Tractor Palace near Claremont features restored beauties
Rich Anderson loves his John Deere tractors
Tucked away in a building on a farmstead in northern Brown County is a place called the “Tractor Palace,” the home of Anderson’s Deeres.
Rich Anderson, 85, doesn’t live there now but that’s where his heart remains. The window interview for this story took place with Rich in his room at Bethesda Home in Aberdeen and me sitting on a chair outside, while we conversed on the telephone. When I asked about the tractors at his “Tractor Palace,” Rich beamed.
“It was in 1985 that I decided I wanted to collect the tractors that my dad used on our farm,” Rich said. “I started with the John Deere 830 diesel, the last of the big 2-cylinders. I bought it at an auction west of Aberdeen.”
That purchase began a fascination with buying and restoring tractors with nearly 50 parked in running condition on his property near Claremont. (Three still need some work.) To house them in pristine condition, he put up a new building in 2012-13 with an addition in 2016. There is plenty of space for the tractors in the 50 x 150-foot building, which includes a room dedicated to toy tractors and other miniature implements plus a coffee area decked out with John Deere furnishings. While Rich is absent, the Vander Vorsts gave me a tour.
Rick Vander Vorst, 62, began working for Rich in 1976 to help with farming. He eventually helped with the restoration work and painting the machines. His son Jacob, 35, started working for Rich about 10 years ago and now lives on the place. His automotive skills are a great asset and Rich appreciates all their expert work.
“Rich always had a list of things that needed to be done,” Rick said. “He eventually learned that he could purchase tractors that didn’t need as much work and they’d be ready faster.”
While Rich is at Bethesda, Rick and Jacob maintain the fleet, keeping the batteries charged, the tires in shape, and they make sure the gas in the machines does not get old. They could drive the tractors out of the shop for a day’s work.
According to Rick, “When Jacob moved back, there were several tractors in pieces in the shop. Now those tractors have all assembled and the shop cleaned. Rich had help from others, including Richard Benda in Britton and Paul Beaner at Dakota Custom Auto Body in Bath.”
As we walked through the building, the care and attention to detail were clear. Rick said, “Rich is very fussy about how things get done. When doing the restoration work, we touched all the bolts up with paint after putting the parts back together.”
Since the Vander Vorsts farm the land owned by Rich, they mostly worked on the tractors in the wintertime with fresh paint going on the machines in the spring.
The highlight for Rich was taking the tractors to events such as the John Deere Expo in Waterloo and Des Moines, Iowa. In 2015, he went to the Two-Cylinder Expo in Waterloo with two tractors for display. “We had a lot of good times there,” he said. For the Andover Threshing Show, they would take 20 tractors. Local parades were another place to showcase the machines. He never missed a show at the Aberdeen Mall, taking 5 or 6 tractors to the event each year.
Daughter Vickie Windham lives in Belle Fourche. She shared, “I’ve come to Andover for the Threshing Show and driven the tractors in the parades. He still signs me up to drive. I have to have training and he reminds me what to do. He’s so into them and enjoys them so much. It’s a great hobby for him and I’m glad he can enjoy it.”
Rich finds great pride in talking about the tractors. He loved to head out to the fields to plow. He hoped to put a plow behind every tractor he owned. Two years ago was the last time he plowed a furrow. “We had eight John Deere tractors, ranging from the 830 to the 530 series, out there in the wheat stubble. Quite a few guys came out to watch and some took a turn at plowing.”
He shared, “I learned to plow with a Rumley 6-cylinder gas engine, steel-wheel tractor using a 4-bottom plow. That was the Cadillac of tractors at the time and was great for threshing, too.”
The plow-packer-seeder combination was popular in this area and it fascinates many to see that combination at the shows. The 830 John Deere would pull a 5-bottom plow with 16 inches between the rows followed by a 7-foot packer and drill.
The 1931 G.P. John Deere is the oldest restored tractor owned by Rich. A display with the tractor highlights the importance of innovations for farmers.
While the green and yellow color scheme is prevalent, Rich purchased a red tractor, a McCormick Deering WD9 built by International Harvester, which was the biggest wheeled tractor at the time because his dad had one on the farm. “I have one of every tractor my dad had.” A few more red ones followed to complete the series.
Among the collection is the 1949 ¾ ton red Chevrolet pickup owned by Rich’s dad and that Rich drove to high school. Restored and painted, the family also used it to haul grain and hogs to market. “It was the only vehicle my dad bought new. It had all the deluxe features, like chrome bumpers and chrome grill. But no radio.”
Mounted on one wall of the building are certificates that show the information about each of the tractors. “I would send in the information and the serial number to the Two-Cylinder organization and they would track down who bought the tractor, where the tractor was delivered, and any special features.”
That authentication is important. Rich said, “I got burned once. I got a tractor from New York. After we started working on it, I sent in the serial number and found out the tractor wasn’t originally a gas tractor. It was shipped from the factory as a propane tractor and converted to gas. I was not happy and learned my lesson to do the research before I put any money down. I got took on it.”
As we wrapped up the interview, Rich told me, “If I could, I’d crawl in your trunk so I could go out there to visit. This Parkinson’s disease has left me weak so I know I have to be in here (at Bethesda) but it’s hard.”
The changes Rich has seen in farming are huge. “My dad and I farmed with a 4-bottom plow and then he bought a 3-bottom plow. We thought we were really something then when we could run both. In those days, a 3-bottom plow could cover 20 to 25 acres, if you pushed it. We eventually had an 8-18 plow. That meant 8 bottoms spaced 18 inches apart. That could do about 70 to 80 acres in a day, if nothing broke down. Those were the days.”