Whatever you do, don’t ever call it a tractor seat. Those who share an affinity for those parts of antique tractors and other rolling iron upon which a farmer rests their derriere know the proper term is “implement seat,” and they’ve been supporting farmers for almost two centuries.
Arguably a niche hobby, for those who love collecting implement seats it’s a true passion.
Implement seats have been around since the 1850s when someone figured out it would be easier to sit directly on a horse-drawn farm implement like a plow, seeder or harrow rather than holding the horses’ reins and walking behind it and the implement. When tractors began taking the place of draft animals on the farms, seats were a natural part of those early and subsequent designs.
Part of farming history now a collectable
The seats represent the history and tradition of farming in this country, according to northern Maine vintage tractor collector Kris Malmborg.
“As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing more historical than an old tractor seat,” Malmborg said. “They are the history of the industry with the [company] names stamped right into them so they were as much for advertising as they were for work.”
Malmborg owns 10 vintage tractors and dearly wishes he had more seats than just the ones attached to his old iron.
“Every [implement] seat I have is attached to one of those tractors,” he said. “If I knew then what I know now, I would have grabbed every seat I ever saw that had been tossed on an old rock pile or left in an old barn.”
But those rock piles and barns have been scoured clean by avid collectors over the years who have turned those seats into everything from wall art to bar stools.
There are Facebook groups and clubs like The Cast Iron Seat Collectors Association devoted to all things implement seats. Across the country at state fairs, local flea markets and tractor pulls you will find people comparing notes on seats and looking for one more to add to their collections.
And they will pay top dollar with the most sought after and rare examples. Around 1990 a seat manufactured by Evans Equipment in the late 1800s and with the word “SUNRISE” in open letters on it went for $7,000.
Today pressed steel seats go for between $10 and $75 depending on brand and condition. The more sought after cast iron seats can start at $75 and run into the thousands.
Malmborg understands that attraction to collect them, at any cost.
“Just look at the design features at the old cast iron seats,” he said. “They are from a time when even the old cast iron cogs and gears had swirls and designs cast right into them [and] I love how those old seats tell a story about the old days of farming.”
From humble beginnings
According to an online article in Farm Collector Newsletter, companies began with plain board seats in the early 1850s and ushered what has been called “the technological war of tushy cushioning.”
By the mid-1850s, cast iron support was being added to the wooden seats and in the early 1860s, the seats were being made entirely of cast iron. But the innovations did not stop there. The early molded cast iron seats were solid with no holes for ventilation or drainage. Depending on what the weather was doing at the time, that left the farmer sitting in water and on a seat that was either too hot or too cold.
So companies soon began designing seats with holes or slits into the seats and it was not long after that the companies began using those ventilation and drainage cutouts as ways to work their brand names into the seat.
In many ways, those seats were a form of agrarian art, according to one collector in Ohio, because someone had to design and carve the original wood mold from which the seat was cast.
Function over comfort
But even with the cutouts that allowed rain to drain out and provided ventilation, Malmborg pointed out there was nothing comfortable about the old seats, especially when compared to modern padded seats.
Every old tractor seat, according to Malmborg, tells a story of a farmer who loved his work enough to spend all day bouncing around on those hard surfaces.
“I think back to my grandfather and he had this old Massey Harris tractor he used on the farm,” Malmborg said. “I remember watching him walk from the house to the tractor in the morning and back that evening carrying a pillow wrapped in a plastic garbage bag.”
The pillow, Malmborg said, was for padding and the garbage bag to keep that padding clean and dry. The pillow may be long gone, but that early mid-1900s tractor is still alive and well.
“Of course it still runs,” Malmborg said with a laugh. “It’s an old tractor — they were built to run.”