Life-long tractor collector wants younger people involved to preserve old farming culture
By EMILIE THIESSEN, Staff Writer
For Sauk Centre resident Dave Bromenshenkel, the work never ends when it comes to restoring old tractors.
But after an entire lifetime of working with and collecting tractors, Bromenshenkel said it is always the challenge that brings him back to them.
“Clean up is the worst and painting is the most fun — that is the last thing you do. And a tractor only stays fully restored for 5 minutes. There is always a gas leak or an oil drip as soon as you run them.”
Bromenshenkel, who married his wife Irma in 1967 and has six children —Mike, Lisa, Laura, Jeff, Tony and Andy — started collecting when he bought his first Model A car during high school, in the late ’60s.
When cars got too expensive, he started collecting old gas engines used on farms before electricity. When the gas engines started getting too expensive, he finally turned to tractors.
In 1991, Bromenshenkel established the Sauk Centre chapter of the Two Cylinders Club for John Deere tractors, a club that allowed local farmers and collectors to meet up and show off their tractors.
“It is all just part of the fun,” said Bromenshenkel’s older brother, Gene, who also collects a few tractors. “Some people collect cars, some people are into motorcycles — this is ours.”
When the more than 30 members of the Sauk Centre Cylinder Club meet, Gene comes down from his home in Duluth to meet up with all the guys. The last meeting and potluck on Sept. 12 was at Bromenshenkel’s 480-acre farm just outside of Sauk Centre.
Bromenshenkel said the club does a yearly Plow Day in the fall, when they ride their tractors to a member’s farm and try them out in the field. Because most of the members used the machines on their family farm when they were younger, Bromenshenkel said it is like revisiting their youth.
“The Plow Day works the tractors a little bit,” he said. “That is good for them … and we like to show them off.”
The club likes to do tractor drives around the area, Bromenshenkel said, sometimes as long as three or four miles pulling a wagon behind for kids. He said he hopes the club can work its way up to a 10-mile drive in the future.
Members of the club also display their tractors at the Stearns County Fair and in various parades throughout the area. Bromenshenkel said although the club started with just green John Deere tractors in mind, they now work with all different brands and colors.
“We have a good time,” he said.
Gene, who is a retired county Extension agent, said the club gives him and his younger brother a great sense of camaraderie with the other men in the club, which keeps all the collectors connected.
“He is a part of a larger group of people who are also into it,” he said.
Gene said it is also a great opportunity for the two men to spend time with their other brother, Larry, who is also a John Deere enthusiast, and Gene’s eldest son, who he said drives a tractor to work once a year from his home in White Bear Lake. Gene said they are able to spend a great deal of time together visiting different John Deere shows across the U.S., which is an important way to remember how it was back on the farm when they were kids.
“It is part of our heritage,” Gene said.
It is particularly important to keep the younger generation involved with collecting, Bromenshenkel said, as it will be up to them to keep the traditions alive.
“We collect and restore to preserve all the agricultural history of when these old tractors were used on the farms,” Bromenshenkel said. “And younger generations are our future buyers. Hopefully they will get interested enough to purchase one and keep on doing it.”
Bromenshenkel said it was easy for him and his children to be interested in tractors because they all grew up on a farm. Even his grandchildren have learned to drive tractors after coming out to the farm for a summer or two. Bromenshenkel worries this trend will die off as more and more farms die off.
But even Bromenshenkel himself, after all these years of focusing on John Deere, is done buying tractors. The expense is getting too great.
“I am going back to the old gas engines again,” he said.