For the Althaus brothers of Sublette, Illinois, family has always come first. But a love for collecting vintage farm equipment — especially John Deere tractors and implements is a close second.
“Sometimes I go to tractor sales and something will jump on my trailer,” Bill Althaus admits. Bob, Bill’s dad, just shakes his head. “He does everything but sell. It seems the Althaus family never throws anything away,” he says.
For that, they can all blame Great Uncle Everett. Everett Althaus never married or had children of his own, but he passed on his passion for history and farm equipment to his great nephews. “He’d take us to threshing shows when we were kids,” Bill Althaus remembers. “It kind of all rubbed off on us.”
Inspired by Everett, the Althaus family today owns some 60 vintage John Deere tractors and implements, but their prized possession is a 1918 Waterloo Boy tractor that rolled off the assembly line just one week before Deere & Company acquired the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company on March 14, 1918.
It was Everett’s favorite piece, but it wasn’t his first Waterloo Boy.
Brothers Bill and Steve are the sixth generation of Althaus farmers in Illinois, a lineage begun by their great-great-great grandfather Peter Althaus, who immigrated from Germany in 1857. Everett was their grandfather’s brother.
Great Uncle Everett
Everett’s fascination with tractors began as a young boy, when his family sold its draft horses and bought its first tractor, a 1920 Waterloo Boy, from a nearby dealer for $1,150. According to Bill Althaus, Everett vividly remembered catching a glimpse of the tractor’s yellow spokes out the back door of his one room schoolhouse, on its way to the Althaus farm. “He told me the schoolmarm caught him and gave him hell,” Bill Althaus says with a smile. “He couldn’t wait to get home to see that tractor.”
Years later, during World War II, and over Everett’s objections, the family drove the Waterloo Boy to the junk yard as part of a scrap metal drive to support the war effort. “Everett didn’t want to see it go, but he got overruled by his father and brothers. He was bound and determined to own another one someday,” said Steve Althaus. That day finally came in 1982, when Everett purchased the 1918 model.
After restoring the Waterloo Boy for the first time in 1983, the Althaus family enjoyed showing it off at various tractor shows, reunions, and parades, even though they later learned the engine should have been painted red, not green.
“It was always my intention when it turned 100 to restore it properly,” said Steve Althaus.
Meet the Althaus Family
Meet the Althaus Family
When Alex Leffelman married into the Althaus family four years ago, he’d already proven himself as a skilled restorer. “I like to see something go from old to new, or as they say around here, ‘going from having its work shoes on, to all nice and pretty,’” he said.
Leffelman’s first restoration project was his grandfather’s Farmall H in 2012. He’s since lost track of the number of tractors he’s restored, but estimates it’s 30 to 40. “The equipment comes in here looking pretty bad, but then you see the owner’s face after we’re done and it’s pretty cool — that’s my favorite part of it all,” he said.
The Waterloo Boy’s restoration presented special challenges, including square-headed nuts and bolts.
“I was worried they could break after all these years when we started taking everything apart, but after soaking them in some John Deere multipurpose lubricant and heating them with a torch, they came out good,” Leffelman said.
With Steve Althaus’ help, Leffelman began restoration work in January 2018. The first step, he said, was to take a lot of pictures “so I remember where everything goes.”
After de-greasing and a thorough pressure wash, the two men started dismantling the tractor piece by piece. That included meticulous cleaning of the brass carburetor components before polishing and spraying them with a polyurethane clear coat. Sandblasting came next, then priming and painting.
In all, the Waterloo Boy’s centennial birthday makeover took about a month.
“I was happy with it,” Leffelman said, “but Steve was grinning ear to ear. I could tell it meant a lot to him.”
So now what? “I’ll just walk by it and look at it, start it up once in a while, and enjoy it,” Steve Althaus said. As for Alex: “I’m ready for the next one to come in and get going on it. I don’t like to sit still.”
And what would Great Uncle Everett, who died in 2002, have to say about his beloved tractor’s facelift?
“Our great uncle would be tickled to know we’ve restored his Waterloo Boy. He’d be proud as could be,” said Bill Althaus. “The Waterloo Boy has always been pretty special to us.”