Tractor Collectors Bring the Great Mehmke Collection Back to Life

One of the great North American tractor collections is the one assembled by Walter Mehmke and his son Carl near Great Falls, Montana. The Mehmke’s collection was eventually turned into a museum. It is a comprehensive collection that includes steam traction engines, Prairie tractors, crawlers, other tractors, assorted farm equipment, quality automobiles and vehicles, and smaller artifacts.

  Awakened after several years of slumber, the Rumely 30-60hp Model S OilPull was up to the task of hauling the 8-bottom John Deere plow.  Photo Luke Steinberger

Awakened after several years of slumber, the Rumely 30-60hp Model S OilPull was up to the task of hauling the 8-bottom John Deere plow. Photo Luke Steinberger

Walter Mehmke was born in 1898. By the 1920s, using a 110hp J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co. steam traction engine, he did custom work breaking sod and threshing. Mehmke was a pioneer collector and began assembling his collection in the late 1940s. His son Carl became involved, and the Mehmke name quickly became recognized and respected in the engine and tractor collecting hobby. Walter and his wife Marguerite farmed until about 1957.

  The plowing recaptured the feeling of the past with heavy tractor power, challenging the prairie. Plowing is a lost art in many areas, but these crews did it well.  Photo Luke Steinberger

The plowing recaptured the feeling of the past with heavy tractor power, challenging the prairie. Plowing is a lost art in many areas, but these crews did it well. Photo Luke Steinberger

Walter passed away in 1975, and Carl continued his father’s museum. He and his wife Martha hosted threshers reunions and plowing days for many years. With considerable foresight, good storage buildings were erected that hold much of the collection. Carl Mehmke passed away in 2009, and the collection and museum became static for many years.

  The Hart Parr 30-60 Old Reliable tractor, with its hit-and-miss firing away, made an unforgettable sound echoing off the nearby hillsides.  Photo Luke Steinberger

The Hart Parr 30-60 Old Reliable tractor, with its hit-and-miss firing away, made an unforgettable sound echoing off the nearby hillsides. Photo Luke Steinberger

Carl and Martha’s daughters, Charlotte Mehmke and Mardel Scott, took ownership of the collection and museum and reopened it in the spring of 2015. The sisters were determined to see the museum returned to action. They had plenty of work ahead of them cleaning up the idle collection and grounds.

  The heavy flywheel is spinning again, after many years of stillness. Its momentum helps propel the big Hart-Parr on the plow.  Photo Luke Steinberger

The heavy flywheel is spinning again, after many years of stillness. Its momentum helps propel the big Hart-Parr on the plow. Photo Luke Steinberger

In the spring of 2016, they contacted well-known North Dakota tractor collector John Tysse Jr. about getting some of the equipment running again. In an exercise that is a testament to the strength of the antique tractor community, Tysse quickly assembled an eager group of tractor people from across North America. Plans were made to have an open house in August.

  Seeing one of the Old Reliable tractors working as it was meant to is a rare treat today. Aside from the operators’ clothing, this could be a scene from the 1910s.  Photo Luke Steinberger

Seeing one of the Old Reliable tractors working as it was meant to is a rare treat today. Aside from the operators’ clothing, this could be a scene from the 1910s. Photo Luke Steinberger

There was not enough time to have the steam engines from the collection prepared and their boilers certified. A freshly restored 110hp Case plowing engine was hauled in from a neighbor, Clarence Young. It was like the engine that Walter Mehmke used in contract work nearly a century before.

  The John Deere plow is doing well in the dry Montana soil. This grain stubble is not as difficult to plow as the original Prairie sod, which was tramped by the mighty bison herds.  Photo Luke Steinberger

The John Deere plow is doing well in the dry Montana soil. This grain stubble is not as difficult to plow as the original Prairie sod, which was tramped by the mighty bison herds. Photo Luke Steinberger

The tractors had not been operated in many years and would take work to freshen up the spark and fuel to have them in working fettle again. As the August date approached, tractor folks descended on Great Falls and got many of the tractors tidied up and operating.

  Neighbor Clarence Young kindly brought over his 110hp Case plowing engine. It helped recreate the past when Walter Mehmke did custom plowing on Montana farms.  Photo Luke Steinberger

Neighbor Clarence Young kindly brought over his 110hp Case plowing engine. It helped recreate the past when Walter Mehmke did custom plowing on Montana farms. Photo Luke Steinberger

The dedicated volunteers accomplished some fine plowing with the tractors and Young’s steam engine. They brought the past back to life when several of the tractors were put to the plow, turning the Prairie soil as it was done in earlier times. Star performers were the Rumely 30-60 Model S OilPull and the Hart-Parr 30-60 Old Reliable tractor. Both tractors pulled an 8-bottom John Deere gang plow and rolled the soil over as it was meant to be done.

  This shot of an old Case being driven through the grass is reminiscent of the old days when Prairie tractors roamed the fields.  Photo Luke Steinberger

This shot of an old Case being driven through the grass is reminiscent of the old days when Prairie tractors roamed the fields. Photo Luke Steinberger

Viewings at the Mehmke Steam Tractor Museum can be arranged by appointment. The museum is some 10 miles east of Great Falls, Montana, on U.S. Route 89. Information is available online. The sisters hope to make the annual plowing day a tradition.

It is comforting to know that this great collection is back in action for all of us to enjoy. With the help of Mr. Tysse and his volunteer team, the museum has a living, working collection once again.

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