By Devan Mighton – Originally published in the LaSalle Post on August 4, 2017.
Photo: Local farmer John Allen, 67, sits behind the wheel of his prized 1958 International Harvestor 460 Hi-Utility tractor after donating it in 2012 to the Essex County Steam and Gas Engine Museum. The photo graces the Museum’s website as well as the cover of the 33rd annual Essex County Steam and Gas Engine Show magazine. Photo courtesy of Essex County Steam and Gas Engine Museum.
(LASALLE, ON) – John Allen is a 67-year-old farmer, born and raised in LaSalle.
For almost half a century, he could be seen riding through the fields of his family’s farm, along Valiant Street, on the back of his old International Harvester 460 Hi-Utility tractor.
In 2012, John donated his tractor to the Essex County Steam and Gas Engine Museum, outside McGregor on Concession Road 11, after his health began to deteriorate.
Allen was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological disease that impairs muscle coordination from an early age. Despite this, he farmed for almost 42 years.
Born in 1949, Allen attended Windsor Red Cross School on Ouellette Avenue.
The oldest of seven children, John found an early mentor in Red Cross principal Marjorie Box.
Box, herself from a farming family, encouraged Allen to learn the ways of his grandfather Wesley J. Allen’s corn farm.
After picking up his Grade 9 diploma and being rebuked at his attempt at a job at the local K-Mart, John plunged himself into the family business.
“It’s something I did to keep busy, to keep my legs strong,” he explained.
John engaged himself in farm life and helped at his grandfather’s fruit stand.
“My father [Wesley F. Allen] said, ‘you’re not gonna sit here and do nothing, you’re gonna take over the fruit stand’,” he recalled.
Around that time, Allen discovered his love of tractors.
“I’ve got it in my blood,” he said. “They couldn’t keep me off the tractor, so they said they were gonna teach me to do it.”
Soon he was helping out and driving the tractor on the Klingbyle Brothers farm, owned by his cousins Wilfred, Gordon, and Gordon’s son Gerald Klingbyle.
On the Klingbyle Brothers farm, John first road the International tractor he would someday call his own.
His eyes light up as he describes the tractor. Built in 1958, his tractor was 1,609th off the line. It runs on gasoline, with a six-cylinder engine that cranks out 61 horsepower.
In 1982, John acquired the tractor from Wilfred, who was tired of rising gasoline prices after the 1979 energy crisis.
With John on vacation, his father and Wilfred gave the engine an overhaul and repainted it to surprise him when he returned.
It is a point of pride for John Allen, that in his 30 years of ownership, the tractor was in tip-top shape.
In fact, he states that other than periodically swapping spark plugs and batteries, the tractor gave him no trouble over the years.
In the lead up to donating the tractor, his friends, Terry, Jimmy, and Roy McLeod gave John’s prized possession a fresh coat of paint.
James Moore, another dear friend, helped arranged the donation to the Museum.
“[John’s] been a member for years, so he thought it would be nice to donate his tractor,” Museum president Gary Struhar explained.
Struhar said the classic tractor has been put to good use.
“A lot of them we do not use, they are just for show,” he said. “His is a versatile machine, it’s useful.”
“That’s our show tractor for this year.”
Since acquiring the tractor, the museum has used the International to pull their ‘people mover’ – a long wagon with seats on it.
The ‘people mover’ is particularly useful to people with walkers and in wheelchairs and is greatly appreciated by people attending the Museum’s events.
John’s tractor will be in particular demand during the Museum’s upcoming 33rd annual Steam and Gas Engine Show, which runs from August 11-13.
After the donation in 2012, Struhar recalls a special moment where friends of John, who is now in a wheelchair, into the tractor’s seat for a picture with his favourite tractor.
The touching photo graces both the Museum’s website and the cover of their annual show magazine.
John, who still keeps busy by harvesting beans, finds the tribute touching and an honour that his prized possession is cherished by others as well.
“It feels good,” said John. “To me, it’s a dream come true.”
33rd annual Essex County Steam and Gas Engine Show
From August 11-13, the Essex County Steam And Gas Engine Museum will be hosting its 33rd annual Steam and Gas Engine Show at Co-An Park in McGregor.
The museum is a non-for-profit organization that sets out preserve and educate the public about the heritage of 19th and 20th-century gas and steam engines, as well as antique tractors in Canada.
“One of [the steam engines] is from Hiram Walker,” explains museum president Gary Struhar.
“Hiram actually bought it back in the late 1880s and he built Hiram Walker with it, the whole complex and everything.”
The three-day event starts on Friday, August 11 at 12 p.m. and over the course of the weekend will feature a variety of sights and entertainment for spectators.
Saturday night will feature a chicken and ribs dinner starting at 6:30 p.m. and a live show from Elvis Presley tribute artist Frank Cross at 8 p.m.
From 12 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, the Ontario Vintage Tractor Pullers Association will be presenting a ‘fully sanctioned’ tractor pull event at the show.
A variety of other sights and activities will be available to the public, including a plethora of tractors to inspect, demonstrations with a 1896 Carl Smith sawmill which will cut up to 10 walnut logs per day at the event, threshing machine demonstrations, vendors, crafts, children’s entertainment, raffles, and door prizes.
The Museum is still accepting volunteers, student or otherwise, to help with the event.
For more information, please visit EssexSteamandGasEngine.com.