When Jim Conner was 6 years old, he went up on a roof with his dad, Beryl who started Conner Roofing nearly 40 years ago when Jim was born. Today, Jim is a spry 78 years young and has been working in the roofing business his entire life. However, he also loves another endeavor equally as much or more – collecting John Deere tractors, vintage cars, sports cars and pickups.

Conner caught the tractor bug on his grandpa and grandma Kremer’s farm in the early 1940s. He would visit the farm 3 miles south of Milford with his mom, Edith, and sister, Rosemary.

“We lived in town so that is where I saw my first tractor. Grandpa had an old John Deere B,” he said.

Conner’s dad farmed 80-acres, but Conner didn’t enjoy farming himself.

“I was used to being on the road and in a different town every few days. In high-school, I decided I wanted to be a CPA (Certified Public Accountant),” Conner said.

He went to the National Business Institute in Lincoln. When studying for the state exam one night, he and a friend decided to take a different route and join the Navy. That was 1961.

A career in the military was not to be, however. He found out he had a birth defect and needed a spinal fusion from the waist down. He had a difficult time recovering from the operation, and the doctor set him to work with his dad for two weeks to “limber up.”

“And here I am today, still roofing,” he said.

His study in accounting didn’t go to waste, though. He’s used his CPA experience every day, especially as the business grew.

Conner bought the roofing business from his dad in 1964 when they had one or two employees. Now, he tries to keep at least 30 workers busy all the time.

Conner was married to his first wife, Carole, for 24 years. They had four children – Brad, Steve, Stacie and Nichole. His two sons operate Conner Roofing with him. Brad is the foreman of the flat crew, and Steve overseas all of the shingles jobs.

“We have had an awesome working relationship – never exchanged a bad word. I don’t know how it worked out that way, but it did,” Conner said.

Perhaps the ease of working with their dad was due to his sense of optimism, zest for life and the fact that they too were by his side throughout their formative years.

“Brad and Steve started going with me when they were 6 years old too, just like I did with my dad,” he said.

Next to the Conner Roofing main office building is Jim’s pride and joy – a shop filled with the tractor collection he started 26 years ago. It is also a place for family and friends to gather – that fact brings him much joy, he said.

Conner’s first tractor was an old John Deere B like Grandpa Kremer had. He bought it for $200.

“That’s how it all started,” he said.

He ended up with a 1936 B, then had to go and get a 1937 A and a 1938 D.

He doing a roof for the people that owned the Evening with Friends restaurant in Milligan when he learned the owner’s grandpa had bought a 1939 John Deere G.

“So I got that one too,” he said.

Conner began his collection with “un-styled” John Deere tractors.

“You know, they styled them up for the ladies, covered the radiators and made the hood covers fancier,” he said. “When I got the 630 John Deere, I had to have all the 30 series, so I was able to get everything from the 330 to the 830.”

The collection peaked at 22 tractors. At that point, Conner said some of the fun of collecting seemed to end, so now he has scaled down to four tractors and a few cars and pickups.

His current tractors are his oldest, a 1971 2520 then a 1987 4050, a 1972 4320 and 1977 4030. His favorite is his 4320.

“It’s the hottest tractor on the used John Deere market today,” he said. “They made only 27,000 throughout two years – 1971 and 1972. When you consider John Deere made a million 4020s, that wasn’t very many.”

Conner bought it from a farmer in Kansas and has had it for a year. It was used for corn harvest last fall on the farm in Kansas.

“It just thrills me when I hear it run,” Conner said.

A big share of the drive for collecting tractors is finding them, Conner said. His have come from all over Nebraska and the Midwest to Ohio and clear from Ontario, Canada. He had aimed to fix up and restore all the tractors in his collection, and it took a lot of time and money.

Though his interest in collecting has faded some, his treasured few remain. He also keeps a few favorite cars and pickup trucks.

One he bought his wife, Angie’s (whom he calls his angel), is a Gypsy-calypso-colored 1955 Chevy two-door hard top, the same color as her first car. He has a 1950 Ford Business Coupe that also reminds him of cars of his past. It’s just like the first car he had in 1954 when he was 14, he said. He lost it in a tornado that hit Milford in 1957.

He also has a 1972 Chevy Pickup that he’s owned for 26 years, a 1987 Silverado (the last year of that body style),and a 1988 Chevy short-bed half-ton with 90,000 miles that is like the one he bought new in 1988.

Then there are the sports cars: a 2016 Corvette with 8,000 miles, a 2017 Challenger with 2,000 miles and his favorite – a 2008 Ford Mustang convertible with 2,000 miles. All the cars have about 480-horsepower motors.

“My Mustang is my favorite car because it’s very fast, drives easy and is easy to get in and out of,” he said, noting that he also enjoys driving 100 mph in the car on the Hastings track. Angie does not go to the track, but she does ride along in the cars to church by Hampton on Sundays when the weather is nice.

Tucked in the corner of the building is perhaps the most nostalgic member of the group, a red 1945 Chevy one-ton, the same model his dad had when he started Conner Roofing.

As special as his collection is, Conner keep things in perspective.

“I can’t take them with me,” he said. “What matters most is my relationship with the Lord. My wife Angie really keeps me grounded in that.”

Part of the joy of collecting is sharing with others. Conner gets a few calls each week from people who have heard about his cars and tractors.

“I really enjoy my collection,” Conner said as he stood still in the middle of the shop to think for a moment. “You have to enjoy the people, that’s what really makes it worthwhile.”

Kerry Hoffschneider can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.

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