Posted on

Vintage tractor returns to Charles City birthplace

Vintage tractor returns to Charles City birthplace
Press photo by John Burbridge
Dennis Donovan recently purchased an Oliver Hart-Parr 70 Row Crop tractor while returning the machine back to its 1937 birthplace. The tractor is on display in the parking lot of Donovan’s accounting office on North Grand Avenue. “I wanted to bring it back home to Charles City,” said Donovan, who collects vintage tractors and vehicles.

By John Burbridge

CHARLES CITY — Eighty-seven years after it was wrought into this world, an Oliver Hart-Parr 70 tractor has returned to its birthplace.

And it looks as good as the day it was born.

“That’s the whole reason why I purchased it,” said Dennis Donovan of his recently acquired Row Crop machine powered with a high compression engine originally designed to run on 70-octane gasoline (hence the number 70).

“I wanted to bring it back home to Charles City.”

The tractor now sits prominently on the parking lot corner of Donovan’s accounting office at 302 North Grand Avenue.

“It’s a good location for people coming into town,” Donovan said. “It was built just three blocks away.”

That was the site of the sprawling Oliver Hart-Parr factory that, even in its absence, has left a giant footprint on the eastern part of the city.

Like most anything sired into existence, the Oliver Hart-Parr 70 had a father … or make that grandfather(s).

Charles W. Hart and Charles H. Parr were engineering savants who just graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1896, and who had received special honors for their joint-effort thesis “An Investigation of Internal Combustion Engines”.

The two went into business together and started manufacturing stationary gasoline engines in Madison, Wisconsin.

With ambitions to build the first gasoline traction engines but needing bigger (and cheaper) space to do so, Hart and Parr moved their operations to Hart’s hometown of Charles City in July of 1901.

In 1929, Hart-Parr Tractors merged with the Oliver Farm Equipment Company and took the company name Oliver Hart-Parr to mid-1937 before becoming “Oliver” and then eventually “White Farm Tractors”.

“The name on this tractor’s grill [Oliver Hart-Parr] was the last time they used it before they started calling themselves ‘Oliver’,” Donovan said.

The body of Donovan’s Oliver Hart-Parr 70 remains as green as the deepest part of summer.

“They used to have a parade down Main Street showing a variety of colors for the newest models,” Donovan said. “People would then vote for the best color.”

How the tractor came back home started when a client of Donovan’s, Mark Burres of Emmetsburg, visited the office and saw that Donovan had a pair of steel wheels that would fit an antique tractor his father originally purchased. That piqued the interest of Donovan, who collects vintage tractors and other vehicles, as well as Burres, who was also nostalgic about bringing the tractor back to its birthplace.

A deal was soon made to beckon the homecoming.

Donovan has yet to fit the Oliver Hart-Parr with the said steel wheels as he’s impressed with the tractor’s original rubber tires.

“These are the same Montgomery Ward tires first put on the tractor way back then,” he said.

Donovan recently took the tractor to Chautauqua Guest Home on 11th Street where some of the residents are former Oliver Hart-Parr and White Farm Tractors employees.

“A couple of guys came out in their wheelchairs and nearly jumped out of them once they saw it,” Donovan said. “It brought back a lot of memories.”

Social Share