AMBOY — When Dean Lee retired from farming and from nearly two decades on the board of the local farm co-op, he had three things: a love of agriculture, devotion to the Crystal Cooperative and a lot of time on his hands.
He combined the three to restore a unique vintage tractor and to build a parade float in homage to the co-op.
“I call it a put-together thing promoting agriculture and promoting Crystal Co-op,” said Lee, who farmed near Lake Crystal and retired to Amboy.
The float idea came as an afterthought. Lee, who’d always wanted to try his hand at restoring a tractor, eyed a prize near Amboy — an International Harvester Farmall “C” tractor.
The IH Cs are, in themselves, ubiquitous across farm country, with millions of them sold in the decades following World War II. The bright-red tractors, while collectible, are not particularly valuable or hard to find.
But for three months in 1950, the IH factory painted a few of the tractors white and sent them to implement dealers as a promotional stunt to drum up interest. When dealers eventually sold the tractors to a farmer, there was a requirement that they be painted over in the traditional red.
“They didn’t want a bunch of odd white tractors out there,” Lee said.
Being indistinguishable after painted red, few of the white tractors turn up in collectors’ hands. Lee spotted his prize on a farmsite near Amboy.
“I saw this one and it looked like a leopard, red with white spots coming through from underneath, so I knew what it was.”
Lee left much of the serious restoration work to someone with more experience. “About the only thing it didn’t need replaced was the rear end and rear tires. It needed a new motor, wiring, battery box, seat — need I go on?”
Once the tractor was restored to its white grandeur, Lee knew he wanted to display it for the public. He decided the agrarian-filled tradition of small town parades would be ideal. Instead of just driving the tractor, Lee hit on the float idea.
“The float physically shows all the things the co-op buys or sells. It’s Plexiglas covered and underneath it shows the corn and soybeans and fertilizers and the energy angle, the diesel and LP gas,” Lee said.
The co-op embraced the idea and between them and Lee booked the float in six parades and several customer appreciation events at area co-op locations.
The float will make its inaugural run at the Duck Days parade in Lake Crystal, which begins 6 p.m. Friday.
Crystal Valley Cooperative, started in 1927, has more than 140 full-time employees at eight locations in south-central Minnesota.