Oliver And My Father

By Karen Reilly, Midwest Energy & Communications member
Karen is a co-op member who is a nature-lover at heart and enjoys bird-watching, exploring woodlands, gardening and long walks. She is a dean at a community college and lives at and runs her father’s farm with her husband.


My father, my hero, was a jovial man who loved to share stories of the past.
I especially enjoyed hearing about life on the family farm in Dowagiac. This is
a story I captured from him nearly 20 years ago from his point of view.

“Back in the 1940s, life around the family farm in Dowagiac really began to change. The outhouse hole was filled in and, for the first time, we had running water in the house. This made everyday chores, such as dishwashing and bathing, much easier. However, the biggest innovation of the decade for us was the gasoline-powered tractor.

My first tractor was a shiny green one built by Oliver. At the front base of its long body were two small tires. In the rear were two large tires with thick treads. Compared to the small wheels on the family Buick, these were some of the biggest tires I ever saw!

The tractor had the strength of 10 horses. The plow, planter, disk, brush chopper and trailer that attached to the back of the tractor revolutionized life on the farm. Work could be done in a fraction of the time, and with the bright headlamp on the front of the tractor, we could work past daylight, if needed. We planted larger plots of land and harvested greater quantities of crops.

I had to save for that new Oliver—$800 was a lot of money back then. But, she was worth every penny.

I sold the tractor in the late ’40s for $1,000; I wanted to buy a Chevy convertible. In the late 1980s, I heard my old tractor was once again looking for a home. By then I had newer, more powerful machines, but for old times’ sake, I decided to take my Oliver tractor back to the farm and fix her up. She doesn’t do much farm work anymore. Like me, she’s retired. She sure looks good, though, in that shiny, new coat of green with the little wheels in the front, and the great big ones in back. I think I will hang onto her for a while.”

The original family farm in Dowagiac still stands and will turn 100 years old in the next few years. My dad built his farm just down the road from it and it remains our home today. And the Oliver tractor is also still in our family.

1 COMMENT

  1. Very nice column. My wife grew up on a farm outside Dowagiac in the 1950s – 60s that also remains in her family and is approaching 100 yrs old as .

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