Lost to time and forgotten by many, Henry Ford’s tractor legacy lives on through the relentless efforts of Duane Helman, a farmer, engineer, and devoted collector. Nestled amidst the scenic landscape of Rosewood, Ohio, lies the Fordson tractor collection, a testament to America’s rich agricultural heritage. At the heart of this treasure trove is the fabled 9-X, the only surviving prototype from Ford’s pioneering 1916 project to mass-produce tractors.
From a young age, Helman’s fascination with machines led him to explore junkyards, cobbling together bicycles and honing his mechanical prowess. While pursuing farming and establishing the Rosewood Machine and Tool Company, he found solace in restoring antique cars and trucks. However, the high costs eventually nudged him back to his roots, sparking an enduring passion for Fordson tractors.
In the early 1960s, Helman embarked on a quest to discover and restore the earliest and rarest Fordson tractors, recognizing their historical significance. These robust yet affordable machines revolutionized American agriculture and became a lifeline for European farmers during World War I. Helman’s collection grew, becoming a mesmerizing timeline of Fordson tractors from 1917 to 1938.
Yet, among these automotive marvels, one stood out—the 9-X. Its fate seemed sealed when it languished behind the Henry Ford Museum, exposed to the elements and theft. In a stroke of serendipity, Helman crossed paths with Cecil Church, who offered the 9-X for sale. An elated Helman secured the tractor, its “ugly blue” hue soon restored to the iconic red and gray.
Resurrecting the 9-X was a poignant moment for Helman, and he proudly displayed it at the Ford Museum, where it had once been forgotten. His collection, however, was more than just machines; it was a reflection of his grateful heart and unwavering faith. The 9-X symbolized the culmination of his dreams and blessings.
As years passed, Helman continued to amass a remarkable array of agricultural relics, a testament to his unyielding spirit and love for preserving history. His collection became a time capsule, holding the stories of generations past. Amidst his dedication to preserving history, Helman faced his own mortality, battling a rare leukemia. Yet, even in his illness, he remained steadfast in spreading the love of Christ.
In June 2023, the world bid farewell to Duane Helman, a man who had become a living legend in the farming community. His generosity and passion for history touched countless lives. Today, as his family carries forward his legacy, the Fordson tractors remain a cherished reminder of Helman’s indomitable spirit, forever honoring the man who breathed life back into the 9-X—a true first-class gentleman and farmer. Rest in peace, Duane Helman, and may your memory continue to inspire generations to come.