Editor’s column: Can you help solve the mystery of the Massey-Harris 55 model?

After reading a story about a Massey-Harris 55 tractor in the Feb. 24, 2015, issue of Grainews, Reg Alspach was inspired to put pen to paper and write about his Massey-Harris 55.

The feature in Grainews, written by former machinery editor Scott Garvey, was about a Saskatchewan-based, Massey-Harris 55 owner named Frank Paul, who restored his mid-1950s tractor and sold it in 2015 to a Manitoba Massey-Ferguson dealer.

Reg has since done the same — he’s fixed the back fender and the exhaust and air intake stacks on his tractor and he’s given it a fresh coat of paint, and now he’s considering selling it. However, Reg’s Massey-Harris 55 tractor is smaller than the one featured in Grainews — much, much smaller — and it’s made entirely of wood. Reg’s tractor is an authentic Massey-Harris 55 model from the Frank Wilde Massey-Harris dealership in Qu’Appelle, Sask. The following is Reg’s story:

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I was at the time a five-year-old boy (born in 1943) living in Regina. Both sides of my family were farm folk for the most part living in the Qu’Appelle, Edgeley and Indian Head areas. My grandfather William (Bill) Kinvig and my grandmother Janet lived and farmed just southeast of Edgeley. Bill was a Massey man through and through.

I visited and stayed with my grandparents on the farm many times and enjoyed everything about farming. The routine for a lot of farmers on Saturday nights was to go to town to shop, do business and to chat with other farmers living in the area. Their closest shopping/business centre was Qu’Appelle. The men would tend to gravitate to the local watering hole and sometimes hang out at the local dealerships to talk farming.

The wives scurried about doing all the shopping for groceries and dry goods all the while shepherding their children and grandchildren about. The wives loved the social release after spending the week on the farm. The last chore of the evening was to go to the locker plant to pick up enough frozen meat, vegetables, etc., for the week.

Most times, I would follow my grandfather around and that would usually entail a visit to Frank Wilde’s Massey-Harris dealership. On one particular Saturday night, while at the Massey dealership, I got to play with this magnificent wooden Massey 55, which was sitting out as a display. At the end of the evening, we returned to the farm and I know I must have dreamt about that tractor.

When I got up in the morning and went downstairs, I discovered that this tractor, that I dreamt about, was sitting on the dining table with the announcement that it was mine. I have a picture of me (not looking very happy and I don’t know why) playing with it in front of our house in Regina. I think I was about five.

My father decided he would upgrade it so that it was steerable. With a different steering wheel, a half of a sewing thread spool, a couple of cotter pins, a piece of string and a little bit of ingenuity, it was now steerable.

Reg says he enjoyed many hours playing with his Massey-Harris 55 tractor over the following years, and eventually it started to show. One back fender had a corner broken off and the exhaust and air intake stacks were lost. After many years, Reg decided to restore the model. A high school shop teacher turned a wooden bowl the same dimensions and radius as the back fender, which allowed Reg to cut a fender replacement from it. Using a drill mandrel as a lathe, Reg made the two stacks. The tractor got a fresh coat of pain, which meant the loss of the decal printing on it. He is currently sourcing replacement decals.

Now here’s the mystery: Reg would like to find out the origins of the model. He believes because of the way it was finished and because the lettering was done with the use of transfers, it suggests the tractor was a professional job rather than a model made in a garage or workshop. It could be a promotional item produced by Massey-Harris at the time as a display item for its dealers and dealerships. As far as Reg knows, it was not boxed as a toy. So far, Reg’s research, including an extensive Google search, has failed to turn up another model or anything like it. Could this model be a one-off? Was it a precursor to the die-cast toys that were starting to be produced?

Reg is looking for any information about this wooden tractor model. If you remember the Frank Wilde Massey-Harris dealership at Qu’Appelle, or have seen another model like this one, please email Reg at [email protected]. Reg would also be interested in any information about its current value as a collectible item.

I hope you enjoyed Reg’s story as much as I did. We all have a role to play in preserving our collective memory as an agricultural community. Your stories are important. Share them with others to keep those memories about rural life and agriculture alive.

Have a safe and happy harvest —
Kari

About the author

Editor

Kari Belanger

Kari Belanger has been a writer and editor since graduating from the University of Calgary with a B.Sc. in Biology and a BA in English Literature in 1996. For more than twenty years, she has worked in many different industries and media, including newspapers and trade publications. For the past decade she has worked exclusively in the agriculture industry, leading a number of publications as editor. Kari has a particular passion for grower-focused publications and a deep respect for Canadian farmers and the work they do. Her keen interest in agronomy and love of writing have led to her long-term commitment to support, strengthen and participate in the industry.

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