The first tractor Jeff Kempcke and his father, Art, purchased was a 1947 John Deere D.
The Blair father and son traveled to Beloit, Kan., with plans to buy the tractor and restore it. After arriving, the seller told the pair about another sale.
“By the time we came home, we had two tractors,” Jeff said.
Now, more than 40 years later, Jeff is selling the majority of his collection, which includes 14 John Deere tractors. The sale is set for Saturday.
A hobby begins
Jeff said his father had a passion for restoring antique tractors.
“His enthusiasm was immense for this,” he said.
The hobby began as Art stepped back from farming and his wife began working at the family's other business, Blair Kids Clothes.
“He was home by himself,” Jeff said. “This gave him something to do.”
It also gave Art the opportunity to spend time with his son.
“He'd lay underneath (a tractor) for four or five hours in the afternoon with gasoline and a putty knife, get grease all over him, have a few beers and go home,” Jeff said.
Jeff and Art purchased tractors from across the Midwest. When they first started, a tractor would cost only a few hundred dollars.
“Back in the old days, it wasn't an enthusiastic thing,” Jeff said.
After purchasing a tractor, they would scour salvage yards for parts.
“We'd make a trip to Lyons, Nebraska, once a week because there was a salvage yard,” Jeff said. “We became good friends with (the owner). You'd run to Colfax, Iowa. You'd go somewhere to a salvage yard and say 'I need this. I need that.'”
Over the years, Jeff and Art watched as the tractor restoration hobby grew and companies began making reproduction parts. At first, Jeff said, the quality wasn't there, but now hobbyists can get almost anything they need.
“You can just about put a tractor together out of a catalog,” he said. “There is that much demand for the stuff.”
Parading the tractors
Jeff and Art weren't the only people to enjoy the tractors.
Displaying the restored farm equipment, such as in the Gateway to the West Days parade, became a family event.
“In the old days, we'd come to the Blair parade and I think one year we had 13 tractors in it,” Jeff said.
Family and friends would meet at Jeff's acreage north of Blair the night before the parade to pick out a tractor to drive and enjoy a cookout.
“I'll wash it, you wax it up. We'll have some hamburgers and beer here. You drive it to town, you drive it home,” Jeff would tell them.
Time to let go
Through the years, Jeff has sold 30 to 40 tractors — mainly older models and only one or two at a time.
“We basically just got down to the 30 series, which is the last two-cylinder series John Deere made,” he said.
And over time, the amount of time he has had available to work on the tractors has lessened.
“The worst thing you can have let happen to these tractors is to just let them sit,” Jeff said.
In 2014, Art passed away.
Earlier this year, Jeff made the decision to sell the collection. He still loves the tractors, and he knows it will be tough to let go of them.
“There is a story about every tractor here,” he said. “I could go within 10 feet of where we came from and take you back to the spot where these were all purchased because it was an involvement that we had.”
Jeff will also remember the people he has met throughout his hobby.
“We've created a ton of friends,” he said. “It's been a good experience and times have changed. Let somebody else enjoy these tractors.”
But there are three tractors Jeff won't be selling, including that 1947 John Deere D.
“The memory aspect of it is almost as good as having the tractor,” Jeff said. “You'll never forget that.”