Tractor Show and Swap Meet celebrates North Country history

Union Leader Correspondent
June 01. 2014 8:27PM
At Saturday's second annual Tractor Show and Swap Meet at the Presby Transportation Museum, Russ Gilman of Thornton admires the Allis-Chalmers 1952 Model. (JOHN KOZIOL/Union Leader Correspondent)

WHITEFIELD — In a celebration of both the men and the machines they used to build and farm the North Country, as well as much of America, the Presby Transportation Museum on Saturday held its second annual Tractor Show and Swap Meet.

Located on Airport Road, the museum is the brainchild of Dave Presby and currently houses some 150 pieces of farm and construction equipment that was built between 1920 and 1960.

Most of the equipment was made right here in the U.S. – although, Fred Hunt Jr. who is the museum’s curator and its primary mechanic, notes some was manufactured in Canada – and most of it runs and looks nearly as good as the day it came out of the factory.

The goal, said Presby, is to expand the museum to showcase even more tractors in a venue that is open year-round and easily accessible to the public. Currently, the museum is mostly a storage and work space, said Hunt, who added, however, that he is always happy to accommodate visitors – who should phone ahead — and walk them through the extensive collection.

And what a collection it is, boasting what Hunt believes is the only 1948 Farmall cotton picker “north of the Mason-Dixon line.” The museum is also fortunate in that it has one of only 215 Plymouth Tractors made in 1934, said Hunt, as well as a tractor that began life as a 1928 Ford Model A truck.

The owner of the truck, Presby explained, bought a $25, off-the-rack caterpillar-track conversion kit from Sears & Roebuck, installed it and immediately had the distinction of owning the first tractor of any kind in his hometown.

Every piece of equipment in the museum, said Presby, has an interesting history, as does Presby himself.

Presby, 63, grew up working in his family’s Franconia-based construction business. A tinkerer, inventor and entrepreneur, Presby in 1995 founded Presby Environmental, Inc., which is located near the museum, and which produces a wastewater treatment system.In 2012, Presby bought the former Issacson Structural Steel Corp. in Berlin and renamed it Presby Steel.

Presby’s love of machines is not limited to those that operate on the ground and he is the owner and pilot of a 1942 Consolidated Vultee BT-13A Valiant, which was used by the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II as a trainer and which on Saturday was yet another interesting piece of equipment on display on the museum’s grounds.

Among the show attendees was Russ Gilman of Thornton who was also an exhibitor with a half-dozen Allis-Chalmers tractors on hand.

Although he currently owns some 30 tractors, Gilman in the not too distant past, had more, selling some of them, including a 1952 Allis-Chalmers HD-9, to Presby.

The HD-9 was featured prominently on Saturday and Gilman said it worked well from the moment he sat in its operator’s seat, sometime shortly after it arrived by rail into the then still lumbering town of Lincoln.

Working at the then Franconia Paper Co., Gilman drove the HD-9 off the rail flatcar and for years thereafter, put it to use building and maintaining logging and trucking roads. When Franconia Paper folded, Gilman purchased the tractor and used it until he sold it five years ago to Presby.

Asked to rate the tractor’s performance, Gilman got philosophical, musing aloud “how do you express when you go beyond great or good,” before answering his own question and concluding “it was fantastic.”

Presby gently teased Gilman, saying Gilman’s passion showed that Presby was not alone in his addiction, and prompting Gilman to point out, that strictly based on the number of tractors each owns, “I’m only a quarter as crazy as you.”

Speaking for both himself and his wife, Gilman added that now “We don’t sell and we very seldom buy,” but the couple does hold onto what they own, all of which, plus others from fellow aficionados, they’ll be displaying June 8 at their residence on Upper Mad River Road.

Hunt said the museum would never sell any pieces, but is always looking to buy and trade and would consider even equipment that is somewhat out of its geographic area, to wit the cotton picker as well as a Farmall corn picker that it owns.

District 1 Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, who while growing up spent much time on his family’s farm in Massachusetts, said Saturday’s tractor show and swap meet was “a great opportunity to bring the tractor community together” to talk about tractors and all things North Country-related.

OutdoorsNH PeopleTourismWhitefield

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