'Stolen' antique tractor recovered

Becky Vargo • May 16, 2017 at 8:00 AM

ROBINSON TWP. — Chris Bethke said a tractor on his property “got more miles on it last week than it’s got in the last 35 years.”

The “decoration” that’s been at the end of Chris and Deb Bethke’s driveway at 13420 Lincoln St. since 1981 disappeared in the few hours on Wednesday, May, 10, when Chris left for a short time, then returned with a load of brush from another property.

“I pedaled out on my bicycle at 2 p.m. to get my pickup truck,” Chris said. “I came back with a load of brush at 6 and it was gone.”

The 1939 Farmall F-12 once belonged to Chris’ grandfather, John W. Bethke, who lived next door.

Chris said the tractor was destroyed in a shed fire and was just sitting in his grandfather’s yard, so he asked if he could have it.

They used another tractor to drag the older vehicle across the property.

And that’s apparently what happened when it disappeared.

Somewhere around 5 p.m. that afternoon, someone hooked up the rusty piece of farmyard art and dragged it west down Lincoln Street to 136th Avenue.

Once Deb posted on social media that evening that the tractor was missing, people reported seeing it being pulled away.

Kim Ellis commented: “I drove past there around 5? Not exactly sure on the time...but I noticed a man on a green tractor pulling an old rusty tractor out of the property. There was a pick-up parked on that same side of the road. I just figured it was somebody cleaning up their property! Hope you find the guy, and your tractor!”

Others reported thinking it was strange that the tractor was being dragged, but couldn’t believe it was being stolen in broad daylight.

The Bethkes originally thought the tractor had been stolen for scrap and contacted local recycling companies.

But that’s not what had happened.

Ottawa County Sheriff’s deputies reported the next morning that the tractor had been located and would be returned.

It turns out that a relative around the corner believed that she was rescuing a piece of family history because the property was being sold.

The relative who took it thought the entire farm was for sale, Chris said. There is a section for sale, but not the land that contained the tractor.

Over the past several years, Chris said he’s had several offers to buy the tractor by people hoping to use the parts to repair their own vintage vehicles.

Instead of selling the tractor, Bethke decided he wanted to keep the country farm décor, so he sold the parts and exchanged them for the pieces that didn’t work. That includes the big tires.

“They’re not original,” he said.

But the same can’t be said for the hay wagon attached to the tractor.

“The wagon was made from an old carriage,” Deb explained. “They converted it to a hay wagon. 

The wagon was attached to the tractor.

“All they had to do was unpin it,” she said.

Instead, the wagon broke apart as the tractor was dragged away.

The cousin, who was trying to preserve family history, instead destroyed the piece that “was more of his grandpa than the tractor,” Deb said. 

She never asked if she could have the tractor, Deb said.

The Bethkes have requested restitution for damage to the wagon, but they decided not to prosecute because they don’t want to hurt the neighbor recruited to pull the old tractor down the road. 

That neighbor did call and apologize to the Bethkes for his part in the incident.

The old tractor was so notable as a lawn decoration that its picture appeared in the Grand Haven Tribune the same year it was placed by the road.

Deb said they plan to fix up the area once again, but they are not sure if they will be able to rebuild the wagon.

Chris said they might just put the old tractor on a pedestal as a decoration at the entrance to the small subdivision going in next door.

He thanked community members for their concern and help locating the tractor via social media.

“Thanks to everyone who commented, we were able to find it,” Deb said.


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