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August 15, 2013

Man's unique tractor has special history

By Bera Dunau Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — A piece of local and family history is on display at the Delaware County Fair this year.

In the late 1920s, Bowman H. Owen took a 1918 Chevrolet truck and converted it into a tractor by shortening the frame and adding three transmissions.

Today, this tractor is owned by Owen’s son, Bowman G. Owen, who is displaying it this year at the Delaware County Fair.

Born on Aug. 14, 1899, Bowman H. Owen farmed in Lew Beach near the headwaters of the Beaver Kill. He also served as the caretaker for the Balsam Lake property until 1969.

On how his father was able to build the tractor, Owen said, “I can’t figure out how he knew how to build it. It’s all put together the hard way.”

The tractor also has a power-driven mower, something that longtime Owen family friend and tractor aficionado Mark Wilbur says was very innovative for the late 20s.

“In a lot of ways, he (Bowman H. Owen) was ahead of his time.”

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the tractor is that its conversion was accomplished entirely without power tools or access to electricity.

Speaking of the tools his father used, Owen said, “It was all done with ... hacksaw, hammer and drills, hand drills.”

Owen’s father also had a special fondness for the Delaware County Fair.

The printing of a letter to the editor in a local publication describing the two-day trip his family took by horse and wagon the first time Owen visited the fair in 1906 was his last request. He died in 1982.

“He wouldn’t miss this fair for nothing,” said Owen.

Owen also recalled his father taking him and his sister to the fair, where they were each given $5.

“We could ride everything,” said Owen. “Five dollars would last all day.”

Owen, his wife, Jeannette, his brother, his sister, his brother-in-law and his nephew gathered at the fair Wednesday, Bowman H. Owen’s birthday, to honor his memory. It is also in honor of this memory that Owen’s tractor is being displayed.

Owen inherited the tractor from his father in the early 1970s, and he last ran it in 1973. Since then it has been housed in his garage in Livingston Manor.

Although Mark Wilbur had been friends with the Owens for 25 to 30 years, he didn’t know of the tractor’s existence until last December. It was after he stumbled upon it in Owen’s garage that plans to exhibit the tractor were set into motion.

It is the intention of Owen that the tractor will continue to be exhibited at the Delaware County Fair for years to come.

When asked if it was the oldest tractor he’d ever seen, Wilbur said, “It’s the oldest one on the grounds here in our display right now.”

The tractor hasn’t run since the 1970s because it needs a new distributor, specifically for a 1929 or ‘30 four-cylinder Chevrolet. Both Owen and Wilbur are confident, however, that it will run if this part is found.

“If you could actually see it working, you’d be amazed,” said Owen.

Asked about the search for the part Wilbur said, “I’m really confident. I’ve got three leads that we’re pursuing. Hopefully next year instead of pulling it off the trailer we’ll drive it off.”