IRRIGON, Ore. (AP) - Wayne Schnell was 11 years old when he drove his first tractor, a 1941 John Deere Model A that his father bought for the family farm near Vancouver, Washington.
Seventy-four years later, Schnell still has that same Model A - along with about 60 other tractors and 20 or so hay balers spanning decades of American farm history.
Now 82, Schnell has since retired and sold his farm south of Irrigon, but couldn’t bear to see all the old equipment hauled off to the junkyard. He and his wife, Wanda, opened the Skinny Bull Ag Museum in March to preserve and share Wayne’s collection with the community.
Most of the tractors, balers, combines and backhoes Schnell actually used in the field. Others, he admits, he bought just to have.
“It’s like other people who collect stuff,” he said with a smile. “You always need one more.”
The oldest tractors in Schnell’s gallery date back to 1929, including a John Deere GP and Caterpillar 15. He has a 1945 World War II-era John Deere that’s likely one of the few left in existence with its original tires, made of recycled material.
But it was the Model A that Schnell said started it all. He has fond memories of plowing his family’s hayfields as a boy, stopping just long enough to split a peanut butter sandwich with their collie, Bowser.
Schnell personally repainted the Model A, which shines the signature John Deere green and yellow. He insists the old machine faithfully runs to this day.
“How do you throw something like this away?” he said. “I just hated to see it destroyed.”
The vintage tractors might not look so practical compared to today’s technology, with GPS steering and touch screens. Heck, Schnell said they didn’t even have air conditioning in the old days. They were just happy to sit down.
Schnell came to appreciate tractors while working as a machinist for 16 years. He later moved to Irrigon in 1972 and got back into farming, growing 340 acres of alfalfa hay near town.
He always found room for more tractors, which he grew to love like old cars.
“You appreciate all the engineering and work that went into building them, and how well they’ve worked for so many years,” he said. “You grow attached to them.”
It was actually at a classic car show where Wayne met Wanda, and they married in 2003. As a collector herself - Wanda can never have too many hurricane lamps or cast iron pans, she says - she was completely behind the idea of opening a museum for Wayne’s collection.
“Once Wayne decides he wants to do something, there’s no doubt he’s going to accomplish it,” Wanda said.
When the Schnells sold the farm in 2013, they reached a special agreement; the buyer purchased the old 10,000-square-foot Keglers supermarket behind Bank of Eastern Oregon in Irrigon, and used it as a down payment on the farm. This is where Wayne and Wanda have set up Skinny Bull.
The Schnells continue to make little improvements and swap stories with visitors who come to check out the museum. Admission is free, though donations are suggested.
“It’s mostly people who grew up with (agriculture), and have an interest in the past,” Wayne said. “They have memories of growing up with this kind of machinery.”
The name “Skinny Bull” comes from Wayne’s friendship with the late Ray Fox, who used to run a feedlot near the Schnells’ farm. They would gently tease each other, with Schnell asking about Fox’s “skinny bulls” and Fox countering with Schnell’s “weedy hay.”
Schnell would tell Fox he planned to name his tractor museum “Skinny Bull.”
“I thought I saw him grin,” Schnell said.
The Skinny Bull Ag Museum is open five days a week, closed on Wednesday and Thursdays.
Schnell said he is happy to have the chance for a little show-and-tell with his neighbors.
“If you treat it right and it treats you right, you come to appreciate it,” he said. “You like to have some place to put it where you can walk past, kick the tires and have those memories, good or bad.”
Information from: East Oregonian, https://www.eastoregonian.com
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