The reds and the greens will combine at annual tractor event

05/10/2013 12:00 AM

05/12/2013 2:30 PM

In the world of vintage tractor collectors, you're either faithful to the red, or your fidelity bleeds green.

Red is the signature color of the International Harvester tractor, green the unmistakable calling card of the John Deere tractor.

"Us tractor guys, we have a kind of thing – like Ford and Chevy people have," said tractor enthusiast Bill Son, 74. "Me? I'm a Farmall guy."

Son was referring to the fire-engine-red Farmall models made by International Harvester. The Farmall became the company's biggest seller between 1924 and 1963.

Son restores the red tractors down to the last bolt, until they gleam in the sun as if they've just rolled off the assembly line.

Son and his colleague Bob Hinds will be showing off their collections at the 19th Annual Farm and Tractor Days event today and Saturday at the Dry Creek Ranch House in Rio Linda.

Attendees can see tractors and other farm equipment on display and in operation on the grounds of the bucolic 145-acre property once owned by the Mormon church.

To the outsider, the difference between a John Deere and an International Harvester may be cosmetic. Not so to the enthusiast.

For the burly Son, who is almost always nursing a worn pipe, the Farmall is superior because of the smooth growl from its four-cylinder engine.

"The John Deere tractors? They have two cylinders and they make this 'pop-pop-pop' sound," Son said. "That's why we call people that like them Johnny Popper people."

If anyone can be called the king of tractor collecting in the area, it may be the 74-year-old Hinds, who likes to be called "Tractor Bob."

The moniker is well deserved: He owns 42 tractors. He's a fan of the green and owns 10 John Deere models. But his collection is broad, including such ephemera as mini-tractors and oddball tractors like the Gibson. All of them will be on display at Farm and Tractor Days.

Hinds grew up farming in Richmond, Ind., and bought his first tractor in the late 1960s. His most prized model is a large John Deere 820 model recently bought for $4,000 from a seller in Colorado.

The tractor was used to plow snow. Under Hinds' ownership it plows occasionally in the Central Valley sun.

Hinds is drawn to the permanence of the tractor.

"They've been here from the word go and they're still here," he said.

Although he is in his mid-70s, his collecting is far from done. "Whatever comes down the pike – if it looks like something I can enjoy, I'll buy it," Hinds said.

Restoring tractors is not for the faint of heart, said Son.

His last restoration of a Farmall cost $5,200.

He shelled out $1,800 to restore one prior to that – and that does not include the purchase price.

For many years, Son made his living as a commercial salmon fisherman, with a boat berthed at Tomales Bay.

He didn't get into collecting tractors until 10 years ago, though he first tried his hand at restoring a tractor in 1973.

"I'm attracted to the challenge; I see a rusted-out tractor and I visualize it as the end product," he said.

Regardless of the maker, the tractors are a deeply ingrained symbol of American technical ingenuity and agricultural prowess.

"The hobby has always been around, but it's growing in great big gobs now," said Son. "It's getting harder and harder to find an old, beat-up tractor cheap."

And finding the "holy grail" item is even harder.

For Son that would be an early 20th century boxy-looking Rumely Oil Pull kerosene-powered tractor. Fetching price: $20,000.

Whether tractor collecting will stay hot long-term is another matter.

"We're trying to promote tractors as a hobby out here because we think it's important," said Son. "Our main problem is we're not getting young people interested in tractors."

Though it once was common for youths to operate tractors on family farms, labor and safety laws prohibit that now for anyone under 16. The machines account for the majority of fatal injuries to adolescents involved in agriculture. A 2008 UC Davis study found that the strength needed to operate tractors exceeded the physical abilities of most children ages 13 to 17.

"Young people are just not around the tractors anymore because there are no family farms around anymore," Son said.


When: 9 a.m.-3 p.m., today-Saturday

Where: Dry Creek Ranch House, 6852 Dry Creek Road, Rio Linda

Cost: $2 donation

Information: (916) 996-8378

Call The Bee's Edward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz.


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