Birkey's celebrates anniversary by raising money for food banks
Birkey's Farm Store Inc. will celebrate its 60th year in business by helping put food on the table for families.
The company is selling chances on a 1954 Farmall Super MTA tractor with a goal of raising $100,000 for food banks in central Illinois and Indiana. That amount is expected to pay for 600,000 meals.
"A food bank can buy six meals for every dollar contributed," said Birkey's president and CEO, Mike Hedge.
Birkey's serves 47 counties in Illinois and Indiana, and statistics show 286,000 people are "food-insecure" in that area, Hedge said. Of those, 102,000 are kids, he added.
Customers who donate $10 or more are entered in the drawing to win the antique tractor. The drawing will take place April 4, the same day the company's new Urbana location on Illinois 130 will hold its grand opening.
The tractor was unveiled at Birkey's annual awards banquet in late January in Bloomington and was on display recently at the Midwest Ag Expo in Gordyville.
Birkey's, a Case IH dealer that operates 13 stores, opened in 1954 in Fisher.
About a year ago, the company began thinking about how to celebrate its 60th anniversary, Hedge said.
"We thought, 'Why not go back to a tractor that was back from our beginning, 1954, to use that as a centerpiece for our celebration?'" Hedge said.
Birkey's bought the tractor from Larry Gerlach of Prophetstown, who has restored dozens of vintage tractors.
The Farmall had not yet been restored, so the company approached Mark Ziegler, director of the Parkland College Diesel Technology Program that Birkey's helps to underwrite.
Seven students in the college's Case New Holland Service Technician Program volunteered to work on the tractor in their spare time.
Ziegler said working on a vintage tractor is a world apart from the modern diesel program, but the students were "very excited to get started" on it.
He estimated that collectively they spent 160 to 200 hours on the job.
Disassembling the tractor was probably the most difficult part, Ziegler said, followed by finding authentic parts for it.
The tractor was running roughly when they got it, but it had some missing parts and its share of oil leaks, Ziegler said.
Ziegler said Stanley Bruegger, a member of the Diesel Club, was the lead student on the restoration project.
"He was just fanatical about the authenticity of the tractor," Ziegler said. Besides finding parts available in stock, Birkey's parts counter in Urbana helped by finding parts in junkyards and from other "donor" tractors.
Ziegler said the deadline to have the restoration work completed was Thanksgiving, and they met that goal.
"Every one of them learned, whether it's a 1954 tractor or a 2010 tractor, that attention to detail during disassembly and reassembly is very important," Ziegler said.
The public will be able to view the tractor at open houses at each Birkey's location, beginning in Oakland on Feb. 17.
Tracking the tractor
Here is a short history of the Farmall tractor line in conjunction with the restoration of a 1954 Farmall MTA in commemoration of Birkey's Farm Store's 60th anniversary:
The Farmall F-series tractor lasted until 1938. In 1939, industrial designer Raymond Loewy was hired to redesign the tractor. The new, sleek look, combined with other new features, created what is known as the "letter series" of tractors (A, B, BN, C, H, and M). Another smaller tractor, the Cub, was also introduced.
The tractors were updated to the "super" series in 1952 (with the exception of the A, which became a "super" in 1947, and the B and BN, which were discontinued in 1948). Many of these tractors (especially the M and H models) are still in operation today. The letter series of tractors was produced until 1954.
International Harvester produced the Farmall Super M from 1952 to 1954. There were many variations of Super Ms back then. One variation was a Super MD, which used diesel fuel. Another variation was the Super MTA, which had a torque amplifier.