A gallery of Olivers: Wayne County farmer has complete set

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STERLING, Ohio – Richard Baumann has gained a reputation in antique tractor circles of being in the market for the old Olivers.

He gets a few calls every week from someone who has one or more and who knows he is looking for them. When traders come through hauling a load of antiques to sell, they always make a call at the Baumann farm in northern Wayne County.

But these days Baumann doesn’t buy much. He already has just about every variety of Oliver ever manufactured lined up in the remodeled chicken house that until two years ago held several thousand laying hens.

Baumann has restored more than 50 Olivers, from the earliest 1929 two-cycle kerosene tractor on iron wheels to the 1975 models that were the end of the Oliver line. The tractors stand one beside the other, lining either side of the 244-foot shed.

It is a veritable panorama of shining green and yellow machinery, each tractor looking as fresh and new as the day it rolled out of the Iowa factory.

Keep them home. And that is the way Baumann wants to keep them. He hasn’t gotten into showing his tractors much, he said.

He did take 10 to Plain City last July for the Hart-Parr/Oliver national collectors’ summer show. With 700 tractors it was the largest collection of Olivers ever assembled.

But he isn’t interested in taking them to the antique tractor or power shows.

“I don’t have a trailer to haul them,” he said. “And when they are gone, I wish they were at home so I didn’t have to worry about them.”

And as for selling or trading, he said he’s never put a price on any of his tractors, and has never given a thought to selling any of them.

“I’m not a dealer,” Baumann said. “I just wanted to collect.”

The Oliver Farm Equipment Company was formed in 1929 when the Hart-Parr Company of Charles, Iowa, merged with the Oliver Chilled Plow Works of Mishiwaka, Ind. Hart-Parr had begun producing gas traction engines in 1901, and were mass producing gas-powered tractors by 1907. They are credited with introducing the word tractor.

First Oliver. The first Oliver tractor was the 1929 model, but the tractors continued to carry the Hart-Parr label. Baumann has the 28-50 model. The 4-cylinder Oliver 18-28 was introduced in 1930. It already had the bright red wheels that were to be featured through the 1950s.

The familiar yellow grill appeared in the 1940s, only to be replaced by “clover white” on later models.

“This is Oliver country,” Baumann said of Wayne County. “Probably a third of the tractors here were Olivers in the ’40s and ’50s. My uncle had an old 70 model that I used to drive. It made all the others seem like a joke. That old Oliver outperformed everything else.”

Oliver, Baumann said, was ahead of its time in the 1950s, and when he was ready to buy his first big tractor in 1956, he found a 2-year-old Super 88 model Oliver another farmer was ready to sell.

First restored. He still has that tractor. It was the first one he restored, and he said it is still his favorite.

He also has the last Oliver he farmed with, a 1975 model that he decided was just too much tractor for what he needed to do. So he retired it into his collection.

The collection grew slowly, Baumann said, but he didn’t begin restoring tractors until two years ago.

By that time, he had been picking up Olivers from here and there, and had 40 old tractors in various stages of deterioration and disrepair stuffed into his sheds.

Some, he picked up at regional farm sales, others he bought from antique dealers and some came from Kansas, Wyoming and Montana. He bought standard tractors, row crop tractors, high crop tractors, gas tractors, diesel tractors – working toward an example of every variation of every model in every series that Oliver ever produced.

Needed space. But he still hadn’t really been able to find the time, the room, or the space to restore and display his growing collection.

But two years ago, Richard and Gladys Baumann made the decision to go out of the egg business.

They had grown over the years from 50 to 20,000 hens and put their children through college on the egg money.

However, Baumann said, their equipment was getting old, their children had moved away, help was getting harder to find, and, most importantly to him, he needed the space for his tractors.

So he moved the cages out of the building, ran a cement floor, put in a false ceiling and better lighting, and started working on the tractors.

Original condition. He tries get them as close to original condition as he is able to. He hasn’t had too much a problem with parts, he said, because one of the biggest antique Oliver parts suppliers, Maibach’s Tractor Parts in Creston, is just about a mile down the road.

Getting the right tractor seat, he said, is probably one of the biggest problems.

“There are some I kind of wish I had done better,” he said. “I’m getting more particular as I go.”

The newest tractor in the shed, Baumann said, was one he bought because he just couldn’t turn it down. It came from Florida to Indiana, by way of New Jersey.

A 1949 high crop model used in the vegetable fields of Florida, it was an experimental model that never actually went into production. There were only 150 to 200 made, and only a few are still around.

He said he is probably not in the market for many more tractors now, but he has another 15 in a second chicken shed, awaiting restoration.

Oliver machinery. He is also beginning to collect Oliver farm machinery. He has a potato planter that he picked up at an auction. The auctioneer, he said, wasn’t even going to offer it because the tire was flat.

“I told him to go ahead, that he had at least one bidder.”

But his prize so far is a 1940 4-bar rake. He said he saw it advertised two days before the sale, and the way the ad was phrased made him sure it was an old one, although he could hardly believe it really could be.

The farmer had bought it used, used it himself for seven or eight years, and then stored it in his barn. Baumann bought it for $375. All it needed, he said, was to have some of the rust taken off.

The Baumanns have lived at Crestland Farms since 1951. They farm 250 acres of corn and hay and have a Holstein dairy operation with 80 cows.

Although their children have not been interested in keeping the farm going, they now have a grandson who is working with them and hopes to be able to take over eventually.

(You can contact Jackie Cummins at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at jcummins@farmanddairy.com.)

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