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John Lapp is A-C fan in for the long haul PDF Print E-mail
Written by Heidi Clausen, Old Allis News editor   

As John Lapp’s 90th birthday approached last summer, he could think of nothing he’d rather do to celebrate it than drive an Allis-Chalmers D-21 along the Pacific Coast in the tractor caravan that was part of the Gathering of the Orange.

“Let’s just go to Washington and drive tractors, and that would be great,” John said he told his family. “I can eat ice cream and cake any time.”

John and his family, who hail from Holyoke, didn’t just bring one D-21 to the GOTO last summer in Lynden, Wash.; they brought a whole string of them.

It’s not hard to see that the D-21 is the Lapps’ favorite tractor. After all, they have 15 of them, including nine restored. Eight were displayed at the Washington GOTO.

John made the three-day, 1,600-mile trip through mountainous terrain to northwestern Washington with his five children, five grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and family friend Rodney Olivas.

Part of the large Lapp family entourage that attended the Gathering of the Orange last summer in Washington are pictured from left, front row, Curt Lapp, John Lapp, Justtin Muilenburg, Jim Lapp and Rodney Olivas; and back row, Linda and Todd Vaughn.

—Photo by Heidi Clausen

“This is the furthest we’ve gone,” said John’s son, Jim. “We were quite a spectacle going through the little towns.”

With numerous over-the-road truckers in the family, the Lapps know what it takes to prepare for and pull off a long-distance road trip of this magnitude.

Their caravan to Washington included eight D-21s, as well as a D-19, WC and 716H garden tractor, all loaded onto three flatbed semi-trailers. One trailer carried four tractors, while the others toted three. They hauled the garden tractor on a trailer towed behind the pickup that also transported all their luggage, plus two golf carts. They booked hotel rooms for the trip more than a year in advance, Jim said.

The Lapps have a system for loading and unloading all their tractors, which typically takes two to three hours. Curt usually drives the tractors, while John, whom family members call “the boss,” gives directions.

The Lapps don’t deny that it’s a lot of work gearing up for a trip like this, but it’s work they enjoy, and the fun-loving bunch shares a lot of laughs across the many miles.

“We work hard to have fun,” Jim said.

First D-21 worked sugar beet fields

John purchased the family’s first A-C tractor—a D-21, of course—in 1968. He paid $7,500 for the tractor and a four-bottom plow. The Lapps farmed with that tractor for quite a few years, mostly in their sugar beet fields, and competed in pulls with it at county fairs throughout their home region before retiring it.

The tractor then sat about 20 years, as the family expanded their acreage and switched over to more corn production. They bought bigger tractors so they could more efficiently farm their growing land base.

“One day, I said we ought to trade the D-21. I thought I was gonna have to pack my suitcase,” John said. “It was part of the family.”

They cleaned up the tractor and, as Jim puts it, it wasn’t long before their obsession with collecting D-21s “got carried away.”

John and his late wife, Marjorie, thought each of their five children should have a restored D-21. They completed that goal just three months before Marjorie died in a tractor rollover accident in November 2008.

John Lapp gets his Allis-Chalmers D-21 ready for the tractor parade at the Gathering of the Orange in Lynden, Wash.  

—Photo by Dave Clausen

John said his affinity for the D-21 comes from the fact that it’s a simple tractor to work on, with not a lot of tin work.

“It’s a very good-looking tractor,” adds his son-in-law, Todd Vaughn.

Along with their many D-21s, the Lapps have a D-19, WD-45 diesel, WC, two 220s and a 180, along with an assortment of John Deeres and a Massey. John owns most of the tractors, but Jim also owns a few, and the WC belongs to John’s grandson, Curt Lapp. Jim owns a D-21 Industrial in partnership with his sister, Linda Vaughn, and her husband, Todd.

“We just have fun collecting,” Jim said.

“It gives Jim and John something to do,” Todd said.

Missouri GOTO trip planned

While the Lapps have shown their tractors locally for some time, they embarked on their first long-distance show in 2011 with the trek to Hutchinson, Minn., for the Orange Spectacular. Their line of big rigs, loaded down heavy with D-21s, made for an impressive sight as they pulled into the show grounds at the Larry Karg farm.

Jim said they have gone to the annual antique tractor show in Clay Center, Neb., for several years—ever since the event featured A-C—and had heard good things about the Orange Spectacular, so decided it should be worth the trip.

“It just kind of escalated from there,” he said of their interest in traveling with tractors in tow.

At the Orange Spectacular, the Lapps met Darryl Krause, coordinator of the 2013 Washington GOTO, who encouraged them to bring their collection to his show. Krause offered his yard as a parking area for their rigs and surprised John with the birthday gift of a D-21 sign at Lynden.

The fact that so many members of the Lapp entourage are self-employed truckers makes it easier to pull off a long-distance tractor haul, Jim said. Olivas is an OTR trucker for John’s son, Richard. The Vaughns have their own trucking business, and Jim leases his truck to a company that’s been very lenient about giving him time off for tractor-show travel.

The Lapps have an impressive line-up of big orange iron at the Lynden, Wash., show last summer.

Along with displaying their own tractors, Jim said they learn a lot at the shows, including where to find parts they need for repair and restoration projects.

“It’s neat to see what everybody else has,” said Curt, who works in sales at the Baker Hughes oilfield-services company.

“We’ve met the finest people in the world,” John said.

After the Washington GOTO, the Lapps planned to bring two semi-loads of tractors to the Half-Century of Progress Show last summer in Rantoul, Ill. The Clay Center show also was on their calendar.

They’re already gearing up to make the approximately 500-mile drive to the GOTO this coming summer in Lathrop, Mo.

“We’re starting to make plans for that one,” Jim said.

The Lapps had six tractors as part of the Guinness World Record Antique Tractor Parade in 2012 at the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island, Neb. Jim said that trip inspired them to put winches in all their trailers. While loading his tractor, a man was killed when the back tire went off the loading ramp, causing the tractor to flip.

Tractors are like potato chips

Ever in search of additions to their collection of orange, the Lapps keep a watchful eye on auction listings, and with truckers in the family, they have lots of eyes scanning the countryside for new treasures, as well.

John jokes that when they stop will depend on “how many potato chips you eat. You always need one more.”

The Lapps laughingly recall the time they left John in charge of buying a D-21 at an auction, and, to their shock, he came home with a John Deere 40.

“He was bidding on the wrong tractor. We gotta really watch Grandpa,” Jim said. That accidental acquisition is in line with others awaiting restoration.

To keep peace in the shed, the Lapps say they park a truck down the center to keep the green tractors from fighting with the orange ones.

“We have a lot of fun,” Jim said.

The Lapps make a grand entrance at the Orange Spectacular/Gathering of the Orange in 2011 in Hutchinson, Minn., when they arrive, by surprise, with three semi-loads of mostly D-21s.

Holyoke Enterprise March 20, 2014