PENFIELD, Ill. — Derek Frey caught the bug when he was about 10 years old, but it wasn’t your typical childhood ailment.
That’s when the Pocahontas resident first tried his hand at restoring classic tractors, and he’s been enjoying the hobby ever since.
It began when his uncle, Matt Frey, bought an International Harvester W-400. The models were originally built in 1955-1956.
“I bought it here, and it was actually an old Darius Harms tractor that was on the auction swap meet. I didn’t really know what we were buying either, but I thought it was a cute looking tractor. It looked like a 450 utility, and I’d never saw one before,” Matt said.
“It turned out to be a 400 Wheatland. We got it home. The engine was locked up, so we overhauled the engine, then we painted it. We just about got it done and I told Derek that I was tired of looking at that tractor and I’m going to get rid of it. Derek just looked at me and I said if you want it, it’s yours.
“He worked for it. He cleaned parts of the engine. He did the sanding. For a 10- or 11-year-old kid, he worked his butt off, and the reward was he got the 400 tractor. So, his uncle, me, just basically got him into a bad habit of restoring tractors.”
Derek, who would go on later to restore an IH 560 Wheatland tractor, displayed his latest work — a 1971 International 966 Hi-clear tractor — for the first time at the Historic Farm Days July 11-14 at Penfield.
The show which draws thousands of spectators and classic farm equipment enthusiasts is sponsored by the I&I Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Club.
The show observed the 80th anniversary of the introduction of the Farmall H and Farmall M tractors and featured a large sea of red equipment.
Frey, 29, bought the unique-to-the-Midwest tractor from Abilene Machine’s salvage yard in Abilene, Kansas. It originally was used by a sugar cane farmer in Louisiana. The tractor is designed with a higher axle clearance suitable for sugar cane fields.
“I brought it home, and it was a giant rust bucket. I tore it down, rebuilt the engine, clutch and did bare chassis restoration front to back. It takes a lot of hours and money. It took about four months to restore with a little work every night and on the weekends,” Frey said.
“The motor was completely overhauled. It was stripped down to the bare blocks and had new pistons, sleeves and checked out the injectors. That was the first time I tore into an engine. I’d never done that myself. We tore it down, and luckily, it’s working.”
He put the finishing touches of paint on the shiny red tractor in October. Historic Farm Days is the first show where he had it on display for the public, except for driving it around the block at home.
He also will take it July 26-28 to Heritage Days in Greenville and then Aug. 22-25 on to the Half Century of Progress in Rantoul.
This wasn’t the only big draw the Frey family had at Historic Farm Days.
Matt, his brother, Mike, and Derek’s dad and Derek also had their International Harvester 1460 axial flow combine on display. It was the first one built by IH in 1977 and still is used today by the family, having just finished harvesting wheat.
The rollout of the first axial flow combine was a game-changer in farming. It differed from the traditional combine design in that threshing and separation was performed mainly by a rotor, as opposed to the drum and straw walker type models previously used.
The bulk of the processing area is devoted to a cylinder that spins and threshes grain from the grain heads, allowing for far greater capacity than the previous drum and walker harvester design.
The Freys’ combine will be featured harvesting soybeans at the Half Century of Progress.
Derek has enjoyed what has become his life-long interest in tractor restoration.
“It’s kind of fun. It’s an expensive but good hobby,” he said.