Jeff and Larry Friedlein to share Oliver Tractor collection

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The Friedlein Oliver tractor collection will be on display Sept. 21-22 at the intersection of Kale and Lower Cedar Roads. From left, the Spirit of Oliver, in memory of Jeff and Kari Friedlein's son, Derek; an Oliver G 1355; a White 2270 and a Minneapolis Moline G 1355. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

Jeff Friedlein and his father, Larry, will share their collection of approximately 40 restored Oliver tractors. The impressive assemblage will be on display on the east end of Lower Cedar Road at the intersection of Kale and Lower Cedar Roads on  Saturday, Sept. 21, and Sunday, Sept. 22. 

Chilled plow patent

In 1855, James Oliver of Mishiwaka, Ind., bought one quarter interest in a small foundry on the outskirts of South Bend. He began designing the chilled plow, which he patented in 1857. The plow's design included a hard outer skin that enabled it to plow in heavy, wet sticky soils with greater wearability. Word of the successful plows spread quickly worldwide, resulting in an enormous amount of plow manufacturing and sales. Oliver was soon nicknamed the "Plowmaker for the World." 

In the 1920s, the entrepreneur began experimenting with designing a tractor of his own and the end result was the "Oliver Chilled Plow Tractor."  There is only one example of this particular model known to exist today. 

Company merger

In 1929 Oliver merged with already existing tractor manufacturer Hart-Parr Tractor Company; Nichols & Shepard Company and the American Seeding Machine Company to create the Oliver Farm Equipment Company. A new line of tractors was produced, and the larger company could now supply the farmer with a tractor, tillage tools, planting tools and harvesting machines. The Oliver Farm Equipment Company became the Oliver Corporation in 1944, and acquired the Cletrac Company of Cleveland.

The last Oliver tractor

In 1960, White Motors acquired the Oliver Corporation as a wholly-owned subsidiary. The company continued to exist until the farm equipment division was eventually sold. The last Oliver green tractor to roll off the assembly line bearing the Oliver name was in 1976 with the 2255 designation.

Friedlein collection

Jeff Friedlein, farmer, owner and operator of Friedlein Excavating LLC, and a stakeholder in Lakeside Ballroom restaurant and bar, has been collecting and restoring Oliver tractors for many years. The busy Iowa farmer and entrepreneur grew up in Northeast Iowa on the family farm where he learned the importance of hard work and dedication to family at his parents' side. 

He explained, "I grew up with Oliver tractors. My grandfather, my father and I have used the same Oliver 60 that my grandfather purchased secondhand many years ago." He continued, "Oliver tractors were the first to include mechanical front wheel assist and live power take off. These two features were huge in the industry, and made the Oliver a dependable hard-working tractor." 

In addition to their top-of-the line farm equipment, the innovative Oliver Corporation designed bulldozers; outboard boat motors, and even had a line of commercial baking equipment. Friedlein shared the versatility of the company's products. "During the Depression the Oliver Corporation  sent $3.5 million dollars worth of tractors and combines to the Soviet Union. The 'Mighty Tug' was used by commercial airlines to pull aircraft from one area to another. During the Vietnam War the tractor company sent over several pieces of machinery to clear the land for combat," he said. 

The Oliver Corporation designed a limited edition tractor to ship overseas. "Oliver made 80 tractors to transport overseas during the war. They could only fit 60 of them on the ocean liner. They left 20 of them here in the United States, and I have one of them," he commented. 

Friedlein described his passion for collecting and restoring Oliver tractors with a hearty laugh, "It's called tractor fever, it's not curable and it's terminal. My roots keep bringing me back to Olivers."

Friedlein and his wife and business partner, Kari, manage their own farm on east Lower Cedar Road. Collecting and restoring old Oliver tractors is a family tradition. "I started collecting and restoring Oliver tractors in the mid-80s when the price was still kind of reasonable. My dad and I work on the tractors together in the winter when the excavating business and farm demands slow down. My son-in-law — who is married to my daughter, Taylor — has a background in mechanics so he helps a bit. My son, Brandon, has a fetish for Cockshutt Canadian Olivers. He took one to the Iowa State Fair several years ago," he commented

Jeff and Larry do most of the tractor restoration by themselves. Friedlein told The Press, "If we have a tractor that is a little more valuable, we may take a portion of the sheet metal to a body shop for a more polished, customized look. Some would dispute it's no longer original." Friedlein's collection of customized vintage tractors is mechanically sound. He noted, "If I threw a battery and some fuel in, ninety-five percent of my collection would be ready for use in the fields." 

Friedlein likened his ability to spot an old Oliver to homing in on a big buck deer. He concluded with this story, "We were returning from the Dells. I remember spotting an Oliver tractor in a weed patch on the side of the road. I yelled out – 'stop the car!' We swung around and cut a deal with the guy that owned it. It was a White 2-150. I restored and customized the piece in memory of my son who passed away. I gave it a finish coat with green paint and included a gold flake inlay."

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