MILLVILLE, Pa. — It has been 12 years since International Harvester Collectors (IHC) Chapter 17 took ownership of the Bartlow Prototype IH Dealership Building, 47 S. Chestnut St.
Since then, the 270 members of the chapter have worked tirelessly to raise funds to pay off the mortgage while carrying out necessary renovations to the electrical system, windows, pylon and roof of the historic 1947 building, while adding improvements , like a library.
Their museum, open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. select Saturdays May through October, houses International Harvester tractors and equipment, farm tools, refrigerators, memorabilia, and more.
“A lot of people think IH just made the Farmall H, but they did a lot of other things,” said Chapter 17 President Ben Trapani.
Many artifacts are on display in the museum, including an 1831 mower, an IH Scout vehicle, an early 1900s Daisy Reaper, a 1962 bulldozer used in IH’s Melrose Park factory, refrigeration units and cases after case of IH memorabilia – all in addition to dozens of red tractors.
The museum also houses the first Cub Cadet, which dealership Bartlow sold for $695 in 1961, and Tracto, the “talking” robot.
Agricultural treasures on display
Several of the exhibits were given on long-term lease by Navistar, an American holding company created in 1986 to succeed International Harvester. Navistar is the parent company of internationally branded trucks and engines.
A few of Navistar’s museum exhibits include the 1831 Reaper. According to Trapani, Navistar donated three harvesters from the 1830s to the IH museum, one of which is assembled.
Trapani said the Reaper on display was made between 1831 and 1834, identifiable due to a design change made in 1834 when the machine was patented.
“(The Reaper) is the machine that started International Harvester – without this machine the company would probably never have existed. It’s so simple. They claim that without this machine we would all have starved to death in the war civilian because it took so much labor to harvest a field of wheat. Two guys would pull it with a horse and rake the stuff into a pile. That was the start of mechanized farming,” said Trapani.
When Chapter 17 received the Reapers, they thought they were receiving reproductions that IH had made for the festivities. They were surprised to receive original machines.
The mower was assembled last winter by Trapani and his colleague Jim Ulrich.
“We were like two kids in a candy store,” Trapani said with a smile.
Another centerpiece of the museum is the Daisy Reaper, dating from the early 1900s, which is another long-term rental item that the IH Museum acquired about four years ago. The piece came from the McCormick Farm in Steeles Tavern, Va., and was donated to Virginia Tech, according to Trapani.
He said: “A friend of mine, Larry Kerns, wanted to do something in memory of his father who was an international restaurateur (Harvester), so he took this project on himself. This was one of the first stages of grain harvesting. You could use it in the field. It’s ready to go.
Another highlight is the museum’s 1962 bulldozer. Donated by Navistar, the 1962 bulldozer was used in the Melrose Park factory and has an IH property number on the side. Its rubber tracks are designed to push and pull heavy objects on concrete floors.
The bulldozer is one of Trapani’s favorite pieces: “Most of the tractors that are here, you can drive down the road and see them, but a piece like this is really unique.”
He said the bulldozer had very few hours on it and was purring like a cat.
IH also manufactured home appliances, particularly refrigeration products such as air conditioners, refrigerators, freezers, and dehumidifiers. The museum exhibits more than a dozen, including an air conditioner purchased new from the Bartlow dealership in 1953.
Last summer, the museum acquired IH’s “millionth refrigeration product,” which bears a plaque reading “Evansville Works January 1952.” The item is permanently leased from Navistar.
The item was found by a member of the national organization in a Navistar factory dining room. The member took it home, painted it green and asked to take it to the Millville Museum, according to Trapani.
Another unique item in the museum is Tracto, the “talking” robot, which stands 8 feet tall and was introduced by IH in July 1960 for county fairs. Tracto is assembled from 227 parts of tractors and implements, and its predecessor was Harvey Harvester, which did not move like Tracto.
Tracto belonged to Darrell and Kevin Darst. Kevin broached the ownership chapter when her husband passed away shortly after the Red Power Roundup in 2019.
Now, Tracto travels. The IH Chapter plans to take him to the Ohio Roundup in late June.
A sign near Tracto reads, “International Harvester District Office staff helped delight visitors by operating the robot’s amplification system for conversation. When Tracto spoke with the fairgoers, his eyes would light up and his head and right arm would move.
A Ford dealer bought this Tracto at an IH company auction in the 1970s. They painted the Ford Tracto blue and stored it outside. Tracto has been fully restored to its former glory.
Funding for building improvements
The building was purchased by the chapter for $155,000 in the summer of 2010. They had to raise nearly double that amount to do much-needed repairs and renovations to the building. The electrical system needed to be brought up to code, and the sloping metal roof needed to be replaced with a flat roof.
Over the years, the chapter has held three IH Red Power Roundups at the nearby Bloomsburg Fairgrounds. Each has proven to be an excellent source of income.
The 270 chapter members (254 in Pennsylvania, 4 in New Jersey, 10 in New York, 1 in Maryland, and 1 in Ohio) worked together to raise the funds needed to purchase the building. They also raised about $106,000 from 2010 to 2021 for building repairs, including window, heating, electrical and roof updates.
Chapter treasurer Shirley Bordner said she received donations from club members, IHC national members in the United States and Canada, as well as donations from strangers to the museum.
According to Bordner, the chapter has also received a $10,000 grant from its local tourism agency, Columbia-Montour Visitors Bureau, twice. The money was used to advertise the 2007 and 2019 Red Power roundups.
Trapani said that during the renovations, the chapter worked hard to keep the building as it was in 1947. “We were really lucky that this building was never turned into something else, like a pizzeria, and this stuff didn’t get thrown away,” he said. .
The appearance of the building is unique because International Harvester Corp. began the process of creating a uniform look for its dealers after World War II, wanting the public to instantly recognize any IH dealership.
In addition to fixing the electrical system and the roof, they also created a unique Plexiglas storm window system above the front windows of the building to protect them from the weather.
In 2019, members noticed that some of the windows above and between the showroom and the store needed replacing, but they didn’t have the funds since they were simultaneously planning the Red Power Roundup.
Trapani said he sent a letter to all members explaining the project, estimated at $15,000. While they hoped to raise half of the funds, they received a few hundred dollars more than the total cost of the project.
“I was blown away. It was really something. That Harvester thing is something you grew up with. The members want to help save that,” Trapani said.
Another major undertaking was the restoration of the pylon on the facade of the building. The chapter partnered with students from the Columbia-Montour area Vocational Technical School. The students removed the porcelain tiles from the surface of the fireplace, then sanded, repainted and reinstalled them.
Trapani said that while the porcelain probably could have lasted longer, the IH dealership burned coal as a heat source, and over the years the soot from the coal has eaten away at the porcelain.
The project called on three trades from the school: the coachbuilder to paint, the carpenters to work on the building and the welders to build a roof.
“The kids did a good job,” Trapani said.
The most recent project, carried out largely by chapter volunteers, is a library and small meeting room that houses a conference table, chairs and bookshelves.
“A lot of people collect a lot of things, but not many people have the opportunity to go in there and look at them, and that’s why we want the library, so that people can look at the brochures that have been produced in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. I hope people enjoy it. It’s a unique thing,” Trapani said.
Through all the fundraising and building renovations, Trapani said members feel lucky because they are one of the only IH chapters in the country with a space like this.
“It was quite an undertaking. It takes a lot of effort from a lot of people to make it work,” he said.
IHC Chapter 17 is always looking for new members. They host six general membership meetings a year and a fall festival.
For more information about the chapter and the museum, visit IHCC17.org or contact one of the agents by phone, as listed on their website.