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79-year-old tractor restored after years of neglect

When Mirko Pakiz made the big decision in 1941 to buy a new tractor for his Willard farm, he could have easily picked a John Deere just up the road from Perko’s dealership or a Ford less than 10 miles away at George Speich’s shop in Greenwood. Instead, he went all the way to Abbotsford, for a shiny Case SC from Kalepp’s Implement Store.

Why did he go so far? Kalepp’s was the only dealer that would take Pakiz’s plow horses in trade.

That deal brought Mirko’s farm into the modern era of dairy farming, such as it was coming out of the Great Depression and just prior to America’s involvement in World War II. He and his son, Frank, then just 20, were now able to turn the stone-strewn sod on their 120acre farm in far less time, and could avoid the spine-rattling seats on horse-drawn, steel-wheeled implements.

While most tractors from that era have long since gone to final resting places along moss-coated rock piles or shipped off for steel scrap, the Pakiz farm Case is still in the family. It even runs yet, following a several-year restoration effort, and 99-year-old Frank is still around to see it.

On a recent early fall afternoon, Frank’s two sons, a grandson and a greatgrandson brought the old Case to the Neillsville assisted living facility where he now lives. The old girl is running again after a several-year engine restoration effort by Frank’s family, and he was able to hear it chug again for the first time in almost 40 years.

The story of this Case SC is quite welldocumented, dating back to the copy of the original factory build sheet that Frank’s son, Larry, of Greenwood, still has. It shows Case SC Serial #4502336 rolled off the Racine assembly line on Feb. 4, 1941, and was shipped out already the next day. Its factory “options” included a starter, lights, fenders, a muffler, a belt pulley and a PTO.

It was later that winter when Mirko Pakiz came to own the Case. Looking to move up from farming by plow horse team to a modern machine, he shopped around for a deal he could afford. He and Frank were using an old Fordson, but Frank recalls now it wasn’t much help.

“The old one didn’t work very good,” he said.

So Mirko sent four or five workhorses and the old Fordson in trade for the new Case. Frank says Harold Kalepp delivered it on an April day in 1941, just after a snowstorm. Kalepp had to unload it on the road and drive it to the farm just west of Willard through a field as the driveway was drifted in.

Frank said the Case was a rarity for its day, a 23-horsepower beast that could pull a 2-bottom plow. It was one of only three or four such machines in the town of Hendren at the time, he said.

Frank farmed with his dad until 1946, when he and Rose Plautz were married and moved onto their own place southwest of Greenwood. Mirko continued to use the Case for everyday farming tasks, from plowing and seeding to raking and collecting hay, to cultivating corn. It was particularly useful for that last job, as it was equipped with a mechanical cultivator lift that would pick up the implement at the end of a row. With horses, the operator had to manually lift the cultivator at each turn.

Frank and Rose started their own family on their town of Eaton farm, and the Casemadenumeroustripsbackandforth between the places for various work.

“That was a very coveted job to take the tractor back to Grandpa’s,” Larry said. “It made those trips for several years.”

Mirko’s farm came to an end when he passed away in 1962, and the now 21-yearold Case became Frank’s. It was still used often, although his main machines were a Farmall H and later a Farmall M.

Larry has many a memory of working with the Case to pick rocks. It was a perfect fit for that job, as its easy-working hand clutch allowed a person on the ground to reach uptoengageittoinchthetractorforward. That clutch also made it a good tractor for young operators, as one could see the pulley began to turn and the wheels engage as the hand clutch was moved.

“It was a very gentle, easy tractor to operate,” Larry said. “You never lurched with this one, it was just so gentle.”

After Larry and his brothers Dennis and Dave and sister Patrice grew into adults on the farm and moved on, Frank and Rose sold it to Wes Stieglitz in 1980. All the equipment — including the Case — went with the farm, and Frank and Rose moved a mile east on County Road OO into their new retirement home.

One day a few years after the farm sale, the old Case croaked. Right out in the middle of a field, Larry said, its engine just stopped. Too old to repair, Stieglitz dragged it home, but let Frank know of its demise.

