The first time I met the late Darius Harms (1937-2016), he didn’t have much to say. In fact, during the entire conversation with me he said all of five words.
Set the wayback machine to summer 2012. I was locating machines to photograph for my book, Red Tractors 1958–2013, and someone told me Darius Harms had an International 7288 and gave me his phone number.
Now I should have known Darius. He’s the organizer behind the Half Century of Farm Progress Show held in Rantoul, Illinois every other year. That show has become arguably the biggest farm show in the nation, and I should have known about Darius. But I didn’t. All I knew was he had an extremely rare tractor.
I called the number I was given, and Darius picked up.
“Hello.” (One word.)
Darius’ voice was deep, gravelly and full of quiet power—like an idling diesel engine.
I told Darius, who I was and what I was doing and that I understood he had a 7288.
“Yep.” (One word.)
I asked if I could stop in to take an image, and described the settings I was seeking.
“Yes, that’s fine.” (Three words for a total of five.)
And he hung up.
On another call, I was able to coax another 10 or so words out of him. Six of those ten words were his address.
Most of the tractor collectors I meet are talkative. They love to talk about their tractors, and most of ‘em are retired, so they can about finish off your day on the phone.
When I arrived at Darius’ farm in Illinois, it was late in the day and late in my trip. I’d been on the road for a couple of weeks. I love making pictures but two weeks of 5 am starts and 10 pm finishes and long days and crappy hotel rooms can wear even the most enthusiastic person right down to nothing. On this particular day, I was flat-out beat and really looking forward to maybe getting done early enough to sit down for an evening meal for a change.
I pulled into Darius’ yard, and there was not a 7288 to be seen.
There was a kid in the yard who introduced himself as “Austin.” He told me Darius would be along shortly.
And shortly enough, a golf cart emerged with Darius at the wheel.
Now as powerful as Darius’ voice is, his presence is greater. He was a big man, in every sense of that word. There was a gravitas to him, a feeling that when he moved the earth had no choice but to come along as well.
He moved slow and ponderously, and spoke deliberately.
He showed me a few tractors in his sheds. A few were interesting, and all of them were dirty. Not just a tad dusty—this was dirty as in 20 years of dust and bird poop dirty.
Not one of them was a 7288. I was wondering if I had been had.
He finally said—in a very few words—that the tractor was over at his ancestral farm.
So we drove over there.
There sat two tractors. One was the 7288, as big and beautiful and clean as I might have hoped.
The other tractor was Max Armstrong’s 560.
I maybe had missed knowing Darius, but I hadn’t missed Max. He is a long-time Chicago radio announcer, and his beautifully-restored 560 is a great story in and of itself. A group of FFA kids did the work, and the machine had been used on Max's family farm.
So I shot the 560 . . .
. . . and took some images of the 7288.
And then Darius asked what else I might want to photograph.
“I’ve got a black-stripe 1568,” he said.
Now bear in mind that after two weeks of shooting, what I really wanted to do at that time was go to bed. But there aren’t many black stripe tractors. They were built from November 1975 into 1976 featured the distinctive black stripe graphic seen on the front of this 1568. The models were the 766, 966, 1066, 1466, 1566, and 1568, and they were somewhat of a transitional model as they had some of the features that would be debuted on the 86 series tractors introduced in 1977. Incidentally, industrial designer Gregg Montgomery’s first assignment for IH was drawing that black stripe.
So as much as I wanted just to go back to my hotel room and crash, I knew I had better go photograph the black stripe. So I jumped in my truck and followed Austin and Darius out to another farm. Austin opened a barn door and there the 1568 was . . . totally covered in rolls of wire, empty blue fuel drums, and about two inches of dust.
So Austin and I went to work . . . well, mostly Austin went to work . . . and made enough room to make a photo. We also cleaned the machine up as best we could. We found a bucket and a few wet rags and cleaned off some of the dust.
So I shot the photo below.
And the machine looks great. I thought to myself, I can finally go to bed!
That is until Darius said, “Did you know that I have tractors in an abandoned air force hangar?”
“No,” I answered. I love industrial settings. I dream about wide-open spaces in cool old buildings with rusty beams and peeling paint. An abandoned air force hangar?
No sleep for me!
So we drove over to Chanute Air Force base. And discovered it wasn’t just a hangar, but a hangar big enough to park a B-52. With huge beautiful glass doors on the front.
I couldn’t turn THAT down. You can hear me tell Max Armstrong that story here.
You can see several images I made that night below.
The last photo was shot late in the night. I saw Austin just a few weeks ago while shooting for Red 4WD Tractors (September 2017), and he reminded me that I kept him up half the night helping me move tractors until my Speedotron strobe battery died.
I may have been beat, but shooting tractors in a giant abandoned hangar is Christmas in a box as far as I’m concerned!
This post is dedicated to the memory of Darius Harms (1937–2016), who was the force of nature behind the Half Century of Farm Progress Show held in Rantoul, Illinois.
Godspeed to a good man.