Retired Indiana farmer, 101, reunited with 1st tractor
MONTMORENCI (AP) — It was 1935 when Gene Leak, then 23, got his first tractor — a 1930 4-wheel drive Massey Harris — for $700.
“We got that tractor almost at cost,” Leak, now 101, recalled. “You worked any shenanigans you could think of (to get a good deal).”
Leak sold the tractor three years later, shortly before he purchased his own farmland in Warren County. He never imagined that decades later he’d come to own the tractor once more.
On Nov. 18, a surprised Leak walked out the doors of GreenTree Assisted Living to find the tractor parked alongside a sign reading, “Happy 101st Birthday, G’pa Gene.”
Amy Booher, Leak’s granddaughter, and her husband, A.J., tracked down and purchased the tractor. They bought it for $12,500 and put $1,100 into getting it running again.
“It had been running, but it had been setting for 25 years,” A.J. Booher said.
Leak began farming at a time when most farmers were just beginning to trade horses for horsepower. He worked the night shift from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on a family farm, carrying a gas lantern because the crank-start tractor had no lights.
The cleats on the tractor tires weren’t easy to maneuver over long distances, and he was acquiring more land. So in 1937 he sold the tractor to a farmer who lived east of Attica.
The tractor remained near Attica until 1976, when that owner sold it to a farmer near Battle Ground.
Meanwhile, Leak’s life went on. He started his own farm in 1939, buying more than 200 acres at $100 an acre. As the economy surged during World War II, Leak was able to pay off all the debt by 1945.
In the mid-’80s, Leak attended a tractor show in Boswell. Noticing a tractor that he thought was the same model as his first, he inquired about the tractor’s past.
The original owner was named Gene Leak, the owner said.
Well, I’m Gene Leak, Leak replied.
Leak forgot about the tractor for a time. Time marched on. His wife of 75 years, Vivian, died.
Earlier this year, A.J. Booher contacted the Massey-Harris tractor’s Battle Ground owner, who said he’d sold it to a man south of Lafayette. Booher called him and made a deal.
After restoring the tractor, which has been sitting, unused, for nearly 25 years, the Boohers watched Leak take a spin around the GreenTree parking lot.
“I was shocked,” Leak said. “They said there’s something out there we want to show you. I walked out there and there’s a crowd around it.”
“I said, ‘You know what that is?’ “ Booher said. “He said, ‘I thought I’d never hear that thing run again.’ “