Family works to save old tractors from scrap heap - Interest being passed down to next generation
BY LOLA E. BILLIEL
SIDNEY — Today’s farm tractors are high-powered pieces of sophisticated machinery geared for the farmer in the 21st century. As with tractors of yesteryear, they have an important place in agriculture throughout the world, and especially in the United States. From the 1890s to now, farm equipment has evolved to do more and meet the increased demands of larger farms. Yet there is still a place for the old-time equipment on many farms, and especially in the barns and hearts of people who want to restore and preserve vintage tractors for future generations.
Among them is Larry Helman of rural Sidney, in Shelby County, who has a lifelong passion for Massey Ferguson tractors, mainly due to the influence of his father, Dave Helman. The elder Helman was a Massey Ferguson dealer from 1964 to 1981. He presents each of his great-grandchildren with a child’s model pedal tractor. Larry, having three grandchildren, then locates a full-size tractor that matches the child’s model and restores it to eventually be given to the grandchild.
The first such toy tractor was given to Larry’s grandson, Owen Helman, by Larry’s father. It was a pedal tractor TO20, which launched Larry on a hunt for the full-size version of the same model. He found one at a farm auction in Covington. “It was in very rough condition; it ran, but not well,” Larry recalls. But he purchased it and began the long restoration process. He totally disassembled it, replacing all the bolts, installing a new clutch, overhauling the engine and installing a new radiator. All the sheet metal and the fuel tank was sandblasted and new steering bushings, steering shafts and brakes installed, among other things. The tractor has its four original tires, two front wheels and all original sheet metal. Larry did replace the two rear wheels and installed all new electrical wiring and a new battery. “I paid $900 for the tractor at auction and have put about $4,000 in it, but it would probably sell for $4,500,” he noted. He paid $700 for the TO20 paint alone. Larry worked on the project from the fall of 2011 to the spring of 2012. Close to a million of the model were manufactured. The one restored by Larry carries serial number 331188.
Another grandson, Miles, was presented with an 1100 Massey Ferguson pedal tractor and Larry purchased a full-size 1100 in Tawawa, and is presently restoring it. While driving by one day he noticed it sitting in weeds by a barn, stopped and offered $1,000 for it. Once this tractor is restored it could likely sell for between $7,000 and $9,000, Larry noted. Owen and Miles are the sons of Eric and Danielle Helman of Sidney.
A third grandson, Emory, son of Sarah and Jason Tuente, received a Massey Harris 30 from his great-grandfather and Larry will be restoring the full-size model, with the help of the boy’s father. The tractor was purchased in Wapakoneta and was sitting in the barn of a divorced couple. He gave $450 and says “it runs, but is rough”.
Not only does Larry restore various models of tractors, but has a passion for Massey Ferguson history as well. “Henry Ford and Harry Ferguson built the hydraulic system for tractors,” Larry noted. “When Ford died, his company stole the hydraulic system from Ferguson and Ferguson sued Ford’s company and won the lawsuit for over a million dollars. Massey Ferguson then gave Harry Ferguson a factory to build tractors in. Around 1957 Massey Ferguson took over the manufacturing process.” Helman explained the model letters as follows: “T” for tractor, “O” for Ontario, Canada, and “TE” for tractor and English built.
Working at Maplewood Implement for the past 40 years, Larry has been around Massey Ferguson most of his life. He says he knows lots of people across the country with parts and that is definitely a plus when you’re into restoring. He has restored other tractors and farm implements, as well as a 1970 Mustang, which he sold to a Michigan resident. He has purchased tractors from Texas and Nebraska, as well states surrounding Ohio. Besides Massey Fergusons, he also has other models set aside for future restoration. He said when he retires he will have 14 tractors to restore. He also hopes to attend more tractor shows at that time.
Helman and his wife, Bernice, have showed their tractors at the Lake Loramie Antique Threshing Swap Meet, have been invited to display at the Farm Science Review in London and showed at the National Show in Findlay, where more than 300 Massey Fergusons were on display. He also takes his tractors to the Shelby County Fair each year for their antique tractor show. Larry belongs to the Shelby County Antique Power Association and the Massey Harris Ferguson Club of Ohio.
While he admires the sophisticated models currently being produced, making them better able to serve modern farm needs, he acknowledges an enduring affection and respect for the old workhorse models of days gone by. His goal is to help preserve them and educate people about their history.
Lola Billiel writes for the
Sidney Daily News.