Don Whitehill, of rural Elmo, is a collector of sorts; he probably hasn’t seen an old tractor he doesn’t like. Tucked away in farmyard sheds are 41 tractors, though the day I visited there were only 40 because one was visiting the repair shop. Assuming this documentation is somewhat accurate, the collection involves nine different brands.
Here’s the list:
• An Avery. About 1948 vintage.
• Allis Chalmers D. It was rescued from the midst of a brush pile and restored. There are five Allis Chalmerses in the collection.
• Olivers. A Super 77 and a Cletrac. Also another Oliver sitting behind another tractor.
• A Ford 8N. It waited in a shed for 40 years to be found and appreciated. A 9N Ford and another little Ford. Also a Ford 961, all original, and except for newly-acquired dust, it is as it came off the showroom floor in 1958. Also, a Ford New Holland 8670. It serves as Don’s snowplow.
• Farmalls. There are several. A Super MTA, an A, J, B and D, and Cub tractors. Also a 1942 H, a 1941 M and Super M. There is an International Super C and Super M.
• John Deere. What collection would be complete without the yellow and green of John Deere? Don’s favorite tractor is a 1958 John Deere 520. The oldest tractor is a 1937 John Deere. Other John Deeres are the L, H, A, MT and M.
• Massey Harris, Massey Ferguson. He has both. Of Massey Harris there is a Mustang and Pony; he doesn’t have a Colt, and the Massey Ferguson is a 135.
A parade favorite isn’t a tractor at all, but a 1990 International former wrecker/tow truck converted into a pick-up. It is bright yellow and has chrome twin exhaust stacks.
Don began collecting tractors in 1988.
“It just kind of happened,” he said. “I like to fool with tractors and I had friends and neighbors who quit farming and it’s been nice to remember and associate them through their tractors.”
Of his collecting tractors he says, “I think it’s better than me settin’ in a bar.” He enjoys his membership and participation in the Tarkio Valley Antique Tractor Association. He has been generous with his time and tractors to participate in local parades.
Don is the son of Lee and Annie Tynor Whitehill, and one of 11 children. His mother died when he was five years old. In 1959, he got a $7,000 farm loan from FHA. In addition to farming he did custom work and hauling livestock and grain. He was first married to Donna Shields and they had two children. After Donna’s death he married Elaine Hamilton Edwards.
A segment of his life he wants to share is after returning from Korea, where he served in the US Army Infantry, he was stationed in Camp Atterbury, IN.
He said, “Camp life after Korea was do-nothing and boring. I never did see our company commander. But I had a weekend off, so I took a taxi to Indianapolis airport and that afternoon I caught a flight to Kansas City. All I had were the clothes I wore and a little money in my wallet. You see, I wanted my car that was at home. After arriving in Kansas City I put my thumb in the air and two rides later, traveling Highway 71, they dropped me off in Braddyville, IA. I called Dad and he came for me. All that way and I hardly walked a step. Sunday noon I started for Indiana in my 1947 Ford and drove 600 miles back to camp, two-lane highway in those days, I was a bit late but no one said anything about it. After soldiering in the Korean War, I wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone.”
A visit to the Whitehills and you may hear a couple tractors idling. He likes to keep them operable, no small feat considering there are 41 fuel tanks, batteries, etc. He also stays busy hauling gravel for folks in the area for their driveways and other projects.
Thank you, Don, for your service, for sharing your story, and for the many parades you’ve participated in.
‘Til next time.