bought it. You see, Betty used to drive tractor for me a lot. One day she was plowing with one of the two MD Farmall diesels we had and had a near accident. She got pretty upset. By the time I got across the field to see what the problem was, it wasn’t good. She pointed her finger at me and told me to go to town and buy a new tractor for once. So the next day I bought the 806. We did a lot of farming with this 806, and it has a special place in my heart. When we were in our early years of farming I bought a brand new 1950 C Framall for $1,100. The whole family drove it at one time or another, but when Betty needed to drive it up a hill, I would have to jump on the hood and sit up front to keep it from rearing up,” said Wilfred. The C is fully restored and shines like a jewel. “It was harder when we first started to get parts and pieces we needed to fix a tractor up, but now it is pretty easy. We have piles of catalogs and contacts to get what we need,” said Philip. “Many tractors have quite a bit of damage to the grill or hood when we buy them. I don’t like to use body putty. I am pretty good with metal and I work to get the dents out, and sometimes I even make the tool I need to get the metal back into shape,” said Wilfred. One of the Super M Farmalls the pair has restored is unbelievable. When they pulled it out of the shed it had been sitting in for years it was covered with 6 inches of chicken manure. “Now if you think that wasn’t a job getting that cleaned up, think again. It was a lucky thing that the hood and grill were not on it. The head is pitted from the acid in the manure and will always be that way.” said Philip. Another special tractor in the collection is a 1941 John Deere B. It was the first tractor Wilfred ever drove as a boy of 14. He drove it to haul bundles to the threshing machine. “I bought this SC Case from a fellow by the name of Jim Kerr; it had belonged to his 90-year-old father-in-law. I wanted to take it to the parade in Tracy for Box Car Days but I was running out of time, and I don’t know if the paint was dry or not when I loaded it up to go. Kerr and two of the old guy’s daughters brought the man in for the parade. He was so excited to see his tractor driven in the parade all fixed up. Afterwards he came to look at it and said he knew it was his tractor because he had added one little thing to the front of it, and I had never taken that off. It brought tears to the man’s eyes, and I tell you it got me right here,” said Wilfred as he placed his hand over his heart. “We enjoy learning the history behind the tractors we work on, and we know we will never lose any money on them. Every one is worth more now than when we got it.” said Philip. As he showed a Wheatland 400 which he bought in Canada. “This fully restored 740 Ford is a very rare tractor. Its engine was stuck when we bought it, and when we started it up, so much blue smoke poured out we couldn’t even see the tractor. It had two cracks in the head, but dad welded them up just great, and we use it once in awhile around the yard. It is a nice running tractor.” said Philip. The shop where the tractors and sometime other pieces are taken apart has an overwhelming amount of parts, pieces and tools. The Byers are often approached by a neighbor who is unable to get what he needs in town, and they usually have the needed item. They have also done restorations for other collectors and friends. A friend and neighbor, Norb Blanchette, had an old tractor that his sons wanted restored to surprise their father for a special occasion. “So they brought it over on the sly, and we worked like crazy on it. When they brought him over to see the finished product, he was so shocked, he had tears in his eyes. That is a lot of fun to see and know you helped make it happen,” said Wilfred. Many tractors come with a number of missing parts: seats, fenders, wheels, grills and motor parts may need to be replaced or built. It is all a labor of love. When a tractor is dismantled, every nut and bolt is kept track of and each one goes back in the hole it came out of. Tarps are hung to keep paint mist from spreading to other things in the shop. Wilfred built a magneto work bench in the shop loft, and it is used mostly for cars or tractors that still have a crank start. “The best part of all of this is the time I spend with my son. Philip and I have had a lot of adventures. Trying to get pieces home from distant locations without any mishaps is always a challenge. But the time we have spent working side by side on these tractors has built a relationship that is priceless to me. Oh sure, we sometimes don’t agree on how we should do something, but we don’t let it get out of hand, and we keep working, and in an hour or so, things are back to what we want it to be. I would say we have a very special relationship, and we both love what we are doing,” said Wilfred.

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