Ray Much finds cure for “Tractor Fever” – more tractors
TOWN of UNION – Many men of a certain age who grew up on Wisconsin farms fondly remember the first tractor they drove as a youngster.
It might have been a Ford 9N or an Oliver 77. But for Ray Much (pronounced Muck), who was raised on a farm near Marion in northern Waupaca County, it was a Farmall H – one of the most popular tractors on Wisconsin farms during the 1940s and early 1950s.
“I was probably 4 or 5 years old, and too small to reach the foot brakes and clutch pedal on my Dad’s Farmall H,” Much recalled. “My grandpa and my uncles set me up on the seat and told me to steer right down the row of oat shocks while they pitched bundles up on the wagon. If they got behind, and we had to stop one of the men climbed on the slow-moving tractor and operated the controls.”
Much’s bond with those “red” tractors continues to this day. “I tell people that I was teethed on the steering wheel of Farmall H,” he smiled. “I really got the collecting fever around 1976 after the Union Thresheree moved to its present location on Highway 22 across the road from my house.”
In his spare time, Much helped out with the Union Thresherman Inc., a volunteer organization of men and women dedicated to preserving Wisconsin’s rich rural history of the early 20th Century. He also served as president of the club for four years.
Soon after getting involved with the organization, “I got the fever, and I needed my own tractor,” Much said. “When a good deal came along, I grabbed it, but I had patience to wait for that good deal.
His first tractor was a 1929 International Regular. “I worked on that tractor from the front all the way to the back before I finally got it done. Everything was worn out so bad,” he said. “I bought another tractor for parts, and should have just rebuilt that tractor, instead, because it had just a bad engine, but I didn’t know that at the time.”
His next tractor was a Farmall F12 with cultivators, which was a nice tractor. “Then I picked up a 1923-24 Regular. I wish I had kept it but I just didn’t have time to work on it while I was president of the club and working full time at the Waupaca Foundry.”
Much bought a Farmall H after his father passed away. “It was one of three in my old neighborhood, and was on the farm that my mother and dad bought and lived on during their later years,” he recalled.
He also bought an F-30 that came out of South Dakota. “John Casey, who owned the feed mill in Symco, bought it, and I ended up buying it from him.”
The collection grows
“I just kept going from there,” Much said. “If a good deal came along I would buy it.” Fortunately, he had the skill and tools to do most of the restoration himself. “I did whatever had to be done,” he stressed. “When you buy something you never know what you’re going to have to do, especially if it doesn’t run.”
Between the farm tractors and Cub Cadet tractors, which were made by International back then, Much currently has right around 30 in his collection. “I got my first Cub Cadet from my father-in-law who was a machinery dealer, around 1970, and I still have it,” he remarked.
The oldest tractor in his current collection is a 1920, 10-20 Titan, with a 2-cylinder engine that McCormick-Deering had built. “Everyone of them was built in Milwaukee by the Titan Truck Company,” he explained.
Much’s newest tractors are an International 350 utility and a Farmall 350 row crop that were built in 1957.
Many of his tractors were bought through networking with other vintage tractor enthusiasts. “You get to know people, and someone will mention a person who has a particular tractor,” he related.
One Cub Cadet was acquired after his wife saw a similar model at a Minnesota show. “She said ‘how come you don’t buy me one like that.’” He found one that was owned by a local truck driver. “When my wife wondered why I bought another tractor, I told her that’s your tractor, that’s the one you told me you wanted.”
Tractors on display
Each summer, Much brings several tractors from his shed and displays them for for a few weeks near his home at E6362 State Rd. 22, Manawa, for people driving by to enjoy.
This year he had three lined up on top of the mound: a 350 utility and 350 row-crop, along with a 10-20 McCormick-Deering, which he bought from Dick Werth, one of the founders of Thresheree, “Dick told me that tractor was at the first Thresheree,” Much said. “Every tractor has a story behind it.”
Also on display were his “letter” series of Farmall tractors. “There’s only one that I don’t have yet – a Farmall B. Maybe I’ll be lucky some day and get that last one. I don’t really need it but it just depends if somebody comes up with one for the right price,” he smiled.
Along with tractors, Much also has collected a few implements. “I used to have 8 or 9 trailer plows but I sold them because I wasn’t using them and didn’t really have room for them,” he explained.
Currently he has one plow, a disc, back blade and brush hog. “I’m looking for a fast-hitch disc for my 350 utility for work on food plots,” he said. “If I could find one I’d sell my other disc cheap.”
Looking to the future
While he’s still open to buying the right tractor at the right price, Much is more interested in encouraging a new generation of collectors. “I have boys in the neighborhood and relatives who come and ask me questions, help me and are willing to learn,” he said.
“I had a great nephew and a neighborhood boy, who both love tractors, help get my tractors out of the shed, and they love doing it,” he said. “I’m always willing to work with the kids, help them, and maybe get them interested in starting their own collection of tractors and other vintage farm equipment.”