VIDEO: Finding rewards in restorations
RUSHMORE -- Clad in faded green suspenders and a new Oliver cap, Harlan Groenewold gets a twinkle in his eye when he thinks about fall harvest this year. He purchased a single-row Oliver corn picker last winter and can't wait to get into the field with it for old times' sake.
An Oliver fan through and through, Groenewold bounced on the seat of one of his restored Oliver tractors as he pulled the picker through a cornfield Monday afternoon.
"I'm only going to pick a wagon load," he said.
The corn picker is one of more than two dozen pieces of Oliver equipment -- mostly tractors -- owned by Groenewold, who started farming with the green tractors nearly 60 years ago. Back then, he bought the tractors because they were cheap, and now he'll buy them just for the fun of restoring them.
"It's just a hobby," he said recently on his rural Rushmore farm. "Something to kill idle time.
"Once you buy one, that one's lonely and you've got to by another one," he said with a laugh. "It's a disease."
It isn't just Olivers one will find with a visit to the Groenewold farm. He's also restored a few Cockshutts, which were made by Oliver, as well as some Minneapolis Molines. Minneapolis and Oliver were sister companies for about a year.
There is also a CO-OP tractor in the mix. Groenewold said there were less than 500 tractors made in a span of three years. The model he restored is a No. 3, manufactured in 1948.
As for the Olivers, they were manufactured between 1939 and 1961. Groenewold hopes to eventually have one tractor from every model made, from the 70 and 77 to the Super 77 and the 770. Add to that the corn picker, two mowers and a plow -- all produced by Oliver -- and it's easy to see that this farmer bleeds green.
Almost as fun as the restoration process is the process to find some of the unusual tractors and parts along the way. Groenewold has purchased several pieces from Canada, and many more across the Upper Midwest. Several of them are in a sad state of repair, but with his expertise in machinery repair and blacksmithing, the machines go through a transformation in his shop and come out looking good as new.
"It takes about six months to a year to restore a tractor," Groenewold said. "I run a machine shop, so anytime I've got spare time I work on them."
His greatest challenge so far was his 70 Oliver Standard.
"It was just a basket case," he said. "It was a pile of junk. The motor was stuck, the fenders were almost falling off and the water pump was stuck. You could see it sat in dirt for 15 years.
"I rebuild a lot of the parts and get a few odds and ends out of Worthington Tractor Salvage," he added. "A lot of the guys will tear them down, but I just repair the ones that need repair."
Once all of the parts are in working order and the tractor is running well, he has it painted by a couple of neighbors, Paul Engelkes and Dave Van Ruler. The latest tractor to be completed, however, was painted by Groenewold's grandson, Brandon Feeken. The final touch is to attach the Oliver decals, which Groenewold finds through a company in Iowa.
While each tractor and implement in Groenewold's collection comes with a story attached -- either about where he found the machine or how he replaced the parts -- perhaps the most special pieces in the collection are his Oliver 1950 and the half-scale and quarter-scale models he built with his own hands. Everything on the smaller models is built to scale, right down to the grill on the front of the tractor.
"The quarter-scale was built with a Honda lawnmower engine," Groenewold said. "The half-scale has a Mitsubishi car engine."
Each smaller version of the Oliver 1950 took an entire winter to complete.
"I bent all of the metal myself," Groenewold said.
As for the wheels, the quarter-scale version has lawnmower tires, while the half-scale model's front wheels came off a John Deere planter and the rear wheels came off a truck.
Groenewold has taken the trio of tractors through the parade during Rushmore's community celebration, letting his grandchildren drive the smaller models. They are known as the Papa, Mama and Baby Bear tractors.
"I want to build a one-eighth scale yet," he said. "That will likely have a remote control. (Building them) is good for the mind -- it keeps it going."
The 76-year-old Groenewold, who learned to weld when he was about 12, hasn't backed down from a challenge, and he probably never will.
Tucked in with his tractor collection is a machine he calls The Little Brute. He built the propane-fired tractor about 25 or 30 years ago -- just for the "challenge of building it," he said.
Nowadays, he's more interested in finding some of those Olivers he doesn't yet have in his collection.
"If they're a rare tractor, you can put a lot of time into it to get your money back," he shared.
That said, Groenewold has never sold one of his restored tractors. He's going to let his family sort that out some day.
Groenewold and his wife, Vicki, have three grown children, Linda Loonen, Larry Groenewold and Nancy Feeken. They settled on the farm in 1960, but its been in the family for more than 120 years. Groenewold's great-grandfather, Peter Osbon, homesteaded the parcel in 1885.