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An affection for rare iron

Irvin Parsons likes rare iron. “You don’t get more rare than an OMC,” the Burden, Kansan claims.

Parsons’ rare red tractors were built in Salina, Kansas, by Ostenberg Manufacturing Co. following World War II when demand for tractors skyrocketed. Made to compete with a Farmall M or a John Deere A, OMCs were powered by six-cylinder flathead Chrysler engines.

The company’s first tractor was fashioned in 1938 using a rebuilt model A engine. It then made a more substantial tractor following World War II.

Unlike most tractors of that time, OMC didn’t have standard models or serial numbers. Instead, they were ordered with a customer’s choice of options (belt pulley, live hydraulics, PTO, wide front, narrow front) for about $1,600.

two of only a dozen

This unusual line of tractors was short-lived.  Estimates conclude that between 50 and 100 OMCs were assembled. Only a dozen of the tractors survive today.

Parsons has two.

“I bought my first OMC from the David Linnebur estate auction in 2008. Linnebur, a tractor restorer from Derby, Kansas, was a fellow member of the K&O Steam and Gas Engine Club,” he explains. “That OMC was about 80% to 90% restored, so I didn’t have much work to do.”

Irvin Parsons' OMC 4-bottom
Eugene Blake

Parsons says that particular tractor was built in 1952 or 1953 and marketed as a four-bottom plow tractor. Like other Chrysler-powered tractors of this time, it employed a Fluid Drive, which featured fluid coupling between the engine and the clutch. This adds to the tractor’s rarity.

new mexican tractor

Irvin Parsons' OMC 3-bottom
Eugene Blake

“My second OMC came from Albuquerque, New Mexico, fully restored by the owner who had purchased it somewhere in Oklahoma,” Parsons recalls. “It’s a little older, probably built about 1950, and it was marketed as a three-bottom plow tractor. It has a conventional five-speed transmission.”

An interesting feature of OMC tractors, Parsons says, is that their rear axle sits above the center of the wheel hub. An internal spur gear is used to gear it down. 

“They’ll still do about 25 mph in road gear. Probably because of their limited production, they were never tested at the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory,” he says.

The two OMCs are just a small part of Parsons’ antique tractor collection. Actually, he is better known as an Allis enthusiast by fellow K&O club members.  “Dad bought an Allis-Chalmers UC and an All-Crop Harvester in 1937. We’ve run Allises ever since,” he says.

Again, Parsons tends toward the rare even when it comes to a common make of tractors like Allis-Chalmers. He has a model 10-18 in his fleet. Fewer than 1,400 of this tractor were made and only 14 exist today.

other rare orange iron

Parsons also has a 1920 Allis 6-12 with front-wheel drive and articulated steering. Designed to pull horse-drawn equipment, it is a rare beast.

Other orange iron in his collection includes the usual suspects: models UC, RC, A, U, WF, IB, B (Waukesha), WD, and WD-45. The line, not surprisingly, is finished out with one of the last A-C crawlers, a massive 300-hp. model 21C made in 1979.

A walk through Parsons’ farm with its boneyard and storage sheds leaves no doubt about what he’ll be doing in retirement. At least, as long as there’s another rare tractor out there to be found and restored – be it red, orange, or any other color. 

Editor’s note: The OMC four-bottom plow tractor employed a six-cylinder Chrysler industrial motor with a New Process truck transmission and Timken rear axle. Production was about one tractor per week. A fire in 1954 destroyed the OMC factory. 

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