Everyone has a story, but some stories are more interesting than others. In fact, the stories behind this year’s crop of Extraordinary People will leave you fascinated.
A bad ticker made George Lininger quit his beloved Springport, Michigan farm, but the tractors, crops, and livestock never left him.
“I’ve had three serious heart attacks,” George says. “I pretty near didn’t get out of the last one. The doctor said, ‘You need to go and call the auctioneer.’ It wasn’t worth dying for. So, I got out, even though it wasn’t a good time to sell.”
You would too if you’d found your 78-year-old grandfather on the woodlot of his farm, dead of a heart attack, on July 8, 1959.
Farewell 1968 Case 930 diesel tractor. So long 1952 Oliver GB crawler with 20” track. Thanks for the memories John Deere six-row corn planter. Goodbye Allis-Chalmers 780 chopper.
“Years ago, I had a whole bunch of tractors. I’d take a semi-load of them to different shows. I sold them all,” George says.
It was even hard to part with the manure spreader.
Don’t laugh. The bond between man and machine can be stronger than a recently harvested cabbage field on a sultry summer night.
You’d understand if you grew up with a rooster alarm clock and milked Ayrshires and slopped Chester Whites before school.
Ah, farm living. Nothing like it. Land spreadin’ out so far and wide, keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.
“I had my first tractor when I was 6,” George remembers 75 years later.
Big deal, lots of kids have toy tractors.
“It was a real tractor. A gas-powered tractor. You can’t farm with anything else.”
“We had a fairly large farm during World War II,” George says. “In the fall of 1948, dad rented a farm for me because I had 4-H and fair cattle and they were eating too much of his field.” George was, get this, 10 years old.
Good thing he had 4 years of plowing under his Drum Major overalls.
No ordinary plowboy, that George. He told a Michigan newspaper reporter that he likes “to choose a point a mile away and draw that straight and perfect furrow across the field.” A mile away?!!
His furrows were so straight that local farm equipment dealer Hugh Losey begged George to plow competitively. Thirteen-year-old George wasn’t interested, but Losey wouldn’t take no for an answer. “He kept after me and I went,” George told the Lansing State Journal 58 years ago. The press clipping – and dozens more extolling George’s plowing prowess – was found on the Internet. He didn’t keep newspaper accounts of his glory days, if he ever had them.
He’s not about to tell you he won the National Plowing Championship in 1958 when he was 21 at an event that drew 100,000 spectators and U.S. Secretary of Agricultural Ezra Taft Benson. “Most humble guy you will meet,” says Randy Bodine, a seventh-generation Alabama cotton farmer and president of the Alabama chapter of the International Harvester Collector’s Club.
A plow horse couldn’t drag a brag out of George, so we’ll let old Michigan newspapers tell it: He won the National again in 1959, was runner-up in ’55 and ’65 and competed in the World Plowing Match in Italy in 1959 and Ireland in 1960.
“He would ship a tractor and plow over there,” Randy says.
George’s Michigan farm had grown to 560 acres and numerous mechanical marvels, some made by George. “He designed and built real life size equipment to use in his farming operation,” Randy says.
After retiring to Lady Lake, George gave his mechanical marvels new, miniature life as 1/16” scale miniature models.
“He has a little room on the side of the house with a little work bench,” says Geri, George’s wife of 21 years. “No fancy tools. He draws up blueprints and goes to work on it.”
George was introduced to the hobby by a friend who made model farm equipment. “He kept wanting me to build models. He was pouring them out of castings, and selling them like hot cakes,” George says.
The models were ok but lacked detail. George, the perfectionist, knew he could do better. “He gave me some junk castings. I redid them and made models,” he says.
The models still weren’t good enough for George. Convinced he could achieve 100% accuracy, he developed his own painstaking technique. First, he found photos of the particular machine he wanted to replicate. Next, he drew up blueprints and made drawings. Then came the measuring, cutting, shaping, soldering, painting, etc.
“He doesn’t think what he does and has done is all that special,” Randy says. “He just acts like anybody could do it, and better than him. And that is just not true. That’s the furthest from the truth – he does things no one else can or has done.”
At tractor shows, George’s recreated machines were more popular than plug tobacco at a tractor show. “I sold a few,” he says modestly. “I made over 100. I’ve built a little bit of everything. Some of those I built are very detailed. I made quite a few that are complicated. It takes a while to get them put together so they look right.”
In doing so, he elevated a hobby to an art form.
“He’s an incredible custom toy builder. Not many guys have his talent or ability,” Randy says.
“And yes, he is highly regarded in more circles than just the toy-collecting world.”
Randy is the proud owner of George’s masterpiece.
“I sold Randy a cotton picker. He’d been after me for 12 years to make him one,” George says. “The cotton picker has two drums in it with 740 picking spindles. I built each spindle and bushing. I spent three or four months building that one.”
Randy’s cotton picker is the only one of its kind. George built it from specs and photos of an experimental model International Harvest built.
George could have harvested big bucks from his models, but never intended to reap profits. “It was a hobby. I didn’t do it for money,” he says with a hearty laugh he punctuates most conversations with.
Yes, was. “It used to take up a lot of time. He’s not feeling peppy anymore,” Geri says.
“I haven’t made any lately, I’ve just about quit,” George admits.
George is tired from squeezing three careers into his 81 years.
He grew sugar beets and was a dairy farmer (350 head), owned a trucking company, and supervised vehicle maintenance, sanitation, and public works for the City of Leesburg after “retiring” to Florida.
“I’ve had a full life. I’ve enjoyed it,” George says.
A life lived as straight as the mile-long furrows he plowed.
“He’s a man of integrity. He does what he says he will do and treats people so kind,” Randy said.
One might say George Lininger has been a “model” citizen.