Simon Bollin has given buying locally a whole new meaning. For him, it’s not about where the food comes from or how it’s grown, but what it used to be harvested with.
Mr. Bollin, a lifelong Vineyard Haven resident, created the Martha’s Vineyard Tractor Restoration Project as an outlet not only for his passion for machinery, but as a way for antique Vineyard tractors to be restored to their former glory. He has nine tractors, four of which are in the process of being taken apart, sandblasted, repainted and made ready to drive. All were built before 1954.
“It’s definitely a labor of love,” Mr. Bollin said at his home-turned-temporary-parking lot. “You can buy the same tractor all done for a quarter of the price of doing it yourself, but it’s not a local tractor, it hasn’t lived here its whole life.” Age is not a factor in Mr. Bollin’s project; the older the better. “They’re all temperamental,” he said of his fleet of tractors. “You find something that’s 70 years old that’s not temperamental!”
When he’s not at his day job at Vineyard Electronics in Vineyard Haven or heading security at the Lampost in Oak Bluffs, Mr. Bollin is breathing new life into the tractors he collects. And he gives them more than a fresh coat of paint; he gives them a new personality.
“There are parts that you can find, and it’s amazing you can find them, but there might only be three in the country,” he said. “If you can’t find that part you can’t finish . . . so that’s part of the fun, just trying to track everything down.”
If he can’t find a part at one of the junkyards on the Island, he turns to two online databases, Yesterday’s Tractor Magazine (ytmag.com) and Wenger’s of Myerstown (wengers.com), apparently the largest tractor junkyard in the country.
“Two years ago we were trying to get one tractor running, and we couldn’t figure it out,” Mr. Bollin said. “I actually posted on their forum, and within 10 minutes I had a guy tell me exactly what was wrong, how to fix it — just because he’s done it for years — and it was great.”
The tractor he was having issues with is his 1942 orange Allis Chalmers, the only fully restored tractor of the group. After 600 hours and $6,000 over the course of a year, the tractor was ready for its big test: the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair tractor pull. It pulled almost twice its weight, tugging along 5,200 pounds.
“The tractor pull at the fair is a great way to get younger people involved; it started really small, and now I know 20 different people that are going to pull in it,” Mr. Bollin said. “People are fascinated by it, half of the people that come to the fair may have never seen a tractor before.”
As a result of Mr. Bollin’s restoration activities, he has been elected to the board of directors of the Antique Tractor Museum at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society. He said for this year’s fair he plans to bring his blue 1939 Ford 9N, along with the 1942 Allis Chalmers, so people can see what it takes to get from complete rust to rejuvenation.
The Ford 9N was the first tractor to be mass-produced. “They figured out exactly what it would cost to feed horses for a year and they basically made the tractors that price, so their selling point was you could feed your horses for one year or you could buy this tractor and it would be good forever,” Mr. Bollin explained.
“Because they made so many, you can walk into any store for that model tractor and buy the parts,” he said. “But you get ones [like the Allis Chalmers] which are more obscure, and that’s where you have problems finding parts.”
Finding parts isn’t the only challenge. The project is set up in the backyard of his home under portable garage canopies, an open-air environment that is less than ideal for the work. “We’d sandblast a part, and if you left it for two hours without putting paint on it it’d start to rust,” he said. “I don’t know how many times I’d do something, have to leave, come back and have to redo it.”
After taking everything apart, Mr. Bollin sandblasts down to bare metal, primes the parts, puts a fresh coat of paint on and puts it all back together. “New tractors are nothing compared to the old tractors,” Mr. Bollin said. “The amazing thing is that [one of them] was built in 1941 or ‘42 and it sat for almost 20 years and was never moved and was still able to be rebuilt. I have a tractor from 1970 that sat for two years, and it’s basically almost junk.”
But even though his tractors have been on the Island for years, some their entire lives, Mr. Bollin says little is known about their history. An air of mystery surrounds where the tractors came from, what fields they have plowed, and what Islanders have used them, because many were simply abandoned in fields or barns.
Many of the tractors he’s restoring were either bought very cheaply (around $600) or given to him by new homeowners who found the tractors in their backyard. Every once in awhile someone will come into the Vineyard Electronics store and tell him about a tractor on their property, and ask him to come take a look.
Owned by Linda Sibley of West Tisbury, Vineyard Electronics is funding the restoration project.
It goes without saying that Mr. Bollin liked to play with cars and trucks as a kid. He could often be found crawling over his grandfather’s tractors, and now turns to his father, Fred Bollin, for help with the project. In addition to the 1939 Ford 9N and 1942 Allis Chalmers, Mr. Bollin is planning to work on a 1954 Ford (the updated version of the 1939) and his favorite, a 1952 John Deere crawler.
“It’s so unique, it’s hard to find one of those,” he said of the machine he got from the Oak Bluffs junkyard before it closed. “They only made 4,000 of them, so it’s a lot more rare to find one of those, especially on the Island.” He pointed out the original green paint and logo that remains on the 58-year-old tractor.
But between his two jobs, Mr. Bollin admits it is hard to find time to devote to something that has developed into more than a hobby. “It’s time, it’s effort . . . it’s just something fun and I enjoy it,” he said. “But work is work.”
Poultry Owner Bulletin
If you plan to enter the 2010 Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair in the poultry and livestock division, your poultry must have a blood test that is negative for pullorum-typhoid.
To schedule a free testing by state inspector Alex MacDonald, call 617-872-9961 by July 9 for an appointment on July 19 or July 26.
Waterfowl do not need to be tested.
All livestock exhibitors must submit a copy of a current health certificate. Horses, mules and donkeys must have a current Coggins test certificate.