Taking Care of Old Tractors

Have you ever wanted to drive a big old tractor, the kind that shakes windows, blasts eardrums, and gives off enough pollution to destroy the ozone? I'll confess that I have. How about something really old, like a 1920 Holt 75? Now, pretend you've found one. How do you start and drive it, let alone repair and keep it running? It's not as though former operators and mechanics from 1920 can be speed dialed for advice.

Enter the Agricultural Technology Collection, in the archives of the San Joaquin County Historical Museum. As its name indicates, the collection brings together an assortment of publications that address the assembly, operation, and repair of old agricultural machinery. Recently, Nick Jackson, an intern and graduate student from the School of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University, finished arranging, describing, and preparing a guide to the collection. In addition, he coded an electronic version that can be found at the Online Archive of California.

This is a large collection. It includes more than one thousand items. In fact, it's so big that the Museum burned through two workers making it available for patrons. The summer before last, Matthew Keeling, a history major at California State University, Chico, started organizing and describing it before needing to cut his efforts short to head back to school.

So what's in the collection? Here's a sample of brand names it includes: Allis-Chalmers, Blackwelder Manufacturing, Buda Company, C.L. Best Tractor Company, Caterpillar, Cleveland Tractor, Cummins Engine, John Deere, Graham-Paige Motors, Harris Harvester, Holt Manufacturing, International Harvester, and Yuba Manufacturing.

The Museum holds other agricultural technology publications, as well. Some can be found scattered among other collections, and a small number of related catalogs, brochures, and assorted promotional publications are still waiting to be arranged and described.

The Agricultural Technology Collection promises to be especially useful for a group of tractor buffs who gather regularly at the Museum to restore antique machinery. However, anybody interested in the operation, repair, and maintenance of such equipment is invited to view items in the collection—by appointment—at the Museum's library.

Once again, the online version of the finding aid can be viewed at the Online Archive of California.

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