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Birkey’s Farm Store Inc. will celebrate its 60th year in business by doing something it has done for more than a half century – help to put food on the table for families.
The company is selling chances on a 1954 Farmall Super MTA tractor with a goal of raising $100,000 for area food banks in Central Illinois and Indiana, the area it serves. That amount is expected to produce 600,000 meals.
“In looking at our vision and customers, our customers are primarily farmers,” Mike Hedge, Birkey’s president and CEO, said. “A food bank can buy six meals for every dollar contributed.”
Birkey’s serves 47 counties in Illinois and Indiana, and statistics show that 286,000 people are “food insecure” in that area, Hedge said, “and of that, 102,000 of those are kids.”
Birkey’s has been working with seven food banks that serve 550 food pantries throughout that region.
“In the process of doing this, what we’re doing is asking customers and employees to participate,” Hedge said.
Customers who donate $10 or more are entered into the drawing to win the antique tractor. At the end of the 60-day period, the winning name will be drawn. The company will open its new Urbana location April 4, and the drawing will be held the following week.
The tractor was unveiled at Birkey’s annual awards banquet in late January in Bloomington. It was on display at the Midwest Ag Expo last week in Gordyville.
A Case IH dealer, Birkey’s, which operates 13 stores, opened in 1954 in Fisher.
Hedge said the company began thinking about a year ago about the best way to celebrate the 60th anniversary.
“We thought, ‘Why not go back to a tractor that was back from our beginning, 1954, to use that as a centerpiece for our celebration?’” Hedge said.
Birkey’s bought the tractor from Larry Gerlach of Prophetstown, a salesman for the company who has more than 27 vintage tractors he has restored. The Farmall, however, had not been restored yet, so the company approached Mark Ziegler, program director for the Parkland College Diesel Technology Program that Birkey’s helps to underwrite.
Seven students enrolled in the college’s Case New Holland Service Technician Program volunteered to work on the tractor in their spare time.
Ziegler said working on a vintage tractor is a world apart from the modern diesel program, but the students were “very excited to get started” on it.
He estimated that collectively they spent 160-200 man hours on the job.
Disassembling the tractor was probably the most difficult part of the job, Ziegler said, followed by finding authentic parts for the 60-year-old tractor.
“(There was) a lot of age, time and rusty bolts. ...),” he said.
The tractor was running when they got it, but it was kind of rough, Ziegler said, and had its share of oil leaks and some parts missing.
“It was showing its 60 years of use,” he said.
A few of the parts had been discontinued, so they had no choice but to use the next-best thing, but for the most part, authentic parts were found.
The students replaced with new parts items ranging from bearings to hoses to lights. They also rebuilt the engine and carburetor.
Ziegler said Stanley Bruegger, a member of the Diesel Club and part of the Birkey’s CNH Service Technician Training Program, was the lead student on the restoration project.
“He was just fanatical about the authenticity of the tractor,” Ziegler said. “There were a few parts I was willing to use, and Stan said, ‘No, Ziegler, we are not putting those on. We are getting the right part.’”
Ziegler said part of Bruegger’s keen desire that the tractor be as authentic as possible was probably fueled by Bruegger’s family owning a tractor similar to the Farmall.
Besides finding parts available in stock, Birkey’s parts counter in Urbana helped find parts in junk yards and from other donor tractors.
The students who worked on the restoration were Bruegger, Trever Peterson, Kurt Knollenberg, Garret Maxheimer, Jed Niemeyer, Tim Wagner and Cody Wendling.
Ziegler said the deadline to have the restoration work completed was Thanksgiving, and they met that goal.
Hedge said a painter from near Washington, Ill., repainted the vintage piece of farm equipment.
Ziegler said the project helped the students develop a greater appreciation for farm implements of the past.
While many of the concepts from 60 years ago were different, many are still the same such as seal replacement, the method of measuring engine parts and simple repair procedures.
“Those things don’t really change,” he said.
“Every one of them learned, whether it’s a 1954 tractor or a 2010 tractor, that it’s attention to detail during disassembly and reassembly is very important,” Ziegler said.
The public will be able to view the tractor at open houses at each Birkey’s location, beginning in Oakland, Ill., on Feb. 17.