Big Boys And Their Toys, It’s A Beautiful Thing

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They say you can take the boy off the farm but you can’t take the farm out of the boy. How true this is for Ron and Mark Hacker. Coming from a long line of farmers, it was just a given that they both would work the land too. However, they took their love of farming one step further when they started to collect tractors. These boys found a way not to give up their toys.

But, don’t look for their machines to be sitting pretty in a barn. Instead, theirs can be found year-round performing different tasks on the farm. “It’s no fun to have something and just let it sit in the barn,” Mark remarks. “We use ours every chance we can.”

They didn’t set out to specifically collect, but rather it was just a natural progression. “We needed different tractors for different jobs on the farm,” Ron explains. “As we kept adding a few more and a few more we found we not only enjoyed the tractors but also the hunt for them.”

They see the color orange a lot these days, Allis Chalmers orange that is. They have a few red (International ) and a few green (John Deere) tractors, but their collection is predominately Allis Chalmers orange. Mark says it was just natural that they would go for the orange because when they started buying tractors there were a lot of Allis Chalmers dealers in the area.

Will Hacker, Ron’s father, had a WC Allis Chalmers on steel wheels for his first tractor. Later, he farmed with an Allis Chalmers D-17 that he bought in 1959. That first AC was so reliable that he depended on the AC quality for the rest of his farming career. His two favorite tractors were the 1959 D-17, of course, and his second favorite was an AC-200 which was purchased new in 1974. This AC-200 was his first diesel tractor and his first tractor with air conditioning. Mark and Ron still own this machine.

Mark, on the other hand, had to be just a little different. When he was in kindergarten his Dad and grandfather raised crops on 5 acres for him each year. Nothing was ever done on these acres unless Mark was present because he would have been very upset if they did any work without him being involved. Not a bad arrangement! So, on November 17, 1981 when Mark was 12 years old he bought his first tractor with the proceeds from this farming venture, a John Deere 4020 which he still has today.

His second tractor was an Oliver Super 55 that needed repair. It was his senior graduation present from a very close neighbor, the Correll family. In a strange twist of fate, the Correll farm is where Mark and Monica live today. I’d wager that he was the only kid in his class that received a tractor that needed fixed up and restored. He loved every minute of it. Yep, he was definitely hooked.

So, what do they look for when they set out to buy a tractor? Mark and Ron are both partial to tractors built in the 1960’s and early 70’s. During that time agriculture was growing and manufacturers were trying to keep up with the times with larger equipment with more horsepower. In the late 1960’s the big hurdle for tractor makers was to build models that hit the 100 HP (horsepower) mark. So, the “muscle tractors” with the turbo chargers of the 70’s were born.

However, they do like to collect in series. Together, Mark and Ron own every tractor in the AC-100 series, which include the AC-160, AC-170, AC-175, AC-180, AC-185, AC-190, AC-200, AC-210, AC-220, and AC-440. In this 100 series, narrow fronts 170, 180 and 190 are highly collectible. Mark and Ron have all three, completely restored.

The most highly collectible tractor in the AC-100 series is the AC-220 FWA (Front Wheel Assist). These were built in 1970 and only 100 were produced, making them pretty rare. Mark says, “Allis Chalmers was ahead of their time with FWA because most FWA tractors didn’t come out until 20 years later.”

What is equally special is that Mark and Ron both drove their 220’s in the 2005 “Gathering of the Orange” in West Allis, Wisconsin. It is a parade of people driving their Allis Chalmers tractors through the plant where they were built. The parade route was lined with people who used to work at the plant, many of them holding pictures of the factory as it looked when the tractors were manufactured. Mark and Ron’s FWA 220’s have been featured in “Old Allis News” and the “Buckeye Allis Club.”

Perhaps the most heartwarming of their tractor stories centers around their 1977 John Deere 4430. Ron used it to farm with in the late 1970’s and later traded it in 1981 for his first new John Deere 4440. Mark bought the 4430 back 28 years later with only 900 additional hours added to its life. It had been another tractor enthusiast’s pride and joy, kept in a barn, hardly used and only traveled 10 miles from the Hacker farm. It is a small world, even in the tractor world.

There are a couple other unique twists in their collection. They have a John Deere 3020 and a John Deere 4320, both of which were on the same farm thirty years ago. Today they are back together as part of Mark and Ron’s collection. Ron has an International 1468 which is one of two V-8 models of tractors made. He also bought an International 1568 at Mecum Auction in Davenport, Iowa. It was part of the Spring 2015 Mecum Gone Farming and was the second of the two models of V-8 tractors made. Incidentally, Mark was also at the auction and was at the right place at the right time when RFD taped the auction for the farm channel and he can be seen on the tape.

Tractors in their collection have come from Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and as far west as Nebraska. A fringe benefit, in addition to acquiring the tractors, is the people they meet. Some of these people have gone on to become very good friends. One such gentleman they affectionately refer to as “Whiskers”  hails from Pennsylvania. Mark and his wife Monica went out to attend his wedding this past fall. Mark says it just comes natural, “When you meet someone who shares your passion it’s easy to strike up a conversation and one thing leads to another. Pretty soon you’re going to see his tractors and he’s coming to see yours. It’s not long before you’ve made a new friend.”

So, how do the wives feel about all this tractor business? Ruth, Ron’s wife, says it’s just all part of the deal. “We’re all in this farming thing together, it’s our life and everything we do revolves around it. Monica and I do go to a lot of the shows. We get to travel and meet a lot of nice people who are all there for the same thing.”

Monica laughs as she relates another benefit to Mark’s passion for collecting. “It’s been a joke between Mark and myself that, for the first few years of marriage, whenever Mark got a new tractor I got something new for the house. That’s not such a bad deal!”

An added benefit is that Mark and Ron both enjoy the same passion. Sharing a love for tractors gives them both a reason to share even more time together. Mark adds, “These days it is becoming more rare to see a family business not only survive, but thrive. Our family has been involved in farming for four generations. It’s part of what keeps us close.”

It’s nice to see these “boys” use their “toys” around the farm. They use the various tractors to pull wagons, run augers and cultivate test plots, among other chores. Mark and Monica are also seed dealers for Beck’s Hybrids. Each September they host a Customer Appreciation Day and display some of their tractors around the yard for the show. It’s always amazing to watch traffic slow down as they take note of the tractors on display.

So, for the million dollar question, I asked Mark what his favorite tractor was that he owned. I should have known what the answer would be. True to the heart of all boys who love their toys, he grinned his biggest grin and answered, “All of them!”