Oliver Tractor Fanciers Flock to Lebanon Show

3/1/2014 7:00 AM
By Sue Bowman Southeastern Pa. Correspondent

LEBANON, Pa. — While the current generation of farm-equipment owners might be quite familiar with the pea green of John Deere products, there was a time when another shade of green plied many rural fields. Those darker, grass-green Oliver tractors, plows, corn pickers, planters and the like, with their distinctive bright red and yellow accents, were what drew hundreds to the Lebanon Valley Expo Center in Lebanon, Pa., on Feb. 20-22 for the annual Hart-Parr Oliver Collectors Association’s (HPOCA) Winter Get-Together.

The Oliver Farm Equipment Co. was founded in 1929 by the merger of four tractor and farm equipment companies, including Hart-Parr. Founded by two University of Wisconsin engineering students in 1901, Hart-Parr’s claim to fame was its pioneering efforts with gas-powered tractor design and production. The Oliver company was eventually sold to White Motor Co. in 1960, more than 100 years after James Oliver started the plow works in South Bend, Ind. Although the Oliver company itself may be long gone, its products still command the interest of a host of farm-equipment enthusiasts.

As a national organization, HPOCA’s recent Winter Get-Together attracted attendees from Pennsylvania and its surrounding states, as well as from the Midwest and as far away as Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The three-day event, which managed to be scheduled during a welcome late February thaw, featured an indoor display of 44 tractors and an additional 11 tractors exhibited outside on the adjacent fairgrounds. The meeting included a tour, numbering 110 people, to nearby attractions. Tour stops included the Mor-Dale Farms dairy operation in eastern Berks County, Wenger’s farm equipment of Myerstown, Lebanon County, and the Wilbur Chocolate factory in Lititz, Lancaster County, Pa.

With 20 vendors on site with all types of Oliver and Hart-Parr themed products, numerous displays and a silent auction, there was plenty to keep the visiting tractor enthusiasts busy. Nevertheless, the favorite activity at the event seemed to be renewing acquaintances with fellow Oliver and Hart-Parr owners, as well as swapping stories related to the vintage tractors.

Carl Brandt, who owns a 170-acre farm near Hershey, Pa., grew up with Olivers and still uses them in his farming operation. Although he owns 16 Olivers of different types and still has the Oliver 770 he bought new in 1962, it was his 1948 Oliver 60 with a rare tractor-mounted style Hershey transplanter that he chose to display at the HPOCA annual show. The transplanter, used to place tobacco plant seedlings into the field, was designed and built in 1938 by the family of his father-in-law, Manheim, Pa., Oliver dealer, N.G. Hershey. While the device might seem like a simple innovation, it actually revolutionized the tobacco growing industry because it eliminated the need to use horses in tobacco production.

Brandt remembers well the day when his own father brought home his first Oliver 70 in 1940. Brandt recalls his sister Orpha running to find him and saying, “Come look — Dad got a tractor with lights!” Brandt’s grandson, 22-year-old Jordan Fair of Hershey, Pa., attended the HPOCA Winter Get Together with his grandfather. He represents the latest generation of the clan to be bitten by the Oliver bug.

“He used to be a John Deere fan, until I got him to go along on the annual tractor drive from Shirleysburg to Orbisonia,” Brandt said.

These days, Jordan is clearly a big fan of Oliver tractors and identifies the Oliver Super 66 as his favorite model. Ironically, one of the topics at the annual HPOCA meeting held on the last day of the gathering was finding ways to get more younger people interested in the pleasures of collecting vintage farm equipment as older owners leave the scene and their valued collections are dispersed.

Dean Pannebaker, from Landisburg, Perry County, Pa., owns six Oliver Hart-Parr tractors, and selected his 1936 Hart-Parr 70 orchard model to put on display at the HPOCA event. It features oversized fenders to keep fruit tree branches from striking the wheels. While Pannebaker bought this piece of equipment about 10 years ago in Lancaster County, Pa., it originally hails from California. There it was apparently used in a vineyard earlier in its history, as well as on a nut tree farm. Pannebaker recalls cleaning out numerous nuts from the tractor’s nooks and crannies.

Landis Zimmerman, secretary of the hosting group, the Mason-Dixon Oliver-Cletrac Collectors Association, manned a booth for his business, Zimmerman Oliver-Cletrac, based in Ephrata, Lancaster County, Pa. It specializes in parts and service for these lines, and performs restoration work on Oliver and Cletrac equipment. Zimmerman brought along his gray 1921 Oliver-Cletrac Model F, which was displayed towing an Iron Age potato planter. Iron Age equipment was produced in York, Pa., starting in 1856, by the A.B. Farquhar Co., which became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Oliver Corporation in 1951. Oliver had acquired the company in its effort to become a full line farm-equipment manufacturer.

Tucked among the aisles of green tractors, a red Massey-Ferguson 98 stuck out like a sore thumb. Experts on Oliver history shared that this piece of equipment was actually a disguised Oliver 990, with only the tinwork having been done by Massey. Massey-Ferguson had turned to Oliver for a tractor with more horsepower until their company was able to set up and build its own line.

Nearby stood a bright yellow Minneapolis-Moline which had also been manufactured by Oliver under similar circumstances. Other tractor companies recognized that Oliver was a leader in their industry, given that Oliver had introduced the first 6-cylinder engine in 1935. The Oliver Corporation is also credited with developing the first live power take-off during the 1930s; however, there was no use for it at the time and it was never put into production.

The weekend-long HPOCA event culminated with a Saturday evening banquet in the Expo Center’s West Hall. Over 375 attendees heard nationally known classic tractor expert, John Harvey, tell how he had developed the first Classic Tractors Calendar as a public relations tool for his former employer, DuPont Ag Products, to introduce a new soybean herbicide back in 1989. Harvey has continued to produce these calendars on his own since 1993. He has also written a book, “Classic Tractor Collectors: Restoring and Preserving Farm Power from the Past,” and produced “Classic Tractor Fever” videos that have appeared on the RFD television network.

A “Fun Auction” event capped off the evening. Auctioneer Dave Lulich from Lyndon Station, Wis., used his animated style of bid calling to raise money for the HPOCA scholarship fund by cajoling top dollar for numerous Oliver and Cletrac memorabilia donated by Oliver enthusiast organizations from around the country.

The 2015 HPOCA Winter Get Together is scheduled to take place on February 27, 28 and March 1, and will be hosted by the Hartland Oliver Collectors at the American Farm Heritage Museum in Greenville, Ill.

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