The American Tractor Museum
Perryville, Missouri is one of the greatest places to live and work here in the 573. With great eateries like Mary Jane Burgers & Brew, beautiful parks, caves & nature trails easily found and enjoyed through the Perry Park Center, and exciting events like Cruise-Ins & the 573 Film Festival International, Perryville is a wonderful place to find fun for the whole family.
Recently we checked out the new Welcome Center and Museum in downtown Perryville—we were totally blown away. Just another big fat feather in Perryville's cap.
The new Welcome Center is awesome! It's a tourism information center, a gift shop with creations by local artists, offices and training facilities that can be rented by entrepreneurs and innovators and a resource hub for small businesses that houses the Perry County Economic Development Administration.
But we're not here for all that—we came to see the tractors.
Located inside the Catalyst Center (a business development center), The American Tractor Museum is ready to roll out, and we’re so excited to get the chance to explore the past and see the miracle machine that launched the American agricultural and food industries into the industrial revolution and has kept both American citizens and businesses alive and well for more than a century.
Once you enter through the big RED doors—there's so much, it's nearly overwhelming! Huge beautiful machines restored to nearly new conditions. Time machines, really. Numerous colorful tractors dating back to the 1800s.
According to the All-knowing Wikipedia, the first powered farm implements in the early 19th century were portable engines – steam engines on wheels that could be used to drive mechanical farm machinery by way of a flexible belt. Richard Trevithick designed the first 'semi-portable' stationary steam engine for agricultural use, known as a "barn engine" in 1812, and it was used to drive a corn threshing machine. The truly portable engine was invented in 1893 by William Tuxford of Boston, Lincolnshire who started manufacture of an engine built around a locomotive-style boiler with horizontal smoke tubes. In the 1850s, John Fowler used a Clayton & Shuttleworth portable engine to drive apparatus in the first public demonstrations of the application of cable haulage to cultivation.
The first proper traction engine, in the form recognizable today, was developed in 1859 when British engineer Thomas Aveling modified a Clayton & Shuttleworth portable engine, which had to be hauled from job to job by horses, into a self-propelled one by fitting a long driving chain between the crankshaft and the rear axle.
In 1892, John Froelich invented and built the first gasoline/petrol-powered tractor in Clayton County, Iowa. However, the venture was very unsuccessful, and by 1895 all was lost and he went out of business. The first successful American tractor was built by Charles W. Hart and Charles H. Parr. They developed a two-cylinder gasoline engine and set up their business in Charles City, Iowa. In 1903, the firm built 15 tractors. Their 14,000-pound #3 is the oldest surviving internal combustion engine tractor in the United States, and is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
The American Tractor Museum in Perryville, MO, put together by Ken Buchhiet and Arley Berkbuegler, may not have the very first tractor ever made, but they come mighty close, with their oldest tractor dating back to 1911 and their oldest farm machine (the Threshing Machine model 1030 from Cape Girardeau) dating back even further than the #3 to 1896. But what impresses the most is the sheer number of perfectly restored antique American tractors that are packed into that building, which seems so much larger once you’re inside looking at the rows of giant bright machinery.
Centered and hanging above the giant antique treasures was an old and rugged American flag that's been here to witness the changes over the last 120 years at least. A powerful symbol of strength, determination, dedication, and stamina, just like the American tractor itself.
As you walk up and down the aisles looking around at all the wondrous sights and artistic dioramas. There are barcodes at each of the exhibits to scan with your phone for all the information and history on each piece. That way you can keep your eyes on the machine as the virtual tour guide gives you the dirt on the tractor. Such a cool modern feature to have while exploring the past!
So, where did all of these tractors come from?
"Well, they mostly belong to Kenny Buchheit." Trish Erzfeld from Perry County Heritage Tourism explained, "There's a few here from friends and other private owners, but most of them are from Ken's collection. Now the pedal tractor collection," she pointed to the extensive collection of antique toy pedal tractors and cars lined up on display on shelves that lined the whole museum, "those belong to my father, Richard Moldenhauer." She smiled as she looked around at them with a glimmer of both pride and nostalgia, a feeling that seems to be contagious here at the American Tractor Museum.
I couldn't get over how bright and beautiful, and new everything looked! Were they really kept that well over the years? As we were approached by a friendly smiling gentle face, something told me I was about to get an answer.
...it is most certainly a labor of love.
Meet Arley Berkbuegler
A retired construction worker and local mechanical genius, Arley now spends his days breathing life into the long-dead, nearly forgotten machines from our past, restoring them to their full former glory.
...Arley here, he's the driving force behind all this.
573: How did you get into this?
"Well, after I retired, I didn't have much to do, so I'd just tinker. Then one day I got a call from Ken Buchheit wanting to know if I'd work on tractors, and it just went from there.
Some of these were dead, I've had them brought to me in so many pieces they were carried in 5-gallon buckets! Depending on the condition of the tractor, we spend anywhere from 2 to 8 months on each one we restore. Taking it apart, cleaning it up, replacing (or sometimes remaking) non-working parts, and giving it back it's original paint job, totally restoring it back to its new condition, it is most certainly a labor of love."
Meet Kenny Buchheit
Entrepreneur, collector, and a long-standing pillar of the 573 community, Kenny Buchheit is a huge supporter of Heritage tourism and the local farming community.
573: How long have you been collecting tractors?
"I started this collection about 17 years ago. Once my collection started really growing I decided to open up the building as a museum to be run through the tourism in Perryville. The American Tractor Museum.
I got my first tractor when I was 40. After retirement, I started collecting them. But Arley here, he's the driving force behind all this.
We've had all the parts brought in in buckets and boxes, and he'll make a tractor out of it, keeping any spare parts he has left for others. Or things like that."
There is a very cool piece of 3D art on the wall. With pieces that could not be repaired, Arley had put together a fraction of a tractor to be mounted on a painting by the art department for a super cool "picture" that looked like it was coming to life. This is just one of the many creative ways that Arley uses spare or non working parts.
"The toughest one to rehab has to be that 40 62 Huber. That tractor was completely in pieces." Said Arley, who had built the whole engine from scratch.
"It was in 5-gallon buckets. But we ended up with a real nice tractor" said Kenny.
573: Which one is your favorite?
"I got more than one really. The Huber, and there's a Rock Island in here too." Born and raised with Hubers, Arley used to watch as his father would work on theirs. Arley told us another favorite was the steam engine, Big Avery. "I got my steam engine certification to improve my skills for that one."
With nearly 80 years worth of innovation, from an enormous threshing machine from the early 1890s to orchard tractors from the 1970s, all under one roof in one magnificent collection, The American Tractor Museum is a must-see destination that everyone here in the 573 should experience.
"Our hope is that people will get to see things they've never seen before and enjoy our collection and learning about the past." Said Kenny.
Well, we certainly did. Be sure to check out the Perry County Heritage Tourism Welcome Center and American Tractor Museum in Perryville, Missouri. Their grand opening is August 8, 2020. Until then 573, be active, be happy, be well.
Written by AJ Koehler