By JO ANN HUSTIS
SENECA, Ill. — Dean Devine’s collection of old iron reposes in four neatly landscaped Morton buildings at his home. Individual stalls in each building house old iron, the term by which vintage farm tractors are affectionately known.
No fingerprints, oil smears or bug smudges mar their gleaming new finishes of Farmall red, John Deere green, Case yellow and Minneapolis-Moline prairie gold. Devine and his wife, Bev, are business careerists with agriculture backgrounds, but they do not farm. Nor are their tractors kept on a farm.
Their home lies a block from bustling downtown Seneca, a busy little community of 2,000 residents. City dwellers are surprised to find the tractor collection, which numbers in the teens, is housed in an urban setting. “They just can’t believe that I live in town,” he says.
Visitors also love to see his little Case 300 replica tractor that’s made entirely of empty tin beer cans, from the “smokestack” to the “tires.” The replica came from a buying expedition near Peoria for a vintage Case 300.
“He’d made the little tractor and really wanted to keep it,” Devine said of the then-owner. “I said the only way I’d buy the big Case is if he’d throw the little one in. He did, and I brought them both home. He wanted to sell the big tractor, so he let the little one go.”
On the trip home, the replica’s tin can “hood” blew off. Devine came up with more tin cans, glued everything back together and painted it. “It’s a conversation piece,” he said. “It’s not in my front yard, though. Someone would grab it.”
The foundation of Devine’s collection is a two-cylinder green John Deere, a make he’d never considered owning. “I was born and raised on red,” he said of the family Farmalls. “Then a friend interested me in two-cylinders, and I ended up with some.
“My wife is 100 percent supportive, and she has some Case tractors. We got a few more Cases and John Deeres and Internationals. One thing leads to another, and I have quite a few tractors now.”
Most people who grow up on a farm never get away from its influence on their lives, Devine noted. He wanted to someday have a few tractors of his own to play with and take to rides and shows.
“My wife has her own tractors and sometimes she even takes my tractors,” he said. “We have a good time doing it and we meet a lot of nice people.”
Devine’s favorite is the Super M, which has a lot of sentimental value, as he drove a similar model on the farm. “It had a mounted corn picker,” he said. “I rotary-hoed, plowed and cultivated with it. It was just an all-around tractor we used for everything.
“I was really lucky when I found this M. It’s only a serial number away from the one my dad had. When I saw that, I bought the M right on the spot.”
As hard as he’s tried, Devine could never track down his dad’s tractor after it was sold at auction in 1971. “Then I came across this one a couple years ago and was very tickled to get it,” he explained.
An assistant plant manager at the Grainco FS fertilizer terminal in Seneca, Devine tells of finding vintage tractors. One treasure was his father-in-law’s yellow Case 830. It was the only showroom tractor Bev’s dad had ever purchased, but it was “kind of tired” when the Devines bought it. They restored the Case to what it is today.
In his search for old iron, Devine attends sales and studies magazines to see what’s out there, what is within his price range and what he can do with the machines.
“Sometimes you’re real disappointed. I’ve bought a few tractors, then turned around and sold them at a little loss. You win some and you lose some. For the most part, 95 percent of the people are really honest. They’ll tell you what’s wrong with the tractor when you go to buy it. Sometimes you don’t get a fair shake at auctions, but you have to take the good with the bad,” he said.
“Sometimes a tractor might be offered for sale and I’ll take a look at it. One was in the paper last year. I called the guy, went and looked at it, bargained with him a little and wound up buying it. It’s another 300 that I got.”
There are ways to check whether a vintage tractor is worth the time and expense to purchase and restore. Such as: look at the quality, check the oil and take the machine for a ride to listen for rear end noise to see whether the power steering works, if the motor uses oil and the condition of the sheet metal cover. Devine also references market prices on similar models.
“It just depends. If it’s an extraordinary tractor, I don’t mind giving a little more money for it, especially if it’s got new tires. Tires nowadays are a lot of money. I take all that into consideration when buying,” he said.
“When I began collecting, I wanted all of the 30 series in the JD two-cylinders. I had every one except the 330, the smallest. But they were $28,000 to $35,000 and I’m not spending that kind of money for them. I ended up selling some of my 30 series, so I kind of squashed that idea.”
Devine’s tractors are not for sale. He’s invested too much time and money to let them go. “Some, like my wife’s Case 330, will never leave this place,” he said. “The Super M will never leave, and probably the little 300 will never leave, either.”
To would-be collectors, he notes everything is expensive, including vintage tractors. He believes prospective collectors need a farm background to even be interested.
“If people my age have an interest, that’s great. But the younger generation has no interest in tractors. They’ve really never been around tractors. So, what’s eventually going to happen to all this old iron that put food on our tables and make peoples’ living? It’s really sad, in a way,” he said.
“My wife and I take our tractors for little rides for a half-day or so. We go to Marseilles or Morris, Illinois. People have different hobbies, but we’re both from farms and we grew up around tractors and we enjoy them.”