Second Chances: Tinkering with Massey Harris

11/2/2013 7:00 AM
By Tabitha Goodling Central Pa. Correspondent

MCALISTERVILLE, Pa. — Richard Dimm of Juniata County, Pa., says he has “tractor disease.”

The 86-year-old man has refinished five Massey Harris tractors.

Though he grew up working on two farms, it wasn’t until the late 1990s when he decided to take on the hobby of restoring the tractors.

He started with a 22 and 44 that were purchased by his father, Olan Dimm, in the late 1940s. The tractors were basically falling apart and not too appealing.

“If you would have seen them, you would say, Why would you want to work on that?’ But I like challenges,” Dimm said.

Dimm’s two sons told him he should sell the tractors.

“I told them, once I am retired you will see those two tractors running back and forth the road here.”

Those first two tractors meant a lot to Richard Dimm.

“The 22 and 44 ... I practically lived on those things when we were farming,” he said.

The Dimm family did custom work and filled silos for a few decades. In 1965, Richard Dimm broke away from farming and began an appliance and TV business. The tractors were used until the early 1970s but were later stored away because of their deterioration.

As he got closer to retirement he said he knew he wanted to spruce up those old tractors that had so many memories.

“When I start, I take everything apart — I mean everything!” he said.

Dimm did all of the engine work himself, using a lift to get the work done. It took him two years to finish each individual tractor.

“The problem with Massey Harris is that they are not as popular as John Deere or Farmall,” he said, noting he could not find some of the parts very easily.

Tin, for example, was found online and purchased in Kansas.

He said he got “lots of help” from Kessel’s Massey Parts and Sales in Gardners, Pa.

Six years ago, Richard began purchasing the Massey Harris Pony tractors. He worked on three of those. The first one he bought, he described as “a basket case.”

“I bought one from Lancaster County, and another from York County. That last one I got two to three miles away from here. Most people would say it was junk.”

But the challenge inspired him.

“Those Ponys — there’s not a piece of those that wasn’t torn apart. I go from the inside out,” he said.

The painting on two of the tractors was done by Haubert’s Auto Body in McAlisterville, Pa. Dimm painted the others.

He doesn’t like to brag about his work. He is just happy, he said, to get them done. Dimm recently lined up all of his tractors in the front yard of the house where he grew up.

Strangers from the main road many yards down the hill made their way up the lane to get a good look at the shiny red tractors. Dimm just smiled and spent “a good hour” he said, talking to the men about farming and tractors.

“I have tractor disease,” he said with a smile, “It never gets out of your blood.”

He said “the more you do, the easier it is to get it done.” This is because, he said, “you know what to do first.”

And Massey Harris is his tractor of choice. “Oh, all of the others are fine tractors,” he said of John Deere, Farmall and others. “Since this is what we farmed in the mid 1940s, I figured I would just stay with them.”

Dimm has a 68HG tractor that he has not redone yet. At 86, he said he does not know if he’ll get to that one.

But he admits he loves to tinker and iron out all of the dents and fix all of the glitches. So he might be found in hiding once again in his shed.

Dimm said he cannot pick a favorite. The 22 and 44 have sentimental value and he said he always wanted to have the Pony version.

“I just love them all,” he said.

Restoration is something that has been passed down in his family. He chose to place the line-up of tractors in front of his old homestead, which is now owned by his grandson, Adam Dimm. The house had been built in 1932 and was damaged in a fire that took the farm’s barn not too many years after it was built. The family still managed to make it a livable structure and moved back inside.

In recent years, his grandson had it remodeled and changed it “from the inside out,” just like Dimm had done with all of those tractors.

Dimm, who is a cancer survivor, said he believes older things need a second chance. He has given those second chances and has maintained a hobby that can make others smile for years to come.

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