The old Oliver belonged to a good family friend who owned a large farm and gave me summer work while I was in high school. Even in the late 1960's it was one ugly tractor. It was actually a composite of two tractors as its original frame had broken. It had been rolled over and the hood had been beaten back out with the round end of a ball-peen hammer and by then was almost devoid of all paint. My boss kept her in excellent mechanical condition but wouldn't spend a dollar for a can of spray paint, so she always looked like she was ready for the junk yard even though she ran like new.
While there were always 7 or 8 tractors on the farm at any given time, the old Oliver 88 RC was the central working tractor on the farm. I plowed with it, disked with it, planted corn and silage sorghum with it, cleaned barns with it, hauled tobacco with it, picked corn with it and probably chopped several thousand tons of sileage with it among other chores. It was the first multi-cylinder engine that I ever rebuilt. We put thin walled sleeves and oversize pistons in it so it could pull a larger sileage chopper. After the rebuild, I entered it in and took 4th place overall in the first tractor pull that the Meade Co. (KY) Fair ever held. Although she performed wonderfully, I was rather ashamed of her tattered looks while pulling against the other gleaming machines that were in attendance.
While she was the sorryest looking tractor you'd ever seen, she could always be counted upon to get the work done. The only time I can remember that the old tractor wouldn't go was when she had a flat rear tire. What she lacked in looks she certainly made up for in heart.
I went away to college and the old Oliver and I parted ways. While I would occasionally go back to the farm to visit, I never again ran the old tractor, although I'd occasionally walk out to the barn to pay her a visit.
Over the years, all the other tractors were traded or sold away but somehow the ugly old Oliver managed to stay as the central working tractor on the farm. She held this role until 1998 when she was again completely rebuilt. She was started up in the shop after her rebuild and driven to her usual storage location in the barn and was parked. Unfortunately, my dear friend was seriously injured in an accident with another tractor and the old Oliver was never started again.
Life had taken me a different direction and I'd just passed my 30th anniversary in my own business as a computer/network technician. I now live in a subdivision and haven't had the pleasure of farming for a number of years. We attended the 85th birthday party of my good friend in February of 2005 and he mentioned that he still had the old Oliver and wanted to sell it. He named a price that was most affordable but what in the world was I going to do with a row crop Oliver in a subdivision? Furthermore, how could I convince my wife of the need for such a beast? Fortunately, she loves old hardware as much as I do and let me buy my old friend. We traveled back to Meade Co. in March with a new battery and 5 gallons of gas. Although she hadn't run since 1998 sitting dormant for almost six years, the old gal showed that she still had her old heart and started right up. We loaded her on the trailer and started the journey home. While I was happy to have her, I have to admit that I was a little sad to be hauling her away from the farm that she had worked for half a century. We unloaded her in the driveway and quickly hid her under a tarp so that the neighbors wouldn't see what a thing of beauty I had brought home!
There was one humerous moment. I have a New Holland LS 55 lawn tractor with a 19 hp V2 Kohler that my wife calls my 'yard Harley' since it idles with a lope like a Harley motorcycle. My neighbor around the corner like the sound of it and traded his one-cylinder John Deere in for a two-cylinder JD that had a 20 hp V2 in it which he kidded me about since it had one more horsepower than my New Holland. After bringing the Oliver home, I knocked on his door and told his wife to tell him that he no longer had the largest riding mower in the subdivision. When she asked what I had gotten, I told her to just have her husband look down in my driveway under the tarp!
I'm now rounding up new tin for my old friend and am getting ready to start a complete cosmetic restoration of her. She's in 100% mechanical condition and runs like new. After she's finished, I'll take her back to the farm for a visit and probably for a visit back to the tractor pull at the Meade Co. Fair!
I'm looking forward to taking some pictures of her with my '65 Chevy BelAir that I also used to drive to the farm back in those good ol' days!
Bill Johnson, Lexington, KY
Bill Johnson, KY, entered 2005-05-08
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