Eyes glistened, smiles broadened, everybody was friends for two fun days admiring and visiting about Massy-Harris farm equipment.
There was a recent Saturday and Sunday gathering at Bub Robbin’s Appanoose Creek Farms north of Pomona in Franklin County, Kansas. About 100 pieces of Massey-Harris machinery — mostly tractors, many of which are owned by Robbins — were on display for the weekend.
While it might be called a neighbor get-together, there were dozens of machinery enthusiasts from throughout the Midwest in attendance.
“Coronavirus canceled Ottawa’s Power of the Past so area farmers decided to have their own show,” said Bob Eichenberger of Pomona.
Among neighbors and friends assisting coordination, Eichenberger said, “It was logical to have it at Bub’s Appanoose Creek Farms. He has a large Massy-Harris collection, a yard suitable for the show and was happy to host the activities.
“Preston Lutz, my cousin from Berryton, got most of Bub's tractors running that hadn't been started for a while.”
The front two rows of Massey-Harris tractors on display are owned by Robbins. They were all driven from the farm barns for display.
Most still have original paint, nothing too waxed up and shiny, but they often are called to do farm work.
“I’m more of a collector than I am tractor restorer,” Robbins smiled. “I got hooked on collecting Masseys about 20 years ago and have picked up tractors all over the country.”
Exact count of Massey-Harris tractors owned by Robbins isn’t really known.
“Somewhere between 50 and 100, I don’t know,” he admitted. “Many of them will run and most of the tractors could be put into operation with a little mechanical work.
“Then some are parts tractors. It’s hard to find components to fix a machine that’s more than 60 years old.”
Importantly compared to many old equipment collectors, Robbins keeps the majority of his machinery under cover.
“Bub has tractors squeezed into the lean-tos outback hid so his wife won’t know he bought another one,” Eichenberger said with a grin.
One of the Massey enthusiasts traveling a distance was Jim Esbenshade and his wife, Barbara, of Colbert, Oklahoma.
“All I have on display is a saw mill, and one of the original Ottawa Tractors built in Ottawa, Kansas. I leave it here most of the time,” Esbenshade said.
“Ottawa Manufacturing actually made lots of machinery: augers, hay and grain elevators, wagon and truck hoists, running gears,” Eichenberger noted. “I have a prototype three-point semi-mounted one-way plow that was never put into production out in my barn.”
The machinery show was a day of relaxation for most attending.
“This is my vacation visiting friends and talking about the equipment,” 73-year-old Esbenshade said. “My fascination for Masseys started when I was 9 years old on my family’s Pennsylvania farm.
“Dad had a 1941 Massey-Harris 81 tractor that began my lifelong passion for using and collecting Masseys.”
Masseys headed the farm machinery line when Esbenshade moved to Oklahoma. Diverse farm operations have included typical area grain crops plus peanuts, cotton, vegetables, a cow herd and silage operations.
Adapting sustainable farming practices, Esbenshade developed a patented method of converting used cooking greases into fertilizer and livestock feed ingredients.
Through it all, Esbenshade’s enthusiasm for Massey equipment never waned. He is continuing to develop Massey World, a museum on his farm honoring the manufacturer’s agricultural heritage.
“It contains my own personal 500-piece Massey collection and also donated items from around the world,” Esbenshade said. “There are thousands of Massey pieces, from antique equipment and memorabilia to a huge collection of toys.”
Eichenberger only had a Massey tractor and combine on display but most of his family was in attendance. That included dad and mom, Carl and Donna, wife Berta, their children, Lurenda, Rachel, JC and Carlsie, plus brother Jim.
“Our farm was established by my great-grandparents in 1888, near Leoti,” Eichenberger said. “Farming in western Kansas before irrigation was a very hard life. So in 1904, they traded four quarter sections in Wichita County for 200 acres in Franklin County, where it continues today.” Jim Eichenberger lives on the home place.
In 1891, the Massey Manufacturing Company merged with A. Harris, Son and Company to form Massey-Harris Limited. It became the largest agricultural equipment maker in the British Empire making threshing machines and reapers.
In 1910, Massey-Harris acquired the Johnston Harvester Company of Batavia, New York, making it one of Canada's first multinational firms.
The company's early tractor models included 20-, 25-, and 35-horsepower lines. Grain harvesting was revolutionized by Massey engineers in 1938, with the world's first self-propelled combine.
Massey Ferguson Limited was established in 1953 through the merger of Massey-Harris and the Ferguson Company. It was based in Canada until 1988, when headquarters were transferred to Buffalo, New York, in 1997.
AGCO, owner of competitor Allis-Chalmers, bought the company and several additional major lines including Hesston Corporation.
Frank J. Buchman is a writer and rancher located in the Kansas Flint Hills.