Retiree soon will sell part of his tractor

This story first appeared in the Oct. 24 edition of the Kansan.

In looking at the John Deere tractors lined up on Clarence Nilesí shelf, the green and yellow replicas are more than a hobby. They are a timeline of Nilesí life.

Niles, 81, retired from farming since 1969 and from teaching high school math and science for 31 years, bought his first replica to begin chronicling the history of John Deere equipment used on their family farm.

His father, the late Walter Niles, began buying this land in the mid-1920s before the Great Depression hit. The farm is between Halstead and Sedgwick on the Little Arkansas River.

Itís the farm where he rode with his dad on a Model D John Deere, symbolized by the replica that begins his tractor timeline on the top shelf of a basement wall. And itís where he bought the tractors symbolized by the replicas lined up in a tidy row behind his fatherís model ó including a Model A, and models 720, 730, 3020 and 4020, which was Nilesí last tractor. He and his late brother, Keith, took over the family farm and bought some of these models together to grow wheat, winter barley and alfalfa.

ďI guess this is a lot more than just a collection,Ē said Niles, who lives in Newton with his wife, Gladys, also a retired teacher. ďIt really has helped me to preserve my history.

ďI was pretty small when I first went out with Dad on the tractor ó couldnít have been much older than 10 or so. Dad used to let my brother and I ride on the fenders of that old tractor, which at that time didnít have a cab.Ē

The earlier models didnít have what the contemporary tractors have today. For starters, the last combine Niles bought before he quit farming cost $8,000. Today, a fully-loaded combine sells for upward from about $300,000. Also, the older models didnít have cabs or todayís luxuries, including CD players, air conditioners and GPS systems. Farmers had only umbrellas to shield them from weather and whistling or battery radios for tunes.

The spotlight of his collection is the historical timeline of tractors. But Nilesí collection also contains a lot of other items. They range from a beer stein to knives to watch fobs to a bank. They include a Christmas stocking holder and a marble set that depict logos used by John Deere since it began in 1847 until today. Also amongst these items is a pocket ledger ó used by farmers to jot down farm finances and crop plans ó a John Deere Christmas train and the toy model of an old-time John Deere dealership.

Many of these non-tractor items will probably not make it to Nilesí new home in the Kidron Bethel community in North Newton. Itís where he and his wife plan to move this spring. He plans to sell these items during the auction they will have before they move.

But the treasured tractor models are sure to follow him wherever he goes. Thatís because they are not simply replicas. They are a part of his rural lifeblood, still pumping strong as he helps his son-in-law, Mark Stucky, with his farm near Moundridge. It helps Niles has his hands on a tractor wheel ó though a much more sophisticated one than he ever bought.

ďI certainly wonít give up these tractor replicas,Ē Niles said. ďBut what happens to them when Iím gone, I donít know.Ē