“I remember Dad said the old Case quit and they didn’t know what was wrong with it,’” Larry said. “If Dad wanted it, he could have it, otherwise it would go to the scrap yard.”

Larry helped Frank tow the tractor up the road into a shed, and they parked it there for what would turn out to be a long rest. It got the occasional glance from someone walking past, but no effort was made to get it going again.

“Nobody really looked into it,” Larry said. “I’d say, ‘Someday I’m gonna go down to see what happened to that old Case, but not this week. I’m busy.’ That (fixing the engine) was always on my mind for the whole 30 years it sat there.”

That’s how it went until 2014. Rose passed away that year, and Frank decided to downsize. The family planned an auction, but there was one item Larry did not want to see sold.

“What about the Case?” he said. There were too many memories with the old machine to see it hauled away for scrap.

Larry for many years had plans in the back of his mind to get the tractor running again, and now it was time. As Frank’s place was sold, out it came.

“It was buried in junk that got piled on it,” Larry said, but he and his son, Todd, managed to get the rear tires reinflated and drag it out into the yard to load it onto a trailer.

Both mechanically-inclined but neither with the time to take on such a project, Larry and Todd looked for help with their restoration project. They found it an old Army buddy of Larry’s, who has a son in Minnesota who does such work. Off it went to Hastings, Minn., for what would be several years.

Upon disassembling, Larry said the old tractor engine was worse off than first thought. The pistons were “hopelessly” stuck to the liners, the valves were shot, the crankshaft worn. The front tires and one front rim were also too far gone, and had to be replaced.

The main problem at that point was parts, or lack thereof. Those were “scarce or simply not available,” Larry said, so he began to use a modern tool — the internet — to fix an antique situation. Larry said extensive searching led to a Minnesota restoration dealer that was dealing with an off-shore company to reproduce pistons, rings and liners.

The crankshaft was removed and sent to a machinist for regrinding. Main and rod bearings could not be found, so those were sent away to be rebuilt. The cylinder head was also completely reconditioned.

All the engine parts were eventually brought back to Greenwood, where Larry and Bill Herr reassembled them in Bill’s shop. By the fall of 2019, the rebuilt engine was back with the tractor in Hastings. The machine was then put back together by last spring. Various parts — battery cables, a battery, ignition switch and water temperature gauge — still had to be found. Larry, an amateur machinist himself, replaced the brushes and bearings and “trued up” the commutator of the starter motor. The bad front tires and one rim were replaced, and they located two used rear tires and put them on.

On July 24 of this year, all was done.

“The starter hit the ring gear and generated a couple of coughs and a puff of smoke,” Larry said. “A minor twist in the distributor and after 45 years of silence, it ran!”

A proud Brayden Pakiz — Frank’s 12-year-old great-grandson — had the honor of driving the resurrected tractor out of the shop.

There are no immediate plans for further restoration. Larry said he thought about a sandblasting and repainting job, but that would take away from the old machine’s character.

“Every dent and scratch has a story, whether we know it or not,” he said. Besides, he added, the trend in restoration these days is to keep old machines, “in their work clothes.”

Larry and Dave and Todd and Brayden and the old Case paid Frank a visit on Labor Day. They took it for a spin in the assisted living facility parking lot, and Frank drew close in his wheelchair to listen to the engine hum.

“I didn’t think I’d ever hear it run again,” he said.

Larry did, knowing that with enough time and money, the Case would come back to life.

“I never ever had the urge to quit,” he said.

That’s mostly because the old tractor has such meaning to him. It’s easy for Larry to think to a day long ago when that new Case arrived at the farm. For his grandpa and dad, it had to have been a huge day.

“Oh, relief, I’m sure,” is what Larry said they likely felt. “That was quite the jump for a guy from Willard. Dad said, ‘I followed those stinkin’ horses up and down the field so many times.’” Larry also realizes the prize he has in this old tractor that managed to stay with a family for eight decades, and is now handed down to a fourth generation. As he researched online for how to fix the Case, he saw how others were looking to find tractors that reminded them of their pasts. Larry has the real thing.

“People were looking for the tractor like Grandpa had. I got the one Grandpa had. That makes it very special,” he said.