Vermont Family Adores Antique Tractors

Americana, Hometown Heroes, People, Traditions
on August 12, 2001

Rob Rinaldi of Topsham, Vt., (pop. 944) is the head of a close-knit, very large family. About 10,000 or so folks, to be precise—members of the fervid and loyal clan of the 8N. And the 9N. And the 2N and the NAA.

If this alphanumeric soup doesn’t click for you, then you’ve never spent time on the farm or had the chance (or inclination) to appreciate that famed old rural workhorse, the Ford tractor, identified by such designations. Tens of thousands of these durable, reliable tractors, dating back to 1939, are still in use.

The Rinaldis—Uncle Gerard, husband and wife Rob and Laurie, Rob’s brother Jason, and their mom—publish a quarterly magazine for some 10,000 Ford tractor fans around the world. “We’re the epicenter for Ford information,” jokes Rob Rinaldi. “The N-cyclopedia.”

In the process, they help keep this “Ford family” together with a magazine consisting of equal portions of nostalgia, practicality, reader ingenuity, and repair tips. Mix it all together, invite lots of folks to do the stirring, and you have a recipe for publishing success.

“There’s a newsletter for everything,” says Rob, whose 32- to 36-page quarterly is uncatchily named for the models of tractors it covers: 9N-2N-8N-NAA Newsletter. The name is practical and straightforward—like the tractor itself.

Millions of these simple, durable tractors were produced, beginning with the 9N, Rob says. They all included the three-point hitch for implements, a critical reason for their continued usefulness, since that attachment method became the standard for decades of farm machinery. The magazine covers tractors built into the 1950s and ’60s. Articles range from practical to whimsical, reporting on successful modifications, ingenious additions, restorations, and even giving overhaul advice. These are mixed with book reviews and nostalgic tractor recollections by current and former owners.

Ads come from companies specializing in old tractor restorations and parts, memorabilia, and videos. Best of all, wonderful color photographs proudly display owners’ mint restorations in parade condition or owners using still-working tractors.

This publishing “empire” is run from Rob’s old semi-restored farmhouse in Topsham. Downstairs is an “order fulfillment” department whose extensive shelves and file cabinets are filled with tractor manuals and pamphlets on arcane attachments and implements: Dearborn sweepers and Danuser post hole diggers, even an “ARPS half-track conversion” that outfits tractors with snow treads. Upstairs are desktop publishing computers.

This all started three decades ago when Gerard was teaching art in high school in New York state. A fan of old machinery and the agrarian lifestyle, Gerard heard about a Ford that had become junk after it was scorched in a barn fire. He checked it out, bought it for almost nothing, and hand-restored it. In the process, he discovered that Ford dealers, always pushing new tractors, were singularly unhelpful with advice on the old machines. So in 1986, he put up a notice at the local Ford tractor dealership, “almost as a joke,” asking other owners if they’d be interested in corresponding.

“I got 25 responses,” says Gerard. He plowed ahead with the idea, and it’s grown ever since.

When Gerard retired from teaching, he moved to rural Chelsea, Vt. (pop. 300). Three years ago Rob, a commercial photographer, and his wife, Laurie, a graphic designer, took over the publication. Gerard continues to do the editing. Laurie does the layout, Rob handles the day-to-day business, and other family members pitch in. A subscription costs $16 a year.

Rob thinks the magazine taps into a deep well of nostalgia and interest in history. Readers fondly write about growing up on farms with Fords their parents or grandparents had. Rob doesn’t have to go far for a trip down his own memory lane—his uncle’s restored 8N, which he first rode at age 10, sits in the front yard of his house.

When he finds time, Rob is as amazed as anyone that his rural farmhouse is headquarters for fans of old-fashioned Fords.

“I rarely get the opportunity to back away and look at what I’m doing,” he says. “But when I do, I look and say, this is crazy. I’m making my living on machines that are 50 years old.”