The Collection of a Lifetime
by Sherry Schaefer
The largest gathering of orphan tractors ever assembled by one collector will be auctioned off
on May 15 in Rock Island, IL. Ed Spiess was a well known tractor buff who spent most of his time
dreaming of rare and unknown tractors. His background as an agricultural engineer sparked his
interest in the unique attributes of the models built from 1939-1959.
Ed didn't collect the models that are so frequently seen sitting in fence rows or appearing at
shows. Instead he longed to find models that most of us have never even heard of. How many times
during a show season do you run across a Simpson Jumbo or a Haas D?
Ed was one of the coordinators responsible for the "Lesser Known Classics" display at the
previous Ageless Iron shows in Ankeny, Iowa. Many of his tractors were also featured on Successful
Farming's tractor trading cards as well as the Classic Tractor Fever calendars and video. One of
Ed's favorite tractors was his Intercontinental C26. This tractor was built by the Texas Manufacturing
Company in Garland, Texas and its production lasted only two years. This tractor was built strictly
for the export market which may explain its scarcity amongst collectors today. According to Ed this
tractor handled very well and you could usually spot him making the rounds at the shows while
driving this model. It was also used on the cover of the Classic Tractor video and on the Classic
Tractor calendar for 1998.
Ed was especially proud of his Gibson Super G because it is the only one in existence. He
already had one Gibson in his collection, an "I", when he learned about this tractor. It was part of a
collection in Colorado that was to be auctioned of. At that time it was unrestored and little was
known about the tractor. After Ed acquired the Super G and restored it he returned to Colorado with
it to attend the Gibson reunion. There were a few sceptics there who insisted that the tractor was a
"fraud". A man in the crowd overheard the conversation and said he could prove that it was
legitimate. When he returned he submitted pictures of the Super G with Wilbur Gibson himself sitting
on it and stated that it was the last tractor that Wilbur built for Gibson. The man in the crowd turned
out to be the former photographer for the Gibson Tractor Company.
One of the most "unknown" models in this collection has to be the American Steel tractor.
There were only 5 of these units built in 1947 by the American Steel Tractor Corporation of Canton,
Ohio. The tractor division was a subsidiary of Barium Steel also of Canton, Ohio. This model 226
was tested beginning June 20, 1947 under test no. 385 of the Nebraska field test. While the tractor
had many good qualities, it had even more engineering flaws. It was withdrawn from the test due to
several overheating problems which occurred in the engine compartment and in the rear end.
Company representatives took the tractor back to Canton to make the necessary changes and vowed
to return to Nebraska in 6 weeks or less. Evidently there was friction between company
representatives and the engineering department which resulted in the dissolution of the tractor project.
Thus the short life of the American Steel tractor.
Through another tractor enthusiast Ed was able to locate three of these models in a fence row
along with the carcass of the fourth. It is believed that the fifth tractor was cut up after testing. Ed
managed to acquire two of these tractors and salvage a few parts off of the carcass. The remaining
unit went to another collector in the Midwest. The chance to ever find another one of these for sale
is almost non-existent. Both of these tractors have since been restored to perfection.
Ed wanted an Avery Rotrak so bad that he was willing to buy 8 more tractors just to acquire
the one particular model. The collector who had the Avery wouldn't sell it alone. If you wanted any
one of his tractors you had to buy them all. So Ed bought 9 tractors that day.
The Avery Rotrak was only built from 1938-41. It was a last attempt by the Peoria based
company to save themselves from another bankruptcy. Unfortunately the war took its toll on the
failing farm machinery company and they sold out to Letourneau in 1941. There are less than a
dozen of these tractors known in existence.
While there are a few tractors in Ed's collection that are commonly known such as the AC
C, the Ferguson 30 and the Ford Ferguson, the majority of this collection consists of very low
production models. Ed's records show that there are only 7 Farmaster FG-33s known. There are
only 3 Haas Ds known of and only 3 Kaywoods. There were only 75 Mountain States Silver Kings
even built and only 300 Lehr Big Boys.
Ed Spiess was one of the genuine nice guys in the antique tractor hobby. He was always more
than willing to help another collector with information or even parts. He had friends and
acquaintances all over the world. His real passion was for information about the companies that built
these low production models. When Ed learned of another tractor that he hadn't previously heard of,
the search was on. He was a thorough researcher and always managed to dig up facts that no one else
had been able to find.
Many of Ed's friends were shocked to learn of his sudden passing on December 4, 1998. Ed
had just recently retired allowing him to spend the time he wanted chasing after his toys. He had
traveled all summer to shows nearly every weekend. In the fall he was diagnosed with cancer and
given only a short time to live. One of Ed's main concerns was his tractor collection and it was his
wish that they be auctioned off to fellow enthusiasts and given new homes.
This "Collection of a Lifetime" is one of the most unique displays of hard work and research
in the tractor hobby today. Just to see this collection exhibited is an overwhelming experience.
Tractors like these don't come around very often, but then neither do guys like Ed Spiess.
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