As a kid growing up in Ontario, the first tractor Joe Jeffray remembers riding on was a Cockshutt. Now, living on a farm just west of Airdrie, Jeffray owns a complete line of the antique tractors.
Jeffray has always had a love for vintage farming equipment and already had a large collection, but it wasn’t until he and his wife, Nancy, shut down their livestock operation that he started collecting the tractors. Throughout the years, he has bought the tractors in various conditions and refurbished them to look and run like new.
“It was by no means planned,” he laughs.
Joe owned an old threshing machine for harvesting, but the tractor he was using to pull it was too small and looked out of proportion. So, he headed to an auction sale and came home with his first Cockshutt tractor. From there, he began the search for the other models.
“(Vintage farming equipment) was so important during its era; it seems worthwhile preserving that for people to look back and see how things were done compared to how they do it now”
“They were exclusively made in Brantford, Ont., so it’s entirely a Canadian company,” he says.
Cockshutt Farm Equipment Ltd. started out as a plow company, but they began building their own tractors in 1946. The company was bought out 16 years later, but Joe is proud to own all nine models produced.
With many trips to various auction sales and help from neighbours and friends, it took Joe a total of eight years to acquire his collection.
“Generally, we’ve had pretty good luck buying tractors that didn’t need a lot of work,” he says. “But that’s also part of the fun – finding the parts that you need.”
The two smallest tractors that he owns came totally restored, but others were not in quite as good a shape.
One tractor in particular was given to him as a gift and he says he could not have restored it himself.
“I have actually had quite a few different people involved,” he says. “That one, in particular, needed some parts and it needed some engine work so it went to a shop. Actually, a mechanic neighbour, a friend of mine, did a lot of the technical work in getting it going.”
Joe says there is an extensive resource of antique tractor parts in Canada and the United States, but he had quite a bit of help tracking down what he needed. Finally, once the tractors were fixed up and running as good as new, Joe would send them off to be painted the typical bright red and cream colours for which Cockshutts are known.
While he’s aware of people with large collections of tractors, Joe says it is very rare to see a complete Cockshutt line. He finally finished his collection in the fall of 2016, and also owns a nearly complete line of farming equipment for the tractors.
However, that isn’t the end of his collection.
Joe also owns a team of large Belgian draft horses and a complete line of equipment to go with them.
“Growing up on a small farm in Ontario, I can just remember when my father still had horses,” he says. “I really enjoyed the idea of driving and working with big horses, so when we began to wind down our [livestock] operation, it was an opportunity to try out a hobby.”
Joe and Nancy are both active members of the Airdrie Agricultural Society and bring the horses and equipment to its annual event, the Art of the Harvest, to demonstrate past farming practices. This year, Joe brought out his threshing machine, horses and wagons to harvest the grain. He and Nancy also grew various vegetables that were harvested and donated to Airdrie Food Bank.
Also very active with Irricana’s Pioneer Acres, Joe drove his Cockshutts in this year’s parade featuring Canadian-made tractors and equipment. He says he loves collecting vintage equipment and showing it to people to teach them a little about the history of farming.
“It was so important during its era; it seems worthwhile preserving that for people to look back and see how things were done compared to how they do it now,” he says.
“It gives perspective on how agriculture has evolved,” he adds, laughing, “And it gives people more of an appreciation for air conditioning.”