John Poch of rural Kiel didn’t set out to be a collector. It just sort of happened.
“I started getting a few toys, and then all of a sudden, you’re a collector, and you didn’t know it,” he said.
John’s first “toy” was a real-life tractor, his grandfather’s Farmall Cub that John purchased in 1972 when he was 24 years old. The tractor had sentimental value, memories of him sitting on his grandfather’s lap while working the field when he was a little boy. When his grandfather passed away, one of John’s uncles ended up with the vehicle that was then in serious need of repair.
John talked to his uncle about the tractor on a number of occasions.
“I should get something just a little bit bigger,” said his uncle during those conversations.
“I’ll find you something,” John said. And he did. He found an Allis-Chalmers that worked, unlike the Farmall Cub, and traded it with his uncle. Both parties were happy with the transaction.
After bringing his grandfather’s tractor home, John got it up and running, then cleaned and painted it.
That project turned out to be the start of a hobby that would eventually include 50 tractors, 30 of which he keeps on display. The remainder he restored for friends, neighbors and relatives.
John grew up on a farm just south of St. Anna so has always been interested in tractors. After his first restoration, he bought another tractor, restored it, and then tackled the next project.
“They were easy to find back in the ‘70s,” he said. “You could buy them for $50 to $100.”
Farmers would run them until they were worn out, unusable, so John could take one home for a mere $3 higher than the price the junkman offered. And though the tractor would reach John’s hands in rough condition, he enjoyed fixing things anyway. He had since he was a child.
John concentrated on metal-wheeled tractors, most of which date before Allis-Chambers and Firestone Tires came out with the first rubber tire farm tractor in 1932, although he does have some metal wheels from the early ‘40s.
Years ago, small farms dotted the countryside. As time passed, tractors broke down, and it wasn’t economical to stick a lot of money into models that were outdated anyway, especially as farms became bigger and bigger with heavier workloads.
For the most part, John would find old models “behind somebody’s barn,” most not in running condition. Or, since neighbors knew he restored tractors, he’d say, “Gee, I’d kind of like to find such and such tractor.” And he’d name a model.
Word got around.
Then, “Two weeks later, somebody would say, ‘Hey, I know where there’s one,’” said John.
For the most part, John limits his projects to one tractor at a time. Otherwise, he gets overwhelmed. He can think of a couple of occasions, however, when he tackled two concurrently.
“One case, I went to buy a John Deere from a gentleman, and he had another one, a 1936 and a 1940,” he said. “I wound up buying both.”
On another occasion, he talked to a man about buying his F20. Ten years later, the man stopped by and said, “I’ll sell you the F20, but you have to take the Farmall Regular also.”
“So there again, I wound up with two at a click,” said John.
Besides satisfying a need to fix and restore, John says the tractors bring back the memory of another era, a simpler time.
“We lost what I grew up with living on a farm,” he said. “I can’t imagine myself being on a farm where there’s thousands of cows. I wouldn’t know where to start.”
When John’s restored models were actually working tractors, they were designed to make farming easier. And though they didn’t replace horses entirely in the beginning, they lightened their load. Yet, farmers still had to rely on horses to cultivate corn at first.
“Tractors weren’t convenient for that type of work until about 1924,” said John. “Then Farmall came out with a tractor that now was designed with
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