Dekker: Tinley Park businessman shares rare collection
By Julie Dekker Citizen Journalistemail@example.com August 15, 2013 1:04PM
Updated: September 19, 2013 9:23AM
There are a lot of people who collect things, people with a passion for a certain item or hobby. Then there is George Schaaf. The Tinley Park businessman has amassed a collection of more than 100 rare antique tractors, trucks and cars, the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else.
Many of Schaaf’s tractors are so rare that they are one of only two or three known to exist. For example, he has a Rumely experimental oil pull tractor from 1918 that was steered by reins, like a horse, instead of a steering wheel. Only two were ever made.
George Schaaf is the owner of Schaaf Window Co. in Tinley Park, which had its beginnings in Chicago’s Englewood community in 1959 where Schaaf worked alongside his father.
The company moved to Evergreen Park and then to Bridgeview before arriving in 2004 in Tinley Park, evolving from a glazing and glass company to windows and millwork.
As a teenager, Schaaf worked on a farm in the Palos area, where he learned a real appreciation for the tractors that made modern farming possible.
Schaaf started his collection in 1984 with a single tractor. His passion lies in the earliest tractors, and so most of his collection is made up of pre-1926 vehicles.
“I always admired what the mechanics of those early tractors did,” he said. “Everybody had their own idea of what would work. Very few of the early tractors would have the same type of engine.”
In the late 1920s, tractors became more similar, with the most efficient engines and cooling systems being discovered. But it’s the rare ones that Schaaf pursues.
His impressive collection is housed in the George Schaaf Truck and Tractor Museum in Frankfort. Most of the tractors, trucks and cars are fully restored to their original appearance. Along with his wife, June, Schaaf opened the museum in the 1980s as a charitable organization.
He collects his tractors from all over the United States and Canada, fully restores them, which can take up to a year or more, and auctions many of them off. His first two auctions raised $2.8 million each, which he then gave to charities that are dear to him.
Scaaf told me that he isn’t in it merely to buy and sell tractors — he sees a greater value in them.
Schaaf enjoys sharing his collection with people. He gave me quite an education on our tour. Some of my favorites were a 1927 Graham Brothers truck that carries a working calliope in its bed and a Diamond T truck that was the last vehicle with a right-sided steering column. In 1915, vehicles switched to steering columns on the left side. (I’ve yet to find out why).
When I asked Schaaf if he had a favorite, he said it would have to be the first big one that he bought back in the 1990s — a 1913 Pioneer tractor that took him a year to restore.
“That one I won’t sell,” he said.
The George Schaaf Truck and Tractor Museum, 22718 Wirth Lane, Frankfort, gives tours to individuals and small groups (20 or less) on an appointment basis. For more information, you can contact the museum at (815) 464-7395.
Schaaf’s collection is a fascinating and invaluable record of the history of tractors. I hope you get a chance to experience it.