Vintage orchard and grove tractors became a passion for Charles Schneider, with their gigantic flaring fenders, squat, aerodynamic profiles, and their ability to ply their way through orchards and vineyards with low-hanging branches without spoiling the crop.
The retired Ford Motor Co. executive collected them and restored or maintained them at sites in Lapeer County, including on his 240-acre estate near Hadley Township, Mich. He gradually built one of the finest collections of its kind.
This month, the work vehicles plus assorted memorabilia were offered for sale at an auction run by mega-auction house Mecum, of Walworth, Wis.
Some 100 tractors, most in like-new condition, lined the field and squeezed into the outbuildings at the Schneider farm near Hadley, a township founded in 1836, a year before Michigan gained statehood.
A dusty, overturned field served as a parking lot for the dozens of people come to take a look at this unusual collection and, in many instances, to bid and buy.
The top seller, at $200,000, was a 1938 Minneapolis Moline UDLX with enclosed cabin. A 1938 Minneapolis Moline with an open seat brought $150,000.
The closed cabin ’38 Minneapolis Moline was described as rare, with between 20 and 30 still around. This UDLX (enclosed cabin) was dubbed the Comfortractor, a work horse that one could drive into town. It had a top speed of 45 miles per hour, the cab windows opened, and it featured a second seat, glove box, gauges, a rear door and a cigarette lighter. Pricey, it did not fare well in the retail market.
Parrett Tractor Company of Ottawa, Ill., was an early builder of tractors. Founded by Dent and Henry Parrett in 1913, Parrett Tractor produced a maneuverable and rare three-wheeler, which sold at auction for $27,000. The Parrotts sought to replace the noisy and cumbersome steam-powered farm vehicles of the early 20th century with their lightweight tractors.
The town of Plymouth, Ohio was the inspiration for a line of Plymouth tractors built there by Fate-Root-Heath Manufacturing, a company specializing in heavy outdoor work equipment. The story is that Chrysler wrangled with Fate-Root-Heath over the Plymouth name, and when the Ohio company showed it had employed it first, arrangements were made for Chrysler to purchase the Plymouth name in the mid-1930s. A silvery lightweight tractor from the Charles Schneider collection sold for $27,000 in June.
Fate-Root-Heath continued to produce tractors including the Silver King, which succeeded its Plymouth model, until the 1950s.
Don Sutton and John LaLone grew up in the farmlands not far from the Hadley Township area. They were browsing the tractors awaiting the auction, discussing mechanical developments and marveling at the condition of vehicles for sale.
Magnetos, they said, were often the source of electricity for starting a car or tractor. Electric starters cost more and were options for many tractors.
Sutton recalled how his mother, Grace, an avid Detroit Tigers fan, would hook up her radio to a vehicle’s magneto so she could listen to a ballgame.
Sutton said his father took a job maintaining delivery trucks with the Pontiac Dairy when it switched from horse-drawn carts. The senior Sutton worked there until he could save enough to purchase a small, self-sustaining farm.
The men reminisced about growing up as farm kids. The ripe mulberries of summer and homemade ice cream evenings were reward enough for all the chores that came with rural life, they said.
Charles Schneider’s interest in these unusual orchard/grove/vineyard tractors is related less to the land and more to his love for the streamlined look of cars and trucks from certain design periods. A careful buyer, Schneider searched for some of the rarest of these lesser-known work horses, built in the U.S. and Europe, often by companies that have vanished or joined larger corporations over the years.