Tractor enthusiast collects and restores pedal tractors
April 14, 2006
by Tracey Ellis
Duke Hemberger has a passion for tractors and he’s proud to show it. His vast collection of tractors range from small collectible toys to full-size tractors and everything in between. Two of Duke’s full-size restored tractors, a 1950 Oliver 77 row crop tractor and a 1955 Cockshutt 40 Canadian-built row crop tractor (as well as an unusual antique wagon) have been featured in the Fence Post. Duke also enjoys collecting and restoring pedal tractors of all makes and models. Duke confesses he’s always been interested in pedal tractors, but it wasn’t until he retired in 1998 that he felt he had the time to pursue his interest.
Fellow tractor enthusiasts who know Duke understand when he takes on a new project he probably won’t be seen for a while. Spending 12-hour days in the shop on a project is commonplace and Duke finds the work enjoyable. Duke is often accompanied by two shop cats who sit nearby and overlook Duke’s progress on a steady stream of projects which find their way into his shop. Duke is the first to admit that his tractor fascination is “definitely a disease with no cure.”
Duke had acquired several pedal tractors over the years before he attended the annual Seward Toy &Pedal Tractor Auction in Seward, Neb. Duke had his eyes on one particular tractor, but the tractors were only being sold in lots so he ended up with a “whole bunch of pedal tractors.” The pedal tractor that captured his attention and resulted in the purchase of all those other pedal tractors was a rare Oliver 88 “Open Grill” Diesel pedal tractor produced by Eska in 1949. Duke says the Eska Company was purchased by the Ertl Company in 1960.
Duke believes his fascination with Oliver tractors is due to his fond memories of watching Olivers work in the neighbor’s fields while growing up on a farm near Hastings, Neb. At the age of 10, Duke was provided with the perfect opportunity to explore the Olivers for several days while waiting for the fields to dry out and he believes this experience planted the seed for his fascination with Oliver tractors. (Duke’s 1950 Oliver 77 row crop tractor was featured in the May 31, 1999, issue of the Fence Post.)
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The Oliver 88 Diesel pedal tractor that caught Duke’s attention “needed lots of work,” according to Duke and resulted in his “most complete pedal tractor restoration so far.”
Duke enjoys researching each tractor and making sure that everything is restored authentically, including the correct paint. One book that has been helpful in Duke’s pedal tractor restorations is “Criswell’s Pedal Tractor Guide” which covers cast aluminum pedal tractors from the 1940s to the present. Duke is amazed at the growing popularity of pedal tractors and how many reproduction parts are now available for many models. Dakota Toys in Madison, S.D., is one such company which carries a large selection of reproduction decals and parts for many models of pedal tractors.
Two of the other pedal tractors Duke purchased at the Seward Toy &Pedal Tractor Auction in order to obtain the Oliver 88 Diesel were a 1962 John Deere “Three Hole 10” and a 1972 Allis Chalmers “200” (both were produced by Ertl). Duke recalls the John Deere pedal tractor was in “average shape” and the Allis Chalmers pedal tractor was in “really bad shape.” The Allis Chalmers tractor was one of Duke’s most difficult restorations and required welding repairs to the tractor body which are made of die cast aluminum.
Duke’s typical restoration process consists of first dismantling the entire tractor and cleaning all the tractor parts. Duke then completes a great deal of body prep work before applying original appearing paint followed by the application of decals. Parts such as the steering wheel, pedals, tires, rims, hub caps, push nuts, and the seat are replaced or repaired depending on the availability of replacement parts for each particular model.
Duke’s most difficult restorations so far have been the Oliver 88 Diesel, the 1972 Allis Chalmers “200,” and a 1954 Massey Harris “44 Special” produced by Eska.
Duke recalls that the Massey Harris tractor was “broken in two pieces” and was in “bad shape” when purchased. Duke’s collection also contains pedal tractors that “didn’t need much work” like the 1973 John Deere “30” produced by Ertl. According to Duke, this model is “plentiful” and “you’ll find these at toy shows and auctions.” Duke believes this is a good pedal tractor to start with as it’s one of the “least expensive of the collectible pedal tractors.”
After seeing Duke’s pedal tractor collection, most people are naturally tempted to ask Duke which pedal tractor is his favorite. Duke claims the Oliver 88 Diesel would have to be at the top of his list due to the amount of work spent on the restoration as well as the fun he has showing the Oliver 88 pedal tractor along with his full-size Oliver 77 tractor (See cover of May 31, 1999, issue of The Fence Post).
Duke’s enthusiasm for tractors of all shapes and sizes is definitely contagious. He would enjoy hearing from other pedal tractor enthusiasts and can be reached at (970) 663-2970.
Tracey Ellis lives south of Windsor and publishes THE LATEST SCOOP, the auto-event magazine for the Rocky Mountain Region. She can be reached at P.O. Box 7477, Loveland, Colo., 80537, or at (970) 686-6155.