MEAD -- Rows of green antique tractors, parked with their yellow wheels near to touching, fill a 100-foot-long Quonset hut.
The next hut over is stuffed with parts -- steel wheels, choke rods, flywheels, camshafts. And there are more tractors and parts at a couple of other area farms.
The sea of John Deere green -- 105 tractors in all -- amassed over a half-century by a hard-of-hearing farmer with a love of history, has been willed to the Saunders County Historical Society and Museum. Most will be auctioned next summer.
Stanley Kucera had an eye for unique and unusual tractors in the color green.
“If you cut him, he was one that bled green,” said Bobby Virgl, one of several museum volunteers that spent Monday moving tractors and parts for secure storage.
He even took his love of John Deere to the grave. Last month, Stanley Kucera's family buried the 84-year-old farmer in a green casket.
His collection, and the prospect of an auction, has collectors of 2-cylinder John Deere tractors salivating. Museum board president Kurt Maly said he’s already getting calls from as far away as New York.
Probably the rarest specimen in the collection is a 1924 Spoker D with a 26-inch original flywheel with spokes, which makes it special. Fewer than 100 were made because John Deere began getting reports of farmers’ arms or legs being caught in the spokes. The company quickly switched to a solid flywheel and only a few of the original spoked ones remain in existence.
“That’s a very valuable tractor,” Maly said.
The same model in mint condition, which the Kucera tractor is not, sold for about $200,000 at auction in 2011.
Not all of the tractors are worth as much. Just 16 are considered “parade ready,” and many are good only for parts. Maly said the machines range from being worth tens of thousands of dollars to $500 or less.
The Saunders County Historical Society plans to keep a handful of them to display at the museum, which is free and relies entirely on donations to keep the doors open.
“We’re not a tractor museum. We want to keep something that has direct ties to the county, that has some history here and some rhyme and reason to why it’s in our collection,” Maly said. “We’re not going to pick the most expensive one or the least expensive one. We’re going to pick one that meets our criteria, which we’re developing now.”
The only stipulation of the Kucera gift is that the museum keeps at least one tractor on display.
Ray Kucera, a family member that helped Stanley Kucera farm corn and soybeans north of Mead, said the tractor collection started in 1964. Stanley Kucera married later in life and didn't have children of his own, although he did have three stepdaughters.
"When he first got married, his wife said, 'You need to have a hobby. It'll keep you out of the bar,'" Ray Kucera said with a laugh.
It worked. Stanley Kucera preferred barns and tractor auctions over bar stools and pint glasses.
He would travel across the country for an auction. On one trip, he picked up a John Deere Model B Orchard that has tracks to keep it from slipping off of Washington state’s hills during fruit harvesting. In Arizona, he found a Model A High Crop.
“He was collecting tractors when most other people hadn’t ever thought of it yet,” said Erik Alm, a Wahoo-area farmer and museum volunteer.
Stanley Kucera also bought his neighbors' old beaters and extra parts. In recent years, as his health failed, he went to the grandchildren of those old farmers and gave them the chance to buy back their grandfathers’ tractors.
Paul Virgl, the parts manager at Platte Valley Equipment in Wahoo, said Kucera wasn’t selling the tractors for the money. He cared more about their sentimental value and priced them “very reasonably.”
Details of the auction are still being arranged. Maly said current plans are for it to happen in August. For more information about the Historical Society and Museum call 402-443-3090 or visit its website at www.saunderscountymuseum.org.