A ledger full of memories
By Doug Rich
Georgia Miller sits on her couch thumbing through a ledger where she has recorded every tractor her husband has purchased since 1965. Each line contains the model of a tractor, who it was purchased from, the date it was purchased and how much it cost.
It is a very thick ledger. Gene Miller sold over 100 antique tractors at public auction on Oct. 6 and that group did not include the John Deere tractors he had already sold, the two tractors parked in his garage, two more waiting for repairs, or one sitting on a hill in Wyoming that has not made the trip home to Pomona, Kan., yet.
"Collecting old tractors is a disease," Georgia Miller said laughingly.
"But they are fun to collect and fun to see," Gene Miller said.
Miller bought his first tractor, a McCormick-Deering W-30, when he came home from the Army to use on the family farm near Douglas, Wyo.
"Dad put up a lot of hay," recalls Miller. "We would come in from working all day, unharness the horses, take them to water, rub them down, and then clean off the collars. When we got a tractor you just shut her off and you were done."
"I told Dad we are going to saw the tongues off all this horse equipment and start pulling them with a tractor," Miller said.
That was the end of the horses and the beginning of Miller's fascination with tractors. He traces the beginning of his collection to 1965. His brother-in-law, who collected John Deere tractors, took him to a tractor show in McLouth, Kan. Miller said when he started collecting tractors nobody really wanted them and he could go down to the junkyard and buy them for very little.
Miller favored Minneapolis Moline tractors for work and for collecting.
"We had a 720 John Deere and a 70 Series John Deere," Miller said. "The John Deeres had plenty of power in low and second gear, but if you hooked them in third gear then you lost power."
He bought a GB Moline to replace the John Deere tractors.
"My stars did that displace those two cylinder John Deeres," Miller, said. "It did not ride as nice but it had all kinds of power."
Gene and Georgia Miller moved from Wyoming to Kansas in 1950. Miller, who was a welder by trade, went to work for Ottawa Steel Company in Ottawa, Kan. A few years later they moved to Colorado where Miller went to work for Eaton Metal Works in Denver building missile silos. Later they bought a farm near Hooper, Colo., in the San Luis Valley.
In 1965 they sold this farm for the water rights and moved back to Pomona, Kan., and started farming and milking cows. Georgia Miller taught school at Lyndon before retiring in 1990.
Miller did not buy the tractors to restore them. Some of them he fixed up and used on the farm the others he just liked them.
"The ones that I really wanted I made them run," Miller said. "For Pete's sake, you can pull a head off, knock the pistons loose, grind the valves, put new rings in and away you go. You can get equipment pretty cheap if you can work on it."
Georgia Miller said her husband is a good shade tree mechanic but these new computerized tractors are not his thing.
Miller, who is 85 years old, can still recall many of the tractors he purchased and the exact repairs he did to make them run. Like the Massey Harris 44 diesel tractor he purchased while they lived in Colorado to run an irrigation pump. The tractor would run for a couple of hours then die. Once it cooled off it would start up, run for a couple of hours and die. The owner was tired of messing with it and Miller bought it at a reduced price. Miller made a $5 repair to the rubber fuel line and it ran like a dream.
Miller looked for tractors that were unique in some way for his collection. Like the RTS Minneapolis Moline sitting in his garage, the Moline with front wheel assist, or the McCormick-Deering 10-20 with road grader 30 spoke wheels. His collection included an RTU with a factory installed three-point hitch. Less than 10 of these were manufactured which makes it a very rare tractor.
"Those are the things you want to look at when you buy these things, is it some thing special like that Moline with front wheel assist," Miller said.
Miller was pretty certain that the last tractor he bought was an 1850 Oliver Wheatland that he traded for a 460 International three years ago. Georgia Miller thumbed through her ledger and said it was indeed an 1850 Oliver purchased from Jones Machine in Smith Center, Kan., but he bought it on July 25, 2011, for $1,800.
Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.