BLACKFOOT, Idaho — Ken Tuck spends his free time much as he did in high school — tinkering in his shop with his best friend, Tony Rushin.
Only back when they were younger, they built hot rods. Nowadays, the friends from Idaho Falls, who are both retired from long careers with the Idaho National Laboratory, restore antique tractors for area farmers.
Their projects were on display in the antique tractor exhibit at the Eastern Idaho State Fair, hosted from Sept. 1-9.
“The fair started and operates in the fall as an agricultural event, when the crops are in, but you look at a lot of it over here and it’s commercialized,” Tuck said. “To see old farm equipment or any kind of farming stuff boosts up the farmers.”
Tuck said he relishes time spent in the shop behind his house with Rushin and his Labrador, listening to classical music and giving new life to long-neglected farm relics. Though he admits he’d prefer to work on hot rods, Tuck explained his hobby now serves a higher purpose, as several “farm buddies” have old tractors in line awaiting his and Rushin’s attention.
With each machine they restore, Tuck said, they also preserve a piece of family history. Nostalgic family members tell them stories about childhood memories and great-grandfathers — pioneers in East Idaho agriculture — who once used the tractors.
“Farmers have a tie to it because it’s part of their heritage,” Tuck said.
One of their earliest and favorite tractor projects entailed restoring a small, 1936 John Deere for a group of siblings, who wanted to surprise their father. The old tractor had been in a cellar for years, buried under burlap potato sacks.
Rushin is always struck by the simplicity and longevity of the old farm implements.
“You get a computer (problem) that shuts down a big tractor for weeks,” Rushin said. “But the 1936 here, we fixed it up and put gas in it, and it started right up after sitting that long.”
The rarest tractor they’ve restored is an International Farmall MD, which starts on gasoline and switches over to diesel fuel.
As much as they value family history, they most enjoy the new memories they help shape. In lieu of a limousine, the Farmall tractor they rehabilitated pulled the bride and groom on a wagon when a daughter in the family got married. Though most farmers have modern tractors for working fields, Tuck said some of them still enjoy driving the antiques “like go-carts.”
Rushin said their tractors are also routinely entered in local Fourth of July and homecoming parades.
Retired cattle rancher Duane Jensen, of Rockford, restored four of the antique tractors displayed at the fair.
“Somebody gave me a piece of junk and threw it in my shop,” Jensen said. “I got tired of looking at it, so I finally cleaned it up.”
Jensen said he needed something to do after selling his cattle and now shows tractors throughout the West.
“I’m an antique tractor man now,” he said.