A sibling rivalry helps restore the history in old iron

Nov 23, 2016  | 7 min  | Ep4214

Rivalries can be as simple as who gets the final drumstick at the Thanksgiving table or who will win the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn.

A good competition extends to the family farm as siblings try to top the other on the renovation of old pieces of family history – classic tractors. 

On the outskirts of Dixon, Iowa the Miller Family farm is home to an exceptional treasure of tractors. It began as most tractor hobbies start. In a way to honor his father, Kevin Miller began restoring the family machines. Little did he know the love of restoring would spread like wildfire through his children, producing a collection of unmatched, one of kind tractors fueled by “friendly” sibling rivalry.

Kevin Miller’s love of tractor’s started before he could say the word. Watching his father work on these mechanized beasts in his workshop, his eye was on the prized Oliver 88, the iron pen that started writing the Miller’s agricultural story.

Kevin Miller, Dixon, Iowa, “As a small child I loved tractors and I pestered my parents for years, when can I drive that Oliver 88 by myself? And I finally got an answer that I could start driving the tractor when I turned 10. And I just could not wait. It was amazing. I'm big enough to drive it and I love driving it. “


When Miller entered 4H, he was firmly set on restoring his first tractor. One tractor turned into three in a short period of time. But after those were done, his passion for restoring and collecting faded. One tractor was put to work on the farm. The other two were parked in a shed and forgotten. He eventually sold all three. While Miller’s passion for restoration faded, it did not fade away completely. With the birth of his son, the drive to fix old tractors fired right back up.

Kevin Miller, Dixon, Iowa, “When I had my first son born and then he grew up to be in 4-H I started him on it because I loved it. And so he started it and did one tractor and then he liked it so then that progressed to the next one and my daughter thought she was missing out on something and so she got a tractor and pretty soon it was a family affair.


 Fast forward a few years and Miller is very proud of his Tractor Restoring Trifecta. His love of the hobby is reflected in his daughter Meghan and sons Jacob and Patrick.

Through grueling hours in the shop, all three have found their favorite make and model of tractor. Patrick is a Minnie man, favoring the Energy Yellow painted machines that are known for their reliability.

Patrick Miller, Dixon, Iowa “This is Prairie Gold number two technically. There is five colors that Minneapolis-Moline would have used. This would be the second one, Prairie Gold number two. Prairie Gold number one was only used a couple of years in the late '30s if I remember right. Prairie Gold number three is a lot orangier than that.”


For Meghan, her diverse restoration resume is long, but when asked about her favorite tractor color, she is a daddy’s girl.

Meghan Miller, Dixon, Iowa, “My dad and I both favor red. I've always liked the International. I started out with a 1066 for my first tractor as an International and then I moved to a 1566 and then for my last project as a 21-year-old at the Fair I wanted to do the 1456. That was like my dream tractor over the years but we couldn't find one or it was too far away or whatever. But my dad made sure to get me the tractor that I wanted for my last year. So it was pretty cool to get that tractor and I got reserve grand champion at the Iowa State Fair with that one and that was the highest award that I had gotten by myself on a tractor ever.”


Kevin noticed his daughter’s desire to be working with the boys at an early age.

Kevin Miller, Dixon, Iowa, “She at the beginning of her restoration career, I'll put it that way, she restored my dad's Oliver and a John Deere and she did a Case with her brother but she was always the International girl and she got one after a couple of years, she just loved the International. Her favorite color is red like mine and so she wanted a red tractor. And I think she liked the gold contrast with the red. So we always call her the International girl and I think it was just that gold contrast she liked so well and that's why she wanted one.


Meghan Miller, Dixon, Ia, “They paint the whole hood gold and then when they wanted to actually sell them they would send them back of the factory and paint the outside red, but leave the underside gold. So that's how you know you've got a gold demonstrator. So these three tractors are all golds.”


For Jacob, green is the color of his hobby, but it has nothing to do with Antlers. And like his older siblings perfection is the key. Not just the tractor, but every part of its story as well.

Jacob Miller, Dixon, Ia, “This one of the 1550 Highcrop diesel there was not many made of them because it's such a small tractor and 1550 + 1555 diesels as it is really hard to find and um well that's really unique about this one is a high crop factor is that it's a row crop but it’s it as a lift kit on it so it has a drops on the back so a chain goes around the bottom which hooks up to a different axle which boots the tractor up in the air it also has a row crop front end but it also the back support on it so that I can support the longer knee so it can sit higher in the air so it's kind of a mixture between a high crop and a row crop together.


Despite their differences in color preference, the Tractor Trifecta all agree that hunting down and finding the rare and unique machines is the best part of collecting. And the more rare, the better.

Jacob Miller, Dixon, Iowa, “This tractor is a 1955 Heritage, obviously it's a little different from the rest of the Olivers you see around here because it's red, white and blue. But this one is actually only one of one ever made. We got it home, it had five gallons of water in the engine…it looked like it got beat to death. I built it all the way back up, brought it to the State Fair, competed with it and luckily won first in my class. So it means a lot to me.”


And what means a lot to Jacob means even more to an extremely proud father.

Kevin Miller, Dixon, Iowa, “Very proud of them. All these tractors in here there's only a couple that they didn't do that we might have purchased from somebody else that wanted to move them on, there was only a couple of those and then there's a few in here that are not restored that just part of our scheme that we're collecting. But the rest of them, Patrick, Megan and Jacob all did and they put a lot of sweat in them and I'm not saying there wasn't some bickering but then they'll pull together and help support each other and for them to do all that it is quite gratifying for my wife and I and just a family deal.”

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