WORTHINGTON -- You could call it a "one in a million" discovery -- or say it's like finding a needle in a haystack -- but for Mike Rogers of rural Worthington, finding the tractor that left his family's farm 44 years ago is like being reunited with an old friend.
Mike was 10 years old when his dad, Frank, bought his first-ever brand new tractor, a 1600 Oliver with power steering, two cylinders, four hoses and a hydro-power diesel engine from Ling Implement in Worthington. In fact, the purchase agreement for the tractor was signed on Mike's birthday.
Though just a kid, he used that tractor for everything from spring cultivating to fall tillage.
"I was so excited to help (Dad), I didn't even go out for school baseball," Mike said. "I'd rather go out in the field, honestly."
Three years later, in August 1967, Mike's dad lost his battle with colon cancer. That following month, his mom Joyce put the 1600 Oliver on the farm sale. Though the choice was difficult at the time, she was happy to see her brother-in-law, Bill Rogers, buy it at the auction.
Bill had kept the tractor for a few years before trading it back to Ling Implement for a larger tractor. That's when Mike Rogers lost track of it.
"I knew it went to Iowa, but I never heard another thing about it," he said. "I always wanted to replace the tractor somehow -- get another one like it."
Mike had been looking more seriously for a 1600 Oliver for the past 15 years, scouring newspaper and farm magazine ads without much success.
That was until he took a drive to Iowa.
Enroute to a graduation reception in Emmetsburg on May 21, Mike and his wife Barb had passed through Estherville when a tractor parked on a farmyard caught Mike's eye. Staked in the ground next to it was a sign, "Tractor for Sale."
"It was (sitting) out a couple hundred feet from the road," said Mike. "I could tell it was an older Oliver, so I told my wife I had to check it out a little closer."
They drove into the yard and Mike began his assessment. It was indeed a 1600 Oliver and, equally as important, it was a diesel.
"When I saw it said Ling Implement in the corner -- the sticker was still on it -- I thought, 'Oh man, he didn't sell too many of these. I'm going to check the serial number.'"
Mike jotted down the numbers after looking over the tractor. He'd remembered a few things from his childhood, including that his Uncle Bill had put a wide front end on it.
"It just looked so familiar," Mike said.
He recorded both the serial number and the phone number of the man selling the tractor and eagerly anticipated checking the serial number against the purchase agreement, which was sitting in a frame at home.
"I found (the purchase agreement) in a box of stuff one day," said Joyce. "I asked Mike if he wanted it before I threw it, and he said, 'Do I want it? You don't throw that away!'"
The agreement, in addition to outlining the terms of the purchase -- the total cost was $7,200 for the tractor and a 4-bottom, 16-inch plow -- had the tractor's serial number printed on it ... 138-110.
It was a match.
"I called the man and asked if it was still for sale," said Mike of the Sunday evening conversation he had with the rural Estherville man. "He said I better come pretty soon -- there was a consignment auction coming up and (he was) going to take it to that."
Early Monday morning, Mike called the seller back and said he'd be there in a couple of hours.
A typical farmer hoping to strike a deal, Mike didn't tell the man the history behind the tractor until he looked it over once again, took it for a test drive and struck a deal.
"I asked if he was happy and he said 'yeah,'" Mike shared. "I said, 'I am, too.' When he asked why, I told him the story. He said he was happy for me, too."
The seller, Al Blum, had owned the tractor for the past 15 years, using it only about 20 hours a year for spraying and mowing of his Conservation Reserve Program acres. Blum had purchased the tractor from a neighbor, who Mike said was the man who purchased it from Ling Implement after his Uncle Bill had traded it in.
"It's a tractor that came full circle after 47 years," said Joyce. "It came to where it was supposed to rest, that's what I think. I'm just so glad it's out here -- it just makes me feel good."
One look at the smile on Mike's face means he feels good too.
"I'm going to restore it -- make it like new," he said.