The brick was brought to the surface when the ground was tilled. Clearly legible on it were the words, MEXICO Mo EMPIRE. It was a remnant of the railroad tower that once stood where the C&EI and Big Four railroads intersected at Bronson, Illinois. It traveled more than two hundred miles by rail to reach Bronson. When the C&EI was taken out at Bronson, well over a half century ago, the tower was torn down. The land reverted back to the farm at a minimal cost. Occasionally bits of the past turn up in the field. At one time the company that made the brick in Missouri employed 2000 people. Now it and the railroad that once crossed the field have been relegated to the past.

Another visitor also poked its head up in the same field this spring. It was a boulder left behind by the glaciers when they marched into what would one day be Illinois. That event took place thousands of years ago. A number of the boulder’s relatives have made an appearance over the years and have been removed from the fields. Dan Owens brought his backhoe to the farm to dig the boulder out. There was a place for it to be reunited with its ancestors at the farmstead.

I have known Danny about as long as I have known anyone, and in his youth he worked on the farm. That is when he met and operated the smooth running Oliver tractors my father owned. Those old machines cast a spell over Danny and he has been in love with Oliver tractors from that day forth.

The Oliver Company already had a rich history when Danny came into contact with the tractors more than fifty years ago. Jim Oliver founded the company in 1857 when he received a patent for a chilled iron plow. The first tractors were manufactured after his son took over the company in the next century. The last Oliver rolled off the assembly line in 1976.

My older brother Harold let me begin driving an Oliver as soon as I could push the pedals down. On one occasion I let the neighbor girl make a few rounds when I was disking a field. It only seemed fair to let her experience the ease of driving an Oliver. I thought she did fine except for getting into the fence a bit on one turn. When Harold was repairing the fence he suggested it would be safer in the future if she just rode her bike.

Danny reminisced about those Oliver tractors as we rehashed old times. He can tell you about anything you want to know about the tractors, especially the models from the1940s and 50s. He is a fine mechanic and restorer and has resurrected long dead Olivers he has tracked down. If they are anything more than a pile of rust, he can bring them back.

After he dug the ice age gift out and deposited it next to one of its stone sisters at the farmstead he shut off his tractor and pointed to the field south of the barn. “That’s the field I worked in,” he said “ a long time ago.” Then he had a question. “Why didn’t you hang on to one of those tractors?”

Then he drove away, my friend Danny Owens, the man who loves and cares for Olivers.

Donald Richter’s column appears every other week in the Commercial-News. He is a member of the Vermilion County Museum Board.

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