Tom Renner, a St. Clair County Farm Bureau member from Belleville, has an undeniable passion for farming and collecting machinery and antiques.
So much so, he lives in a portion of his majestic farm museum spread out among several buildings on the family farm, located near the intersection of Illinois Routes 161/158.
“You hear people say they’re ‘living the dream,’” Renner said. “Well, I live in mine. I live in a museum.”
Renner and his son, Jake, farm several thousand acres and operate a John Deere dealership, Shiloh Valley Equipment, Tom purchased in the early 1970s.
And, through all the years in agriculture, Tom pieced together a massive collection of vintage tractors, implements, tools and antique household items, among other historic relics. Jake developed a similar passion for the industry’s history and added significantly to the extensive collection over the years.
“This is what I do,” Tom said. “If I’ve got five minutes of time, I work on tractors and antiques.”
So, how many pieces are in the collection?
“People ask me that all the time,” said Tom, who doesn’t care as much about the count as he does the story behind each piece of equipment. “We’re John Deere dealers, but we collect everything. I have several hundred tractors. The thing I like about all these (vintage) tractors is there’s no plastic.”
The Renners have an impressive collection of four-wheel drive tractors, including rare John Deere WA-14 and WA-17 models and an 8020 with an eight-bottom plow, along with a Big Bud, Versatile and Steiger ST 450 Tiger among many others.
The collection also includes an impressive group of antique wagons and carriages, including two Conestoga wagons used during westward expansion, a Standard Oil wagon from 1904, rural delivery mail wagons from the turn of the previous century and a Bachelor’s Brougham New York Taxi from 1903.
Two of Tom’s favorite wagons have ties to his farm and area. He once purchased a two-tier box wagon and during the refurbishing process revealed from the writing on the back it originated in Belleville.
“I found that wagon 300 miles away,” he said. “It’s like it needed to come home.”
He also owns his great, great grandfather’s wagon used in the 1800s.
“It made many trips to the Soulard Market (in St. Louis),” Tom said. “They grew and sold a lot of potatoes.”
Tom also owns a number of John Deere tractors with serial numbers below 100. But perhaps one of the most special is a 4020 diesel Tom’s father purchased in 1967 that Jake recently found, brought back to the farm and restored.
“I’ve got a guy who comes by once a year from North Carolina. He was stationed at (nearby) Scott Air Force Base in the 1960s,” Jake said. “He came by the farm back then and grandpa had a new 4010 and he asked for a job. He ended up working six to seven years for grandpa, during which time grandpa purchased the 4020. He asked what happened to those tractors.”
The 4010 was scrapped, but Jake recalled the 4020 was sold to a farmer about an hour south, who previously rented the ground from the elder Renner.
“I asked if he would sell it and he said ‘no, I’m going to fix it up,’” Jake said. “He called back two hours later and said ‘I’m not going to sell it. I’m going to give it to you. Your grandparents were good to me.’ It was extremely rough, but we got it all put back together (in 2017).”
One could spend a day touring the tractor collection, but Tom also has hundreds of implements, including a collection of walking plows, corn shellers, threshing machines, copper stills, manual clothes washers, potato planters and cotton strippers.
The museum also features a general store, patterned after the Deadwood Hotel and Saloon, which has items from the actual hotel and a stagecoach and other props used in the Deadwood movie.