A few inches saved a beloved fam­ily trac­tor from a dev­as­tat­ing tor­nado.


IN 1943, WHEN OUR Oliver 70 trac­tor rolled off the assem­bly line, there was no telling what kind of life it would lead. My grand­fa­ther Emil Ebinger was rent­ing a 120-acre grain and live­stock farm near Wash­ing­ton, Illi­nois, and he used the Oliver 70 to raise corn, oats and hay.

By 1957, my grand­fa­ther had saved enough money to pur­chase a farm in Dahlgren, Illi­nois. He trucked the Oliver south to Wayne County, where he used it to grind cat­tle feed, spray fencerows and haul baled hay. In the fall, it sported a two-row mounted picker.

My grand­fa­ther’s health de­te­ri­o­rated, and he re­luc­tantly sched­uled a ma­chin­ery auc­tion in 1970.

The Oliver was listed on the sale bill, but when sale day came, my grand­fa­ther couldn’t bear to part with it. Af­ter the sale, he handed the keys to his grand­son, my brother, Ran­dall Bally.

Randy hauled the Oliver back north to his grain farm in Wood­ford County, where it was a chore trac­tor. Sev­eral years later, Randy parked it between two grain trucks in his old con­verted live­stock barn. It sat there qui­etly, al­most for­got­ten, un­til Novem­ber 17, 2013.

On that Sun­day, much of Wash­ing­ton, Illi­nois, blew away in an EF-4 tor­nado. The fun­nel cloud con­tin­ued north­east across ru­ral Wood­ford County, in a di­rect path to Randy’s farm.

Af­ter the tor­nado, the old live­stock barn was ly­ing in a big heap, but amaz­ingly, most of the farm ma­chin­ery was still sit­ting where Randy had parked it. The huge barn rafters had come down di­rectly on the two trucks parked on ei­ther side of the

Oliver. They missed the trac­tor’s fend­ers and hood by inches; only its ex­haust pipe was dam­aged by fall­ing de­bris.

Dur­ing cleanup, my brother gave the Oliver to his nephew, my son, Keith, who tore apart the en­gine, ground the valves and re­placed the rings. He found a new seat and new rear tires, and then he had the trac­tor pro­fes­sion­ally painted.

The Oliver won’t be asked to work any­more.

And if things go as planned, own­er­ship will some­day be trans­ferred to Keith’s nephew, Gre­gory, Emil’s great-great grand­son—the fifth gen­er­a­tion to own the lucky lit­tle Oliver.

Joy Bally Gradert’s son Keith com­pletely re­stored the 1943 Oliver 70. The Oliver 70 be­fore ren­o­va­tion

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