100-year-old tractors connect present with past

Virgil Litke and son Glenn Litke brought their restored Huber (left) and Case tractors onto the yard to mark the 100th year of being manufactured. Virgil acquired the Huber in 1965 while Glenn acquired the Case in 1988. Both tractors were owned by Paul Kusnefsky, who lived 12 miles from the Litke farm near Florence. The Huber, one of three in existence, is the rarest and more highly valued machine, though the Litkes have no plans to sell either tractor. They value them as educational monuments to agriculture’s past.When you reach your 100th birthday, you’ve earned a night on the town.

Or at least, a day out of the shed.

That was the case last month for two vintage tractors that have been a unique component of an antique tractor collection developed over the decades by Virgil Litke and Glenn Litke, a father-son team that farms southeast of Hillsboro when they’re not restoring antique ag equipment.

The Litkes’ two mechanical centenarians, a rare fuel-powered Huber 35-70 and their steam-powered Case, were both manufactured in 1916.

Virgil acquired the essence of the Huber in the 1965 and successfully, perhaps even miraculously, hunted down numerous missing parts to make it whole again.

Glenn, meanwhile, bought the more intact Case at an estate auction in May 1988. Both machines were previously owned by Paul Kusnefsky, rural Florence, who lived 12 miles down the road from the Litke farm.

The Litkes know the exact manufacturing date of their Huber 35-70. It was built by the Huber Manufac­tur­ing Co., of Marion, Ohio, on July 15, 1916. They believe it is one of only three such machines in existence.

The second centenarian is a steam-powered workhorse created by the more familiar Case company, which merged with Inter­national Harvester in 1984.

“Case is still a recognizable name in the farming community,” Glenn said. “Huber is not recognizable. But back then it was, and they made a lot of tractors.

“These are two different concepts of horsepower,” Glenn added. “But they were both made the same year, and they were both owned by a Paul Kusnefsky.”

The restored Huber made its only public appearance during the 1960s, when like-minded enthusiasts organized an old-style threshing demonstration at the fairgrounds in Hills­boro.

“That’s the last time it has left this yard,” Glenn said of the green giant. “It’s precarious to haul it—it’s top-heavy, it’s risky. Dad always figured people could come look at it. It has set in that shed for the past 35 to 40 years, until we rolled it out last night.

“All of sudden it hit me, these are both 100 years old,” he said. “Let’s take some pictures.”

History lessons

The Litkes have long been known for their appreciation of things past.

“We like stuff that represents historical—in our case agricultural—significance,” Glenn said. “But if they’re all scrapped for a war effort, or for whatever you want to make out of them, then you can’t tell the story. There’s nobody who knows where we come from.”

The Litkes see their interest for restoring these motorized relics as more than a mere fascination with antique machinery or simply collecting for collecting’s sake.

“I think it’s very biblical and scriptural,” Glenn said. “When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, Moses told them to put up a monument of 12 stones ‘so that when your children come by and ask, “What mean these stones?” you can tell them this represents what the Lord did for us.’

“That’s why we have history classes in grade school,” Glenn added. “We need to know where we came from. The three basic questions in life are: where did I come from, why am I here and where am I going?

“Where did we come from as farmers? What’s our agricultural background? We’re driving (current day) with power steering, air conditioning and rubber tires, power shift and GPS in our tractors. A kid comes along and thinks it’s been that way all the time.”

Glenn said it’s akin to the modern child who believes milk comes from a cooler in the grocery store.

“Until they see the cow and start working the udders, they have no idea where milk comes from,” he said.

For that reason, the Litkes willingly share the joy of their collection, particularly with young students.

“You’d be surprised how many school kids we’ve had here—busloads,” Glenn said. “We give the tour and show kids this is how this was made, and this is how we grind corn, this is how we thrashed wheat.”

Interest, not profit

Virgil said one reason he and Glenn are able to find the missing parts they need for their restoration projects is because their primary interest isn’t reselling the final product for financial gain. In fact, the Litkes prefer to trade parts with other collectors rather than selling them.

“It’s kind of addictive,” Glenn said about their restoration projects. “But it’s also a sound investment. This stuff is not peanuts.”

Virgil added, “We had no idea it would become that. We did it for interest, never to try to make a dollar off of it.”

Glenn agreed.

“It’s a sound investment, but that has never been our motive,” he said. “It is for some collectors, and if they want to make a business out of it—and there have been a lot who have made a business out of it—he wouldn’t have a story to tell about the guy who says if you need these parts, you just go ahead and take them.

“Some people would never want to let their piece go if they knew a guy was going to try to make a dollar off of it.”

That said, Glenn knows their collection has significant interest and value.

“If that stuff ever hits the auction block, it won’t be which county (potential buyers) come from, it’s which country they come from,” he said.

The Huber is the most rare and most valuable of the two centenarians.

“I was just a young fella when I bought it,” Virgil said. “I had never heard of a Huber. I didn’t know there was a brand like that. You see, there were 400 tractor companies back then.”

Now, only four or five remain, Glenn noted.

“Dad has been a tractor collector since 1965, when we got (the Huber),” Glenn said. “But this was kind of like shooting the big buck the first year. Nothing has ever surpassed it. But that’s what got the momentum of the collection that he’s acquired. This is the first one he had.”

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