TRACTORS ON PARADE

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NOTE: Story by Catherine Ann Velasco, The Herald News.

Wilbert Kerchner is Mr. M&M when it comes to tractors.

If one needs paint or a part for a Minneapolis-Moline tractor, Kerchner, of Mendota, is the guy to talk to.

Or if you just want to talk about tractors, Kerchner, 72, is more than willing to let your child climb on board and marvel at his baby as he did Sunday afternoon after the tractor parade through Joliet City Center in downtown.

Kerchner is one of 312 antique tractor owners who are taking a three-day ride along the historic Illinois and Michigan National Heritage Corridor as part of the Heritage Tractor Adventure from Joliet to Streator.

They will leave Joliet this morning traveling down Laraway Road to Brandon Road where they will get on the I&M Canal towpath as they head to the Dollinger Family Farm in Minooka.

They will stop in Morris and be the highlight of the Liberty Street Parade at about 3:30 p.m. today before ending up at the Grundy County Fairgrounds for refueling.

Kerchner, who grew up on a farm but never farmed for a living, has 64 tractors from 1939 to 1967.

His favorite is a prairie gold, G1000 Minneapolis-Moline prototype. There were only 100 built, but were later recalled.

At the time, the G1000 was the largest row crop tractor and the kind where both its front and rear axles were adjustable so a farmer could move the wheels 40 inches to 80 inches apart according to what type of crop it was going to cultivate.

The drivetrain was made too light for the 125-horsepower tractor so M-M recalled it, Kerchner said.

But the owner didn't have any problems with it so he didn't send it back, recalled Kerchner who sold it to the man for $8,000 in 1965 when he was a tractor dealer.

The recalled G1000 came back into Kerchner's life in 1981 when the owner traded it in and Kerchner sold it again for $6,000. When the tractor was being sold again, he bought it for $3,200 in 1996 and now insures it for $15,000.

"I wouldn't take $15,000 for it now because I'll never find another one," he said. "It's just so rare. You don't find them. ... It's been 2 1/2 miles from my house its whole life."

Kerchner and friend, Harlan Elson, another Minneapolis-Moline tractor owner, spent the afternoon meandering around town, checking out the other tractors.

"He put the wrong size wheels on this one," they said to each other during their informal critique.

They are partial to M-M tractors because they come in different colors, from prairie gold to rouge red, while a John Deere tractor is always a John Deere green.

Elson, 70, of Chenoa relies on Kerchner for parts and information for his 1949 Minneapolis-Moline tractor.

Elson was looking forward to driving on the I&M towpath, which is not normally open to motorized vehicles. The path was used by mules and horses to pull barges down the canal.

This is the second year for the tractor adventure and Elson did it last year, but had better weather for the trip.

As they left the Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday afternoon, the cold rain poured harder and harder.

"I learned something new today," Elson said. "I learned I can get this rain gear on while driving down the road. I didn't know I could do that."

Click here for photos of the tractors at Chicagoland Speedway.

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