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Kiecker welcomes all to his on-farm CO-OP tractor museum

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 04/25/2013 7:04 PM

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LAKE LILLIAN, Minn. — Harold Kiecker was a youngster when he drove a CO-OP tractor for the first time.

The tractor could reach speeds of 30 to 35 mph. One farmer used a CO-OP to haul cattle to the South St. Paul stockyards. It took him a day to complete the trip — 90 minutes one way, Kiecker said.

Kiecker, who grew up on a farm near Cosmos, started farming with his wife, Nancy. They married in 1963, first renting a house before purchasing a farm.

When he saw a CO-OP tractor for sale in 1981, Kiecker bought it. He got parts from a farmer in North Dakota and restored it. It was the start of a hobby that's led to his on-farm tractor museum.

Kiecker has 70 tractors, including a few lesser known such as the 1941 Centaure.

He plans to downsize and will sell some tractors at an April 27 farm auction. He will keep 55 tractors and will continue to display 45 in his museum.

CO-OPs were built in Battle Creek, Mich., from 1936-49. The government ordered 200 D-3 models in 1944-45. The sturdy tractors were used to move airplanes. Once the war ended, the war department ordered the D-3s to go to North Dakota farmers.

The D-3 line was unique for its time, he said. The line had electric starters and lights.

All his tractors are testaments to the care he gives them. Sometimes he's used two CO-OP tractors in order to make one working model. The engines are removed and overhauled. He searches for parts at salvage yards and from other collectors. Each piece gets the attention needed to restore it to working condition.

He used to assemble each restored tractor, then take it to Robert Sackett of Grove City for painting. Then he learned that Sackett took it all apart for a thorough paint job. Now he brings the tractors unassembled to the painter and reassembles it at his farm.

Kiecker painted the first few tractors he purchased himself, but says he was spitting red paint for a few days after he completed each job. Sackett does a good job and operates a machinery painting business for all types of machinery.

Finding parts is tough, he said. Many of his CO-OP connections are in North Dakota. He also finds parts at salvage yards.

Kiecker also enters CO-OPs in tractor pulls. He entered his first pull in 1990 with a 1948 CO-OP 3 at the Meeker County Fair in Litchfield. He took first place. Kiecker has entered many more since and displays many trophies in the museum and in the couple's home.

There's more to see at the museum. Kiecker has collected oil and gas cans that carry the CO-OP insignia. Some personal historical items are there, too. A sled, handmade by Nancy's father, is placed between two tractors.

When Kiecker retired from farming in 2007, he converted the farm shop into the museum. The floor is pristine, something that took a lot of scrubbing, Nancy said.

The museum is kept at 45 degrees during winter and dehumidifiers keep humidity down in an effort to stop rust.

The couple has three daughters, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. One daughter has taken part in tractor pull events and the young children enjoy their visits to the museum.

He belongs to several antique tractor associations including groups in Lake Lillian, a Graham Bradley Club, Custom Club and the Hoosier's CO-OP Club in Indiana.

Museum admission is free, but donations are accepted.