Nevada may never have had a resident as passionate about Oliver tractors as the recently departed Wilbert Hadley. Except maybe his son, Tim Hadley, who will now carry on the tradition of collecting the farm relics.
Tim, 37, developed his love of tractors from his father, and as he tells a story about one special Oliver tractor, it is apparent how much love the son has for tractors, but more importantly, for his dad.
“In 2013, a tractor project started…that’s when we brought it home,” Tim said. “It” was a 1953 Oliver Standard 88 diesel. “This version of the Oliver tractors was one he’d always wanted. We bought it in Eldora.”
Wilbert, who was a 34-year employee of Ryerson Implement (now Van Wall Equipment) in Nevada, had about 40 Oliver tractors in the collection that he built with his son. “He started (collecting) in the ’70s,” Tim said. “We just couldn’t quit buying them.”
The 1953 Oliver Standard was a model Wilbert didn’t have until that 2013 purchase. “It was uncommon for this area,” Tim said. “It was used more up north … they were a heavier-duty tractor.”
The Hadleys’ collection was kept at Wilbert’s farm, northwest of Nevada. That family farm, Tim said, is 18 years away from being a century farm.
Of the tractors in their collection, Tim said about 15-20 actually run. The others are there for parts. And boy, were parts needed when they started working on the 1953 Oliver Standard. As they tore it down to start restoring it, they found it was plagued with problems. “Call it cursed. Dad walked away from it a few times because he got so damned mad.”
The tractor still wasn’t running in September 0f 2017 when Wilbert was diagnosed with liver cancer, Tim said, and added the diagnosis was serious. It looked like the year ahead was going to be a struggle for Wilbert. “So, I started badgering him to let me take that (1953 Oliver) out of there to let me work on it. And he kept making excuses so I wouldn’t.”
Tim, who lives in Nevada, said his plan was to take it just down the road from his parents’ farm to that of Joe and Jodi Steffes, good friends of the family, who had a room where it could be worked on. Eventually, Wilbert’s treatments got to a point that he ended up on an extended hospital stay right before the holidays last year. Tim saw that as an open door to get to work.
“Without him knowing, I went out and yanked that thing from his shop and took it to the Steffes’. The thing was not running right. I took it apart to find the problem and then put it back together. I at least knew I had the engine right, which was what Dad had been fighting.”
Tim took a video of the engine humming and went to the hospital to visit his dad. “When I first showed him the video screen and he saw the tractor,” Tim described, he had a very irritated look on his face that his son had been messing with it. “But when I (turned the video on and he heard the engine), the irritation went away. So, he said, ‘Well, I guess you probably better put the rest of it together.’”
There was still a lot of work to be done in restoring that tractor fully, and at the Steffes’ place, Tim got help from Kennedy, one of their children. All of the children are very close to the Hadleys. But Kennedy was looking for a project. She said to Tim, “Well, I suppose you’re going to make me take this to the fair.” It was more like a statement, not a question, and she said it in such a way that Tim knew that’s what she wanted to do — work on it as an FFA project for the 2018 Iowa State Fair.
“I said, ‘Well, let me think about it,’ and after three minutes, I said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’”
They worked over the winter months and into the spring. “She dove right in,” Tim said. When they got it where they wanted it, they let Nevada FFA adviser Kevin Cooper have a look. “He was like a kid in a candy store about it,” Tim said, but then added, “there’s not much about farm equipment that doesn’t make Cooper like a kid in a candy store!”
Kennedy, who just started her junior year of high school, told Tim she couldn’t wait until Wilbert could see the tractor at the state fair. But Tim knew that probably wasn’t likely as his father’s condition was continuing to deteriorate.
Wilbert had been a member of the Old Duffers Tractor Club and when they planned a meeting last spring at Loren Book’s farm, not too far from the Hadleys, Wilbert decided if he was having a decent day, he’d like to go. Turned out he was able to. They got him a motorized wheelchair to use so he could make it, and it seemed like a great opportunity to make sure the 1953 Oliver, which he didn’t yet know was totally done, was there for him to see.
Tim talked to Loren and they decided to put the tractor in a shed at the Book farm. Tim was inside the shed, and when Wilbert arrived, “Loren opened the big door and I was standing behind that door…he looked at me, then he looked at that tractor and he just sat there looking at it and then slowly started going around it, making slow laps with that wheelchair and taking every bit of it in.”
Tim said they finally had to stop him from the circles he was doing so they could get a picture of him with the tractor. And at the same time, they told him the tractor was headed to the state fair.
“He just grinned, especially when he found out Kennedy was taking it.”
Wilbert Hadley died Aug. 5 at the age of 80. Two days later, his son Tim, had to load the tractor for the state fair, where it would be competing in the FFA tractor category for tractors 1958 and older. Kennedy even made a plaque in memory of Wilbert to put with the tractor.
The outcome of how the tractor did at the state fair wasn’t quite what they were hoping for. It got a red ribbon, which Tim said certainly wasn’t representative of the work that went into it or how special the person that they were doing the work for was. But Tim told Kennedy this, “At the end of the day, you did this for Dad and he was very proud of it.” And Tim said the number of people who told him they went by that tractor at the fair, just days after his father had passed away, meant more to him than any ribbon.
Tim’s now the father of three young boys and hopes to develop a love of tractors and farming in each of them. “I’d say all three of them have the bug,” he said. He hopes he can one day pass on the Oliver tractor collection his father started in the ’70s and then shared with him to his children.
“I used to think about the day all this (the tractor collection) would be mine, and you know what, it just doesn’t feel right … that voice in the back of my head says, ‘No, damn it, this is Dad’s.”