By Laura Wieking Granddaughter of Fred Heidrick Sr.
Growing up, I didn’t really know this collection was anything other than our extended playground. Grandpa never told us to get off the machines, or to stay out of the barns where the rare, one-of-a-kind and massive machines rested. We climbed all over, breathing in the greasy paint smell of the barns and shop as if it were a fine floral bouquet. I knew that people came from all over to see my grandparents and the collection, but I thought it was only because they were like, the coolest grandparents ever. The tractors were just gravy.
I learned to drive on a 1922 flatbed Model T Ford truck when I was 11. I could also drive a tractor that had wheels. But driving a track tractor was beyond my comprehension. It still is. I can’t figure it out. From my viewpoint you steer the things with what looks like a stick and some pedals, probably some spit too. And when it turns, or maybe pivot is the right word, it sounds like it’s going to fall apart amidst the squeals, shudders and rusty pings.
All the grandsons in the family had a Caterpillar 10 tractor. I remember the row of 10s, each with a white nameplate with red lettering for the cousin or brother to whom it belonged. I didn’t want a Caterpillar, but I do remember, distinctly, asking Grandpa if instead of a Caterpillar, could I please have a Butterfly?
In my childish perception of the restoration process, I thought of Grandpa’s shop as some kind of magic assembly line. A tractor or old car went in one end, some cartoony assembly line music played, and out came out the final product, completely transformed. Never mind the hundreds of hours spent restoring these mammoth machines to working and show condition.
So naturally, I convinced myself that he should be able to put an old gray caterpillar into the barn, flip a switch, and voila – out comes a Butterfly tractor all pretty with swirly colors all over. And with easy to use steering controls of course.
I don’t remember what Grandpa’s response was. I really wish I did. I really really wish I did. I have a feeling he probably put his hands on his hips, tilted his hat back, paused, and simply offered to build something else for me in his shop to distract me from my wild notions of a purple tractor. I’m pretty sure a smile was involved too.