1918 workhorse is reborn as 1994 beauty

December 08, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

When Hampstead tractor collector Herb Wessel heard about the 1918 Case 9-18 on a used-car lot in Massachusetts, he thought he wasn't interested.

But one thing led to another.

After a year of painstaking restoration work, the fully restored green and red machine is featured on the front cover of the 1994 DuPont Classic Tractors Calendar.

Mr. Wessel, a member of two clubs for Case tractor collectors, first heard about the old Case from a friend in Massachusetts, and thought he wasn't interested.

The friend sent him a photo.

"When I saw the picture I knew that it was a rare model," Mr. Wessel said.

The photo led to a telephone call, some negotiations and a trip to the car lot in Massachusetts.

When he saw the tractor, Mr. Wessel discovered it was in rough shape.

The sheet metal parts were ruined. The Case needed a new radiator and new gas tank. Its engine and transmission were stuck. Its head was cracked.

"We had to renegotiate" the price, Mr. Wessel said, but he had the upper hand.

"I knew that I was not coming home empty-handed, but he didn't know that," Mr. Wessel said.

He declined to disclose the tractor's value.

Mr. Wessel, 65, a retired farmer, did most of the mechanical work. His son Philip did most of the bodywork and painting.

The Wessels made some of the sheet metal parts and commissioned others.

The radiator was a special problem. Nobody knew what it should even look like.

A fellow Case collector in Minnesota came to the rescue with photographs and measurements of the radiator of his restored Case 9-18. From this information, the Mike Gross Radiator Shop of Hanover, Pa., constructed a new one.

It fit perfectly.

The restored Case 9-18 is one of only about a dozen surviving specimens known to Mr. Wessel of a model built from 1915 through 1918.

"They only built 5,000, total," he said.

Mr. Wessel has about 30 tractors and related machines such as plows and balers.

He said he takes his machines to shows, but does not believe in competing for prizes.

"When they start offering the prizes it takes all the fun out of it," he said.

He prefers display shows where a young person without a lot of money to invest "can be just as proud of his Farmall H as the guy with the 1918 tractor."

Also, he said, "I'm particularly interested in the educational aspect of the hobby."

Tractor shows often feature demonstrations of bygone farming techniques, such as "flailing" wheat, threshing the grain by hand by beating it with a tool that looks like two ax handles chained together.

"A hundred years ago, things were done just about the same way they were 2,000 years ago," Mr. Wessel said, but in the span of one generation, everything changed.

Had it not, he said, "no way could we possibly feed our people."

His collection includes an early washing machine, powered by a treadmill operated by a dog, goat or sheep.

"I've always liked things mechanical," he said.

There is a warm spot in his heart for Case tractors because "the first new tractor my father bought was a Case."

That 1942 Case DC, fully restored, is in Mr. Wessel's collection.

Mr. Wessel still works the first new tractor he bought for his farm, a 1955 Case 400.

"It's used every day," he said. "We use it to haul food to the calves."

Mr. Wessel's Case 9-18 is one of 15 classic tractors singled out nationwide for inclusion in the calendar. As a result of the publicity, Mr. Wessel has received calls from other Case collectors around the country, whom he has been able to help with photos and measurements of items from his collection.

The tractor calendar is the fifth in a series published annually by DuPont.

DuPont has also featured the tractors in a 20-inch by 30-inch color poster and an hourlong video.

The calendar, poster and video may be ordered by calling 1-800-432-7671. The calendar costs $6.95, the poster $4.95 and the video $19.95. Add $2.50 per order for shipping and handling.

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