Twice the tractor in a tiny town
Steve O’Hare and Ethan Rosan work on mounting the engine in one of the overhaul projects they are working on.
Photo by Siri Stevens
by Siri Stevens
Fence Post Roving Reporter
Harvey Nelson and Steve O’Hare have something in common. They love tractors. Harvey and Steve own businesses that sell tractor and farm equipment on Hygiene Road in Hygiene, Colo., a tiny town with one four-way stop sign in the middle.
“It’s like having one doctor in a town,” explains Steve. “He’ll starve to death. When you get two doctors in town, they prosper.”
Harvey agrees with Steve. “Being there is more than one of us, we get the customers here and one of us will be able to help them.”
Harvey opened his tractor shop in Hygiene first, opening the shop 18 years ago. “I’ve made my living as a mechanic for 50 years,” he said. “When I was raising a family, I worked on cars and trucks ” there wasn’t any money in tractors.”
Harvey farmed a little on the side and started a collection of farm equipment that now takes two buildings to house. The oldest tractor is a 1917 Waterloo Boy, predecessor to the John Deere line. “This particular tractor was delivered to Hygiene on a flatcar in 1917 and was given to me,” he said. Harvey has hauled his Waterloo all over the state to parades and functions.
The newest tractor in Harvey’s collection is a 1951 Gibson, which he added because the company was based in Longmont, Colo., a stone throw away from Hygiene. Gibson produced tractors for only 15 years. When Wilbur Gibson passed away, his tractor business passed too.
Harvey’s knowledge of tractor history comes from a lifetime love for machinery. As a young boy, he carved tractors and implements from wood. These tiny replicas are displayed in his office in a wooden case hanging on the wall. The rest of the wall space is filled with photos, newspaper clippings, and other items of interest that Harvey has collected over the years.
Harvey and his wife, Charlotte, have been instrumental in organizing the Yesteryear Farm and Home Show for the past 16 years. Held in Longmont in August of every year (Aug. 8-10 this coming year), the show features vintage tractors, as well as newer equipment. Last year, Harvey counted 196 tractors at the show. “We restore and auction a tractor every year to help pay for the show,” he said. Harvey and Charlotte’s commitment to the annual show and other community service work earned them the Family of the Year award last year.
At 71, Harvey is entitled to retire, but has no intentions to. “They’ll carry me out of here,” he said, standing behind the counter in his shop. “I’m too young to retire and the most fun I have is work.” His passion for mechanics has been shared with many, including several young people who have come to him for tutoring. “I don’t have any trade secrets,” he said.
This antique model sits in front of Steve’s shop.
Photo by Siri Stevens
“There’s no reason not to pass on to others what I know.” Harvey opens his shop up to these young people, coaching them on restoration projects of their own. “I get them started at no charge,” he said.
Harvey spends most of his time fixing up old tractors and implements for sale. He has been around long enough that if people have something to sell, they call him.
Like Harvey, Steve’s passion for mechanics goes back to his childhood. “When I was 5, I tore apart my dad’s brand new lawn mower,” he said. “He wasn’t real happy with me.” He grew up in New Mexico and fondly recalls the International Farmall C his father used to plant corn and plow.
Steve learned the automotive trade in high school and was hired after graduation at a dealership. He continued his education at Colorado Aero Tech in Broomfield, earning his airframe and powerplant license as an aircraft mechanic, graduating in the top five. After three years as an aircraft mechanic in New Mexico, he came to Colorado where he spent 15 years working as a mechanic for a rental company, rounding out his experience by working on everything they had.
Then his dream came true. He joined in with a partner to buy his current business down the street from Harvey. He is currently overhauling nine tractors for customers. “People have figured out they can overhaul a tractor for less money that it costs to buy a new one,” he said. “My favorites to overhaul are the Ford 600 and 800 series.” The turnaround for a complete overhaul is two months. Steve has developed contacts for parts all over the country, manufacturing some of the parts himself. “We worked on a military issue Oliver backhoe that was really hard to find parts for,” he explained.
The longest overhaul job took a year. “That was an old John Deere and it took so long because of its size,” he explained. “The block itself weighed 1,200 pounds.
“Since I was 5, I’ve known what I wanted to do. We have overhauled 75 tractors during the last six years and every day is a new adventure. I spend 12 hours a day, six days a week out here. I better enjoy doing it.”