Lifetime passion for antique iron
By Doug Rich
It was a cold, wet morning and the old Oliver 1950 GM was slow to start. Bill Reitz sprayed a little encouragement into the intake manifold, cranked the engine one more time, and the big Detroit diesel engine roared to life.
Bill Reitz bought his first tractor, an unstyled Allis Chalmers WC, when he was 14 years old, beginning a lifelong passion for antique tractors and machinery.
“Tractors have been part of my life ever since I was big enough to get on one,” Reitz said.
Reitz spent a lot of time as a young man working with his father’s uncle, Paul Gibb, helping him on his farm in western Missouri.
“I have his tractor, a 1951 Minneapolis Moline ZA, in my barn,” Reitz said. “I bought it at his farm auction when I was 16 years old.”
Reitz even has the original sales receipt for that tractor, which was purchased new by his stepdad’s uncle on March 6, 1951. The tractor and two implements cost $2,304.75. That was a lot of money in those days but does not seem like much when farmers spend nearly $300,000 for a large row crop tractor today.
“That is the tractor I started farming with when I was 18 years old,” Reitz said. “My brother and I rented 60 acres from a neighbor and started farming with that Moline and a CA Allis Chalmers. Those two tractors are what got me started.”
Reitz continued to collect a few tractors over the years. Today his collection includes six Minneapolis Moline tractors, a 1966 Oliver 1950 with a two-cycle Detroit diesel engine, a 3020 John Deere, and a 901 Ford.
“You won’t find any 8N Fords around here,” Reitz said. “Dad had a 2N Ford and I never did like that tractor.”
Reitz is currently president of the Western Missouri Antique Tractor and Machinery Association based in Adrian, Mo. This is a dedicated group of men who have taken their love of antique tractors to the next level. This group developed Frontier Village that sits on the east side of U.S. Highway 71 at Adrian, Mo. This complex of buildings and barns is host to a variety of events every year that revolve around antique tractors and machinery.
The club first started having its annual tractor show at the city park in Adrian 35 years ago. After three years in the park club members leased land from city and began developing the Frontier Village on what was at one time a golf course.
Frontier Village includes a one-room schoolhouse, a country church, an old-time gas station, country store, and blacksmith’s shop. Nearly all of the buildings were collected from locations around Bates County, Mo. The store came from Spruce, the schoolhouse was moved from its original site about five miles west of Passaic, the kit gas station was moved in from Pleasant Gap, and the church came from Mulberry. Some of these communities no longer exist but their images live on for those want to reminisce or show the younger generations at Frontier Village.
The annual tractor show is the biggest event for the club. Reitz said every year members feature a different steam engine, tractor, and garden tractor. This year they featured Allis Chalmers and had more than 100 AC tractors in addition to all of the other tractors that were on display. Next year JI Case tractors will be featured, followed by Fergusons in 2015 and Minneapolis Molines in 2016.
The club even has a special year for orphans and oddballs. This show features tractors manufactured by short line companies or cooperatives.
“Some of those were really good tractors but they just did not have any marketing for them,” Reitz said.
Frontier Village also hosted the national show for Minneapolis Moline collectors one time, the state chapter for Red Power collectors two times and in 2012, it hosted the central states chapter for the Hart-Parr Oliver Collectors Association, which was in town for their show. Reitz serves on the board of directors of this group.
At least once during the annual show, Reitz brings his Oliver 950, the old screaming demon, in to pull the sled. With a straight pipe on the exhaust that Detroit diesel engine makes a very unique sound that everyone enjoys.
A tractor pull showcasing tractors at the show is always a big part of the annual show. Reitz said participants try to keep the tractors as close to stock as they can get them so it is just like old time tractor pulls.
“We did have a walk-on sled at one time, like they used in the 1950s and 60s, but we wore the bottom out of it,” Reitz said. “Our insurance man about had a stroke when he found out we were using it.”
Twice a year the club has a swap meet at Frontier Village and the events attract vendors from nearly every state.
A favorite event for the club members is Kids Day on the first Tuesday in October. They invite fourth graders from all over the region to visit Frontier Village. There are several demonstrations for the kids including a sawmill, a blacksmith’s shop, and an apple press. The kids also get to ride on a hay wagon pulled by a tractor or team of horses and a ride on the 7.5-gauge railway. This year Kids Day attracted 311 youth and 50 adults. Two more schools have contacted them about attending next year’s event.
Right now Reitz said they are busy decorating Frontier Village for the holiday season, which begins with their annual Hot Chocolate night the first Saturday after Thanksgiving. The entire village along with some tractors and equipment are hung with Christmas lights. On that Saturday night they turn the lights on and give hayrides around the village. The display is visible to people traveling down U.S. 71 during the holiday season.
Reitz said there is something going on at Frontier Village every weekend including family reunions, weddings, and birthday parties. A local congregation had regular Sunday services in the old country church until members were able to build their own church.
All of this started with a group of local men who, like Bill Reitz, have a lifelong passion for antique tractors.
Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.