I must admit, despite living in Nebraska for over two-and-a-half years now, I haven't visited the Larsen Tractor Test and Power Museum since I moved to Lincoln.
The renovations are ongoing, but this month, the museum is hosting an open house on Oct. 28 — the first one since the completion of recent construction on the museum grounds. The museum branding and many renovations to the museum started in 2012.
For those unfamiliar with the museum, the building, which housed the original Nebraska Tractor Test Lab, is now home to many iconic artifacts from the early days of tractor testing, including the first tractor to undergo a test at the lab, the John Deere Waterloo Boy, as well as the lab's original dynamometer.
Each of the 40-plus machines that now reside in the building has its own story, including a few rarities and oddities. For a short time, the 1945 Allis Chalmers Model C used on the last homestead in the U.S. filed under the 1862 Homestead Act will be housed in the restoration shop for conservation work before becoming an exhibit at Homestead National Monument in Beatrice.
This include firsts for U.S. tractors, including a 1917 Moline Universal D. It was the first tractor to feature an electric start system, meaning it could use lights and a generator. It also featured an articulated steering system, which meant it could turn around at end rows much more easily than any other models of its time. Many tractors in the museum, like the Universal D, were ahead of their time.
However, the true uniqueness is the stories they tell about their previous owners.
Take for example one of the latest projects the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Tractor Restoration Club is working on — a 1947 John Deere M, previously owned by Gordon Olson, a John Deere engineer who worked at the Nebraska Tractor Test Lab in the post-World War II years under Lester Larsen (the museum's namesake who directed NTTL at the time).
Olson was allowed to keep the tractor after his retirement, and after he passed away, his wife donated the tractor to the museum. This tractor, one of 23 prototypes of the John Deere M — the replacement for the H — has no serial number plate, confirming its identity as a prototype. This tractor had a vertical two-cylinder engine, a unique feature for Deere tractors at the time, says Tractor Restoration Club President Joshua Bauer.
"This tractor was from that period, where it has both PTO and a belt pulley, which is somewhat uncommon," says Bauer. "It has both that engage at the same time."
On this specific tractor, the clamshell cover on the PTO was still intact, and Bauer notes most M's usually have their clamshells removed or disintegrated.
"The PTO shaft didn't have much wear on it, so I assumed [Olson] didn't use the PTO very much with this tractor. I think that's why the clamshell was still in such good shape," says Bauer.
Before the club undertook this project, the tractor donned John Deere's signature green. However, beneath that coat of green was another color — yellow, with black lettering. Bauer notes this was common for both prototypes and industrial equipment produced by Deere at the time, and the club plans to restore the tractor to its original color.
At the moment, this tractor sits in the shop behind the museum, along with the Allis Chalmers Model C previously used on the last homestead claimed in the U.S. However, after its restoration, the M will join a slew of other tractors in the museum — each with their own unique back story.
If a picture tells a thousand words, an antique tractor tells a thousand more.