AGCO Tractors Have A Legacy at Homestead National Monument

The arrival of a new tractor is always an exciting event on any farm, but for Ken Deardorff it was an ordeal that lasted several weeks and involved airplanes, dog sleds and work in sub-zero temperatures.

By Diana Lambdin Meyer

Ken Deardorff

Ken Deardorff

In 1973, Ken Deardorff, originally from California, moved to a remote area in central Alaska, nearly 90 air miles south of McGrath, the closest village. There, about 200 miles northwest of Anchorage, he holds the unique title of America’s Last Homesteader. The Homestead Act of 1862, which gave away millions of acres of land in 30 states, remained active in Alaska until 1986.

In February 1976, Deardorff purchased a 1942 Allis-Chalmers 4-cylinder gasoline-powered tractor from a dealer in Palmer, Alaska. Getting it to his homestead required disassembling the machine, loading it on a de Havilland Beaver bush plane and landing it on the frozen Stony River. Upon arrival, Deardorff then loaded the parts on a toboggan and pulled them to a makeshift workshop under the trees near his cabin. Three plane loads and several weeks later, Deardorff had himself a tractor.

“It would have taken this much commotion to get any piece of equipment here, but I figured that little Allis-Chalmers had something going for it to last all of these years working in Alaska,” he says. In addition to farming—which Deardorff says is limited due to the area’s short growing season—he estimates he used the tractor more than 200 hours just to remove stumps and pull driftwood from the river’s edge, both of which he used for firewood.

Meanwhile, more than 3,500 miles away, the folks at Homestead National Monument (HNM) in Beatrice, Neb., reached out to America’s last homesteader to document his experience. Through those discussions, Deardorff agreed to assist getting the tractor to the national monument. Yet, in addition to overcoming a few other complications, the National Park Service would have to come to McGrath to get it.

“There was a major evolution of tools during the period of the Homestead Act, so this will be a dynamic addition to our collection,” says Mark Engler, superintendent of the HNM. “This particular tractor symbolizes the hard work and ingenuity of all homesteaders.”