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Geneseo Republic - Geneseo, IL
  • Keeping ‘Old Iron’ Alive

  • Area resident restores tractors, savors farming history with family
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  • At 78 years old, Ron Haffner, a farmer since 1958, still farms with International Harvester tractors, now known as Case IH.
    Haffner grew up with IH tractors all his life. Over the years, he has accrued a large collection of around 25 tractors — the oldest of which dates back to 1939 — which he sets out on display for the Colchester Labor Day celebration every year.
    Every tractor he has he tries to keep in running condition with the help of his grandson, Logan Haffner, and only son out of six children, Randy Haffner, and they look as if they could have been bought brand new. The two tinker with a unique looking side-sitting IH that fires up beautifully after a little love.
    “I don’t know why that one is so hard to start,” Randy said recently after getting the old beast roaring again.
    Ron repaints his tractors with the assistance of Gooding Enterprises in Colchester to get them a vibrant shade of fire truck red with white details — with the exception of an orange Allis-Chalmers. When there’s a mechanical detail he can’t tackle, he consults Bob Shanty in Colchester.
    After a tractor is done, it joins the others in a storage shed filled wall-to-wall with tractors of all shapes, sizes and models.
    When asked about why he restores the tractor, Ron simply responds, “To make them look nice.”
    “To make them look like near what they did when they were new,” Ron said. “That F-20 out there was the first tractor I drove with my dad, not that one but one like it. He had an F-20 and a team of horses when we started to farm in this area.”
    To Randy, keeping the “old iron” alive preserves a part of history that might otherwise be overlooked through time. When tractors are outdated and no longer wanted, he said, a lot of people opt to scrap the old machinery.
    When the “old iron” is gone, it’s gone.
    New farmers typically buy or trade up their tractors as time goes on. New tractors are equipped as well as modern cars are today with all of the amenities: Air conditioning, GPS and large close cabs.
    “These are what these old boys had,” Randy said. “Old tractors didn’t have a cab, no AC, no GPS. If they did 100 acres, it would be before the sun came up and after the sun came down. That was back when people worked.”
    The family farm
    The Haffners make use of the tractors they have — the newest one being 15 years old, according to Ron — and use most of the tractors that have been restored with the exception being the smaller or older ones.
    Page 2 of 2 - In the garage, where the magic happens, it's a small, orange Allis-Chalmers Randy, Ron, and Logan are working on. It’s stripped bare with the insides exposed, but it’s clearly unique for its size.
    Just outside the garage another IH tractor waits in line to be brought back to its original shine.
    Finding the tractors to work on isn’t hard, according to Ron.
    “Once you get started doing this you get a lot of people looking for tractors for you,” Ron said with a smile. “I don’t have a lot of trouble coming up with tractors.”
    “I’ve got a few more we’re gonna' try and talk him into buying,” Randy said with a laugh.
    Ron’s wife of 59 years, Alice Haffner, said the tractors keep her husband busy.
    “They’ve got them bought from here to yonder,” she said jokingly, "and I don’t even know."
    The Haffner’s collection seems a visualization of the evolution of agriculture throughout the years, as well as a testament to the work farmers put into their machines and land every day. People like Ron tries to keep the idea of the family farm alive, Randy said.
    “The family farms are kind of dying,” he said, “and it’s just sad. People need to sit back and realize who got us where we are today. As there are many, (Ron) is one of the men that got us there.”

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