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Russ' Vintage Iron

By Russ Quinn
DTN Staff Reporter

Last summer, my wife and I took our three kids to beautiful Branson, Missouri, for vacation. While we were down there, my sons and I toured the Branson Auto and Farm Museum.

Among the tractors in the museum on the farm side was a Leader tractor, something I had never seen in person. I wrote a column about this brand of tractor after we got back and asked anyone had any experience with Leader tractors to write and tell me about it.

Not surprisingly, no one took me up on this offer … that is, until recently. It took many months, but I finally did get a response to my request.

Here is the email I received from Mark Helmer of Florence, Kentucky:

"When I was about 5 years old (which was 70 years ago), my father purchased a Leader tractor from our neighbor. I don’t remember a lot about this tractor, but at the time, he farmed with horses, so this tractor was a big improvement.

"In my lifetime, I have only seen a few Leader tractors, so in May 2017 when a friend who owned a used equipment dealership in Florence, Kentucky, had one on his lot, I had to buy it. I have restored many tractors over the years including Case, Ford, International, Oliver and John Deere. I just completed restoring a John Deere 420T, so I thought my next project should be a Leader tractor.

"The Leader that I have is 1949 Model D and it came from Melbourne, Kentucky.

"It has the original paint and tires and it also has power take-off, pulley, hydraulics, fenders, a three-point hitch and a top link. In addition, the tractor came with the original sales literature, maintenance calendar, owner’s manual, engine operator’s handbook and an engine parts list.

"I had to replace a tube in one front tire and a tube in one back tire. I also replaced the wiring because the insulation was coming off the original wiring.

At the same time, I also replaced the points and the spark plugs. Now it runs great!"

My thanks go out to Mark for the interesting story about his Leader tractor. Like I said before, I had heard of and read about Leader tractors, but until we saw one in that museum in Branson, I’m pretty sure I had never seen one in person.

In the area where I grew up, people had one of only three brands of tractors: John Deere, International or Allis-Chalmers. And this was probably because our town used to have a dealership for all three at one time, although that was way before my time.

After the "Big Three," you would see only a few tractors from other manufacturers. There were some people who owned Oliver, Massey-Harris/Ferguson and Minneapolis-Moline, but these were considerably less popular.

My one uncle had Oliver and Massey tractors when I was younger. Then, he owned International and Oliver tractors, until he retired and had a farm auction equipment 13 years ago.

There was a family who farmed in our area with mainly Minneapolis-Moline equipment, and I distinctly remember the yellow equipment sitting on this farm near the road we would take into Omaha. Today, there is a movie theater and housing development on this "farm" in west Omaha where the yellow equipment used to sit and work in the fields.

I really can’t think of anyone having what I would call an "orphan" tractor — meaning the manufacturer had gone out of business. The one neighbor to my grandparents had an old Case and Coop tractors when my dad was a kid, but by the time I came along, those tractors were parked in the trees and he had gone to International tractors.

I remember going to a farm equipment auction many years ago where there was a Silver King tractor for sale. That might be the one and only time I have ever seen this brand of tractor before.

If you have any old tales about any of these "orphan" tractor brands, please feel free to contact me. Hopefully, we can read more of these interesting vintage iron stories.

Russ Quinn can be reached at russ.quinn@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @RussQuinnDTN

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