Restored antique tractors populate one farm along the Poudre River
Photos courtesy of Paulette Seaworth
Like mighty, mechanized draft horses, tractors of bygone eras toiled on farms.
They pulled disk and harrow, planter and plow, spreader and wagon to coax life from fallow fields.
Farmers’ weather-leathered hands gripped the big machines’ steering wheels season after season regardless of climate. (Even the hardiest farm folk, however, sought creative ways to cushion bum-bruising steel seats!)
Yes, yesteryear’s tractors worked many a hay day in their heyday. They triumphed in daily battles against rocks and nature’s tempests, while several foreign wars ebbed and flowed.
Gradually, progress beefed up fancier land working versions, complete with padded seats and glass-enclosed cabs boasting music, air conditioning and computerization. Grandads’ humble tractors became obsolete.
Some were put out to pasture where the elements assaulted their once-bright and shiny metal hides, teeming weeds climbing them like rambunctious children do money bars. Other unwanted tractors were parted-out or scrapped. But an appreciated few stabled in barns or sheds were afforded dignity due these diligent workers that dragged decades into decades.
Where urban sprawl crowded out pastoral serenity, vintage tractors shuffled along to unknown fates as did their old, wrinkled farmer partners who maybe shed a goodbye tear.
Time forged on.
What became of the survivors?
A lucky few, humans and machines, now gently drag today’s techno-weary imaginations back to simpler, long-ago memories.
Some of those rural recollections are green and yellow; we call them John Deere.
Like a trumpet’s wake-up call to a sleepy platoon, an auctioneer’s chant enlivened the crowd.
The winning bidder excitedly loaded his newly acquired, rare treasure onto a flatbed trailer for the trip to revival.
Rust will be routed and a sputtering engine will once again hum.
Like a Jurassic giant, this John Deere will come back to life.
One auctioneer who has lived the above scenario hundreds of times is Bill Seaworth. The 55-year-old Fort Collins, Colo., native still lives on the family farm with wife, Paulette, and son Willy, age 22. Bill’s grandfather bought 160 acres on the banks of the Poudre River in 1943, when Bill’s father, Edgar, was 12.
“We’ve been on the farm long enough that my dad and granddad went to Windsor to get German prisoners of war to work the fields”, Seaworth recalled.
The family has since sold off 40 acres, but still farm grass hay and run a hunting/fishing club on the remaining 120.
They have also pursued a mutual family interest for more than three decades.
Including Edgar, age 83, the Seaworths not only restore vintage tractors and sell to eager auction buyers, but also collect the machines. Bill declared a staunch preference for John Deeres. Although he admits to a couple of rare examples of other brands, yellow and green are the colors that fly on his collector’s flag.
The bug bit hard in the early 1980s, when Bill and Edgar wholeheartedly began restoring neglected tractors for themselves and resale. Right from the start, they concentrated on top-of-the-line models.
Seaworth adamantly said, “It costs the same to restore a rare, unique or low-production numbers tractor as it does a common one.”
So he always chooses to invest his time and money renovating prized ones.
In that esteemed category, he’s had more than 100 thus far.
Vintage tractors can be found through many sources, including at auctions or estate sales, by private treaty, in newspaper and online ads, and by word-of-mouth.
Seaworth said he now mainly buys locally but that he and Edgar have purchased in locales as far afield as Washington state, Mexico and Bolivia.
Seaworth listed some of his best-of-the-bests, the champ of which is a John Deere 420 HiCrop LP that he sold six or seven years ago. This beauty is the rarest he’s had because it’s one of only four known to exist. Other highly desirable models he mentioned are 320s, 330s, and 430s.
The Seaworths are meticulous restorers who thoroughly overhaul engines, go through transmissions, re-paint and add decals to their projects. Practice has apparently made perfect because they can usually complete a full restoration in one month if, as Seaworth put it, “everything gets going good.”
One of those ducks that he needs to get into a row is prompt receipt of parts, which are still available for tractors as old as 1930s directly from John Deere or from after-market sources.
As worthy as are his finished projects, Seaworth doesn’t display them at shows. He’s often been asked to bring his Deere tractors to events including the Larimer County Fair, but just can’t find the time required. Likewise, he’s never joined a collector club. He and his family still farm their large acreage. Seaworth is a Fort Knox Safe distributor (painted John Deere or International Harvester colors on buyer request).
And, his many auctioneering commitments include a trip he makes twice yearly to New Paris, Ind., where he elicits bids on upwards of 1000 or more tractors sold at each sale.
One particularly vast and noteworthy estate sale Seaworth conducted was for a family friend who died in 2007. The Bridgeport, Neb., auction in April 2008 offered 3,000-plus tractors of all brands (Bill and Edgar had restored some of these) owned by the late Gary Phillips, the largest U.S. collector of antique and vintage tractors.
That monumental eight-day sale (which included scores of miscellaneous parts), ran two rings daily from 9 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Seaworth recalled that it “burned out 25 auctioneers.”
Bidders numbered several thousand people from 45 states and 14 foreign countries. The last item sold at 4 a.m. — and there were 94 people still bidding online as well.
Not everyone fascinated by Seaworth’s old tractors has space or funds for one.
“A lot of people don’t want to collect, but come to reminisce about their days on a farm, or about their parents or grandparents who farmed,” said Seaworth, which proves not just tractors benefit from restoration. ❖