Pursuits of Happiness: TractorsJanuary 2, 2020
By BILL POWELL
JASPER — When stresses associated with a lifetime of over-the-road trucking mounted, Ron Schwartz made tractors his pastime, and perked right up.
That was five years and 13 tractors ago.
His are not the most rare or valuable antiques. They range from shiny, museum-quality red to the aged patina of barn-lot rust. And there are some big trucks thrown in, like a snow plow and a fire truck.
These machines simply lift Schwartz’s spirits. And, in the case of the fire truck, Schwartz said he never had one as a child, so getting one now probably allows him to avoid a psychiatrist’s couch.
Schwartz, 61, piddles on McCormick-Deering Farmalls and other makes from the 1940s and ’50s at his 26-acre property on the far north border of the county, up from the Dubois Crossroads. When he wrenches on tractors in his shop, he’s reliving a bygone era he remembers as a child from family farms in the Duckville and Huntingburg areas.
Wheat threshing work as a youth is in his memory bank, as are uncles tinkering to convert Model T Fords into tractors. And he harkens back to times, as a boy, when he shoveled corn off wagons that were pulled by horses one day and an old tractor the next.
Back then, he says, a man’s word meant everything, and a handshake settled all.
Things are more complicated these days.
Schwartz quit school at the age of 16 and entered the military. He served in the Army National Guard from 1975 to 1981, following in the footsteps of relatives like grandfather Herbert Schwartz, who served in World War I; uncle Albert Schwartz, who served during World War II; and uncle Irvin Schwartz, who served during the Korean War and collected Model Ts and antique tractors.
As soon as his active-duty time was done, Schwartz took to the open road in a truck. His living came from trucking and operating heavy equipment in the ensuing years.
A first marriage ended after two sons, who were born prematurely, died as infants. Breast cancer ended another.
Today, forced into a retirement brought on by health concerns, he juggles multiple medications and takes five insulin shots throughout each day.
Keeping a positive outlook can be difficult. One therapy is working on his old tractors.
“They’re simple tractors to work on,” he says. “They’re piddlin’ tractors, you know?”
The tell-tale signs of Schwartz’s collection: Each machine runs and they have new rubber tires.
After all his years trucking, the former owner-operator explains, he’s got friends in the big tire shops.
He bought one old tractor in Missouri from a family hoping to raise money for a deceased relative’s tombstone.
“I kind of bought it for a donation,” he says.
Other tractors and trucks he buys at area businesses and out-of-state auctions. Each has its story.
“This one here is a ’53 model I bought from a guy in Jamestown,” Schwartz says. “He actually bought 25 tractors to get three he wanted. But he’s got 200 tractors. And he sold this one because it isn’t the brand he uses. I took the carburetor off of it and put it on that one. But I’m going to switch ’em back.”
A highlight of Schwartz’s year is planning to take a tractor or two to the annual tractor pull at the Celestine Community Club.
“If I enter any of the tractors, it’s more like a donation because I’m not going to win,” he says. “The last time I went to Celestine, I didn’t pull from here to the door.”
And a friend in the stands was quick to point that out.
“I said, ‘Yeah, but it looked real nice when I drove by the crowd.’”
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