Texas tractor collector sees history of U.S. farms

Has more than 300 tractors on Texas farm, oldest from 1910

By RONALD ERDRICHScripps Howard News Service Published:

SCOTLAND, Texas --What's the first thing you need when building a collection? A place to put it. Luckily for Ken Luig, he has 20 acres.

"It's like anything else, a man gets interested in something and it goes over the top, sometimes," he said, chuckling.

He's not quite sure, but Luig estimates he has between 350-400 tractors. Most of them can be seen in his front yard from Highway 281.

Big tractors, small tractors, old tractors and ancient tractors. A few are colored pink or tan, but most are colored by Mother Nature, a deep rust that turns even redder in the warm light of the evening sun.

Luig's love of tractors revved up 19 years ago. Originally from the area, he and his wife, Jane, moved back there from Wichita Falls after a number of years.

"It all started when I bought a dang John Deere 520 to mow this place," he said. "'Course I always liked tractors, but once I bought it, oh, that was a bad thing to do."

Standing in a barn filled with tractors -- one of three -- he laughed once more.

"I got the bug then and just started buying them," he said.

Certainly there are smaller things to collect. Buttons, maybe, or shot glasses. But those don't stand for something the same way tractors do.

"It just represents history to me, the history of agriculture," he said, looking around his collection. "A lot of this stuff, they don't make anymore."

His oldest tractor is probably the most unusual, a 50 horsepower 1910 Case steam tractor he keeps in another barn, surrounded by smaller, if not older, cousins. Sitting about 10 feet high and perhaps 15 or more feet long, the steam tractor resembles a small locomotive. A painted relief molded into the steel at the forward end of the boiler beneath the stack depicting a bald eagle stands out against the flat black machine.

"This is a baby one, they made some that are 150 horsepower, three times as big as this. I mean they are huge," he said, adding this one weighed about 30,000 pounds.

Strolling through the pasture and into the barns with Luig is an education in early 20th century manufacturing.

"Back in the teens, '20s and '30s, everybody made tractors because that was when the big farming boom started. Actually earlier than that, in the 1900s," he said. "But once they figured out how to put gas engines in things, I mean just everybody and their dog made tractors."

In many ways, those days mirrored the early automotive industry.

A large number of independent car manufacturers created a kaleidoscope of automobiles with most of those companies either failing or swallowed up by larger firms. xLuig said the same thing happened with tractors, especially when Ford started making them.

On the pasture, the tractors line up in rows to face the highway. Strolling through them, one sounded like it had a fan operating inside. Upon closer examination, however, it proved to be a beehive.

While they do make an interesting display, the main reason for keeping those outdoor tractors is for parts. But Luig said they also evoke a particular romance for passers-by of a certain age.

"I have a ton of people (who) stop by to take pictures of them, wanting to talk about them," he said. "Especially older men who were raised on a farm."

The same thing happens whenever he takes a restored machine to a tractor show. Former farm boys come to Luig with a glow on their face and he sits back to watch the memories wash across their faces.

"They'll pick out one tractor and be able to tell you everything about it because they were born and raised on it, and drove it until they wore it completely out," he said.

While his passion for tractors hasn't cooled over the years, his taste in them has become more discerning.

"I can't stand to see a tractor go to the junkyard, get melted down or tore all up," Luig said. "But now? Well, if it's not some kind of specialty tractor, why, a man can't save them all.

(Contact Ronald W. Erdrich of The Abilene Reporter-News in Texas at www.reporternews.com.)

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