November/December 2021

Tractor Beam

Museum showcases vintage vehicles from farm equipment to deuce coupes

As Victor Fury gently brushes the dust off 125,000 square feet of century-old tractors, road trucks and farm equipment, he keeps coming back to one of his favorites.

Victor Fury and a high-performance Cobra

Victor Fury and a high-performance Cobra

Whether you’re behind the wheel of one of these cars think twice before you stomp down on the gas pedal. — Keystone Truck & Tractor Museum

It’s a high-performance 1992 Cobra, built by Shelby American, slick as a snakeskin and gleaming in dark red and white. It reminds Fury of a 1940 Ford hot rod he returned from a garage to an owner after an oil change some 55 years ago in Covington, Va.

“I sat in that thing and drove it like it was my grandma’s car, because I said, ‘The slower I drive it, the longer I’m in it,’” he says. “I always wanted a Cobra.”

Coupes and Cobras are just a few of the attractions at the Keystone Truck & Tractor Museum, gleaming entries in a collection that spans the history of motorized farm and road transportation, with a few old Mountain Dew bottles thrown in for good measure.

A Hopewell resident and vintage car enthusiast, Fury has volunteered at Keystone since 2014, fielding questions and pitching in with the upkeep at what Antique Power magazine calls “this amazing place.”

In that time, he’s found the nonprofit, privately held museum, a stone’s throw from Interstate 95 in Colonial Heights, Va., has a universal appeal.

“This is a perfect place to meet people from all over the world, and I’m serious as a heart attack about that. Australia, Germany, Holland, Denmark, all over the place,” he says. “It’s more than a museum.”

FAMILY TRADITION

L.M. and Betty Cobb Jones

The museum is the brainchild of Chesterfield County resident Keith Jones, who learned to drive a truck as a teenager in Abilene, Va., hauling lumber from a sawmill to plants and factories.

From humble beginnings, Jones rose to become CEO of Abilene Motor Express, co-owning the 400-strong truck firm with his brothers before Knight Transportation purchased it in 2018.

But trucks are more than a business to Jones; they are a passion that drove the founding of the museum. L.M. and Betty Cobb Jones, Keith’s uncle and aunt, donated a 1950 John Deere M tractor that became its first piece.

Initially, the tractor had gone to the auction block, where Jones submitted the winning bid. As he later explained to Bobby Conner of the Brunswick Times-Gazette, “Several weeks later, I was visiting her and, believe it or not, she gave me the money back. She told me my uncle wanted me to have the tractor, but she wanted me to work for it, not just give it to me.”

Jones started collecting tractors like a kid accumulating baseball cards, lovingly and painstakingly, but he needed some place to share them. An abandoned paint factory just north of Petersburg became the perfect venue, and he purchased the facility in 2009.

1950 John Deere M tractor

1950 John Deere M tractor

He opened the museum in 2010 and it has grown steadily since, adding 35,000 square feet in 2019 to house the expanding collection. The centerpiece is the 180 restored tractors from household names like John Deere to little-remembered Graham-Bradley. But, just about any vintage item with four wheels, more or less, is eligible for inclusion alongside tools, model trucks and old-time gas pumps.

Jones and curator “Bones” Stone stay on the lookout for additions, and they search far and wide — one recent reclamation project involved a White Motor Co. wrecker truck made and used in Cleveland, Ohio.

TIME WARP

Most of the tractors bear little resemblance to their once day-to-day workload. They’ve been sanded, repainted and rebuilt, when possible, with replacement parts, though a 1917 International Harvester Titan 10-20 retains a gritty look and feel, including a faded umbrella that protected farmers from the open sun.

1917 International Harvester Titan 10-20

1917 International Harvester Titan 10-20

The museum houses a 1918 Moline Universal tractor, considered to be the first row-crop tractor, which also could be used with horse-drawn implements. At $1,325, it became a hit, even with a half-moon steering mechanism of interlocking teeth that looks like it required a half-acre to turn around.

Since it opened in 2010, the Colonial Heights museum has seen thousands of visitors. The majority of the collection is tractors, but also includes classic cars and trucks.

And you needed a blowtorch, seriously, to press the 1943 Lanz Bulldog into service. A blowtorch heated a bulb that was cranked with a detachable steering wheel to turn the flywheel and fire a single-cylinder, two-stroke engine.

Each piece in the museum has its own story, as well. The family of Leonard Kanner of Macedonia, Ohio, donated the one-of-a-kind Indian Motorcycle Tractor, which Kanner, an engineer, designed and fabricated 70 years ago from surplus war materials. He used it to do dirt work on his house, plow snow and trim hedges.

The museum even gapped time and cleared up a mystery for Fury, raised on two-cylinder tractors as a youngster. When he started volunteering, he saw a familiar John Deere tractor and finally figured out the model year of his father’s last tractor.

1938 Minneapolis-Moline UDLX

1938 Minneapolis-Moline UDLX

“The first year John Deere went to four-cylinder was 1960,” he says. “I didn’t know what it was, year-wise, until I came in here.”

CRUISIN’ TRACTOR

Let’s say you had some work to do in the field and wanted to take the missus out for a night on the town.

The 1938 Minneapolis-Moline UDLX had you covered. The Creamsicle-colored piece of machinery was the first production farm tractor built with a cab. Priced at $2,155, it came equipped with a radio, a fold-down jump seat, a cigarette lighter and other comforts not normally seen in farm equipment.

Perhaps predictably, the idea of a “comfortractor” didn’t resonate with farmers or their spouses. Classic car author Daniel Strohl estimates only about 100 were sold as production folded within a few months.

“Farm during the day, drive to town at night.”

Farm during the day, drive to town at night.

The Keystone Museum has one of the few restored UDLXs and, during a recent visit, Mike Pilegga of Wilmington, N.C., figured out the reason for the demise of the cruising tractor.

“The wheel is taller than my wife,” he jokes.

For more, visit keystonetractorworks.com.

Keystone Truck & TractorMuseum

880W. Roslyn Road
Colonial Heights, VA 23834
804-524-0020
Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. - Monday-Saturday
11 a.m.-5 p.m. - Sunday