Hundreds of vintage tractors guard the fields of Miller Implement Company.
ORONOGO – Crops, sun-kissed and dancing in the breeze, line the road to Miller Implement Company. For more than six decades, this middle-of-nowhere family affair has played a role in the lives of local farmers — especially those of its owners, who have been at the helm since it began in the 1950s.
“We’ve worked at it all our lives,” says Gary Miller, whose father began the operation after moving back to Missouri following World War II. “It was just something he wanted to do ever since he was a little boy.”
Today, Gary and his brother, Dave, carry on the family legacy by continuing to buy and sell farm equipment the old-fashioned way. “You might say we deal in the older stuff,” says Dave. “And we don’t do anything on credit, finance or anything.”
Dave (left) and Gary Miller grew up in Miller Implement Company, and today co-own the business.
Although they’re still a go-to source for older pieces of equipment, some things have changed over time. One example is their customers: In contrast to yesteryear, most of today’s clients are growing a hobby instead of a livelihood.
“The small farmers are gone,” says Dave. “We’ve got one farmer farming 10,000 acres around us. There’s no telling how many millions of dollars worth of equipment is invested. It’s a totally different ballgame.”
Gary agrees. “We sell more to hobby farmers now than ‘farmers,'” he says. “‘Cause farmers buy new. The big stuff.”
That “big” machinery, run by computers, is something the Millers will never touch — if for no other reason than major manufacturers forbid it. “You don’t actually own it,” says Gary of today’s equipment. “You don’t own the technology … You can change the oil, and that’s about it.”
But the Millers aren’t without business: Instead of only working with farmers in their neck of the woods, their reach has expanded to a much bigger area. They’ve sold to the University of Kansas and Martha’s Vineyard, and even all the way to the Caribbean and Eastern Europe.
“They bought some equipment to take over there because they still farm the way we did in the ‘30s,” says Gary of the latter sale.
Tractors, trucks and other implements decorate the Millers’ fields.
Out in the Millers’ fields, a crop of vintage implements grows row by row. Today, however, parts of that rust rainbow haul more memories than anything — but collectively, their salvage preserves history.
“See, there’s a lot of stuff that they don’t make anymore,” says Dave. “That people can’t get.”
Part of that is simply due to supply and demand.
Gary, Dave and their father created a museum of vintage farming equipment — known as the Tractor Stable — which is also located on the property.
Some of those hard-to-find items are also found in the Millers’ barn out back. The Tractor Stable, as a sign out front proclaims, is an Ozarks farming museum of sorts. “We’ve got some stuff out there hanging up that’s made in the 1800s,” notes Dave.
Washboards, wheels and horse collars decorate the ceiling. Tractors and other wheel-yielding items line the floor, and cases of brightly colored wrenches cover the walls. The items were sourced from farm sales; many were things the brothers’ father believed should be saved. “He said, ‘There ain’t going to be any of it sometime,'” recalls Gary. And indeed, when it comes to such items, today “(there’s) not near as much.”
“All the equipment years ago came with a tool,” says Gary, noting that most times, the tool would fit all the nuts and bolts on its tractor. In contrast, some of today’s major manufacturers forbid farmers from working on their own equipment.
One of the biggest items filling the floor is a 1906 threshing machine, pulled to its current home by Gary and his tractor. For him, it’s not only a piece of equipment. “It’s also a piece of art,” he says fondly, pointing out designs adorning the side of it. “Kinda neat. This is probably my favorite piece.”
A threshing machine, dating from 1906, sits at left.
While the brothers’ business operates off the beaten path, it’s not a secret. U.S. Senator Roy Blunt did a farm tour there back when he was a representative, notes Gary, and also mentions several exchanges with Newt Gingrich.
“He’ll call hisself. He’s kind of a neat guy. Wants to know how the business is going, what needs to be done, what needs to be changed,” says Gary. “And I said, ‘Everything in Washington.'”
Tractors aren’t the only type of farm implement filling the Millers’ fields.
The Millers also have ideas on how to best run their business. After all, the brothers live the Ozarks-themed dream: “We’re our own boss,” Gary notes. “I get out to the shop 6 o’clock of a morning, winter or summer. I get a fire going in the wintertime, it’s quiet time, and then we’re open at 7. (Then we) close whenever.”
Besides their early-to-rise routine, the brothers mention something else that’s noteworthy about their business: the people they work with. “I can count on a hand the number of bad checks we’ve had in 20 years,” notes Gary. “We have a good clientele base of customers.”
Perhaps that’s partly because customers know who they’re dealing with.
“We still try to do everything on a handshake — and our word,” says Gary. “We’ve got a pretty good name.”
Want to buy?
Miller Implement Company can be reached at 417-642-5463.