Kenny Palmer’s interest in tractors began when he was only 7
This story really begins with the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. It was a time of severe droughts and terrible dust storms that killed people, livestock and crops with Oklahoma being one of the states most affected.
Farmer Milt Palmer and his family were forced by the economic disaster to move to Miami, Okla. Milt purchased 13 acres and a wooden cabin so small the door opened out. Not afraid of hard work, he instilled that ethic in his children, Kenny and Chester, so that the farm survived and slowly grew.
Truth was Milt loved to farm but hated working on equipment or paying somebody else to do so. When Kenny was 7, a man came to fix their tractor.
“My dad told me to watch and learn so I could do it the next time, and I did. In fact, I watched and learned it many times, which became the foundation for everything I learned later about all kinds of equipment and repair,” Kenny said.
When Kenny was 14, his father’s tractor was getting old. Milt needed a new one but couldn’t afford it. Kenny and his brother Chester had been going with their father to look at tractors since they were toddlers so they knew and understood the process. They got money together and went to see Wilbur Panel, who knew the young men and took them seriously. Wilbur liked and respected the family and consequently sold the boys a tractor for two-thirds of the regular price. They wanted to have a tractor for their father to use, though they retained ownership.
Around the same time, Kenny really liked sports and wanted to play football for his school’s team. Milt told him that was just fine but the cattle always came first. This meant Kenny was always late to practice or sometimes didn’t make it at all. His coach was not at all sympathetic. The Wyandotte superintendent of schools at the time, Willis Shell, understood Kenny’s plight and liked the plucky youngster. After finding Kenny in detention for being late to practice, the superintendent pulled Kenny out of detention and set him down near his coach’s office while he and the coach had a “discussion.”
Kenny, now 75, smiled, shook his head and said, “Coach hated it, but had to cut me slack and play me because that’s what the superintendent demanded.”
When in high school, Kenny also worked for neighboring farmers and was especially appreciated for his ability to repair equipment. Later, he worked with a construction company and began accumulating universal use and repair knowledge that grew even more when he joined the Marines and became a Seabee. During his time in Vietnam, he helped build bridges and load Fat Albert, a large cargo plane that could hold three school buses deep and two across. The Air Force needed construction for airfields and the Seabees needed transportation so working together made sense. Subsequently, Kenny taught military members how to use and repair equipment for 20 years while in the reserves.
Early on, Kenny and his future wife Shirley met in Miami. Shirley followed a path similar to Kenny’s and served as a Navy nurse, including during Desert Storm where she was one of the oldest nurses. During that deployment, Shirley was injured and was discharged.
Through the years Kenny has traveled across country, but “no further west than California” to go to shows, always keeping an eye out for a good buy on an old tractor, especially those that couldn’t run. One benefit of his traveling to California was being able to find and send supply parts for tractor enthusiasts there. Kenny appreciates all brands and has approximately 20 Moline Minneapolis tractors with eight still in use in addition to others brands including Farmalls, John Deeres and Fords. His collection of used heavy equipment is just as large.
An important highlight of Kenny’s collection is a terracing plow originally built for managing future water flow to ponds during the Dust Bowl. It consists of a plowshare with an auger behind it. The plowshare carves a furrow with the auger distributing the dirt away from furrow. A local man had one in serious disrepair. Kenny wanted the plow for many years. The first owner gave it to someone else who began restoring it and then passed. His widow called Kenny and said he could have the plow because that’s what her husband wanted. Kenny went to see her and asked what she wanted for it. She said all she wanted was money for the new tires her husband had purchased but never put on the plow.
“Most people don’t even know what that plow is for, and I only know of mine and one other,” Kenny said. “They are extremely rare.”
Ten years ago, Kenny joined a tractor club called Farm Echoes of Yesteryear Branch 123. He had many friends who belonged and were also traveling and showing their tractors. The club has 35 members with groups from six to 20 attending fairs in Miami, as well as Columbus and Pittsburgh, Kan. While the group is getting older, the youngest member is 22 with other members bringing their children and grandchildren as a way of solidifying the future of the club.
Kenny has always been a very busy man. To this day, he raises commercial cattle and travels to shows and sales. He fixes equipment, restores tractors, installs fiberoptics, hauls rock and lays asphalt. However, he always had time for his children. When his sons were toddlers, he piled them in the truck cab and went searching back lots for tractors to fix and sell or trade. Those trips made an impact with equipment becoming the family business. Oldest son Jason and twins Lewis and Larry each have a service truck and are following in their father’s footsteps. Kenny also has three granddaughters and six grandsons, with grandson Brian taking over Kenny’s cattle operation when Kenny became ill last fall.
“I am blessed and vey appreciative of my family and the life I live,” Kenny said. “I need to get back to fixing a Moline Minneapolis U 9952 so I can show it. I am always behind in restoration.”