TREASURE TROVE OF TRACTORS
It's one man's passion. It's art and history. It's pure Americana in the farm land of Wallowa County.
The ninth annual Sunrise Iron Antique Tractor and Equipment Show starting at 9 a.m. Saturday promises to be an experience to treasure.
Erl McLaughlin has been collecting tractors and agricultural equipment since 1983 and has one of the most complete collections in the Pacific Northwest.
The show is staged on the McLaughlin farm outside of Enterprise. Follow the signs from Highway 82 to the farm on Sunrise Road. Or look for the signs on Hurricane Creek Road, to Homan Road and Sunrise Road. The acres of rolling farmland surrounded on all sides by the Wallowa Mountains is a treat all by itself.
The most valuable and oldest gas-powered piece in the collection is a 1020 Case tractor, dating from 1915, that McLaughlin found near Baker City. There are few of these machines left anywhere. McLaughlin found it in pieces in a pile of scrap iron on the farm of some friends.
"You really had to know what to look for to get all the pieces, as mixed up with the scrap as it was," he says.
His newest acquisition and the centerpiece of the show this year is a 1913 Advance Steam Traction Engine, sometimes called a Banner Boy Steam Engine. Intricate artwork depicting a 19th century boy lifting a banner adorns the boiler door on the front of the engine, hence the name.
McLaughlin found the steam engine outside of Elgin on Yarrington Road. It was owned by Annette and Kimber Kennedy. Originally used for running a sawmill on Sheep Creek on the way to Halfway, it was purchased by Kennedy's father in the late 1940s. It was used to run a sawmill outside of Elgin until it was retired and stored in a barn.
The Kennedys had visited the tractor show and felt the steam engine would be appreciated.
McLaughlin negotiated the purchase of the steam engine and took possession about 60 days ago. The traction engine weighs 12 tons with wheels well over 5 feet in diameter. It was moved using a tractor and a D-4 Cat, then loaded on a low-boy and hauled to the farm.
McLaughlin has invested more than 300 hours in restoring it for the show. He scraped 40 gallons of grease, tar and dirt from the engine.
"I was thinking maybe I bit off more than I could chew to get it ready for the show,'' he says. "It was a monumental project. It became a personal challenge, who would win? I just kept chipping away, one gnat's eyebrow at a time until I had it ready. You just don't find this stuff anymore. It has just about disappeared, especially the big stuff. This engine would be the cornerstone of any collection."
McLaughlin has about 30 tractors and at least 30 other pieces of horse-drawn equipment on exhibit for the show. His entire collection is too large to display in one location and he has more in storage in a barn in Joseph. He put up a 40- by 120-foot building at his home five years ago to house and exhibit the collection and realized he had outgrown it before it was finished.
He has thought about moving the collection to a site nearer Highway 82 where more people would see it. However, he doesn't have time to oversee a museum, especially since most visitors would come during the busiest time of the year for a farmer.
"I'm just taking it one day at a time. I've been so busy making a living on this farm I thought maybe I should take time to raise my eyes to the mountains and enjoy the view sometimes."
McLaughlin will give individual or group tours, just give him a call before you stop by.
"I don't like to miss people, so call first,'' he said. "I like sharing ideas and the educational value of this equipment. Talking to people just might lead me to my next winter project."
- Joyce Osterloh
- The Observer