You may have noticed a light purple Oliver 1850 tractor in the Eaton Rapids July 4 parade. The colorful tribute tractor made its debut appearance in the parade and belongs to Chris Losey and his daughter, Abby. They’ve named it “Ophelia.” Losey’s great-grandfather was Vern Losey, of Vern Losey & Sons, a farm implement dealer near Springport which was in business from 1937 to 1998. A fourth-generation farmer, Losey and his family still reside at the farm.
Losey rebuilt the tractor, which is normally green and white, as a replica of the lavender tractors made by Oliver that were produced in the 1960s as a sales gimmick.
He gets a lot of attention with the purple tractor. That was the intention when the Oliver company painted a few of their normally Meadow Green tractors that year. They wanted to create brand loyalty, color loyalty, and to sell plows, Losey explained. From the 1800s to the 1900s Oliver was considered the “plow makers to the world,” Losey said.
The advertising for Oliver plows back in the 1960s stated, “It makes no difference whether your tractor is red, green, orange, blue, or even purple.” Their plow was the best for whatever tractor you have. To go along with that statement, they painted a few tractors a lovely shade of purple and took them to agricultural shows to get the attention of farmers, and thereby introduce them to the new Oliver high-speed plow. This new plow was termed a “color-blind plow,” as it would work with whatever tractor you used. The sales gimmick was effective, and many plows were sold as a result.
The purple tractors were all returned to Oliver, painted green and white, and sold as used machinery. They were a huge hit, Losey explained, but just faded into obscurity after the promotion. No real record was kept as to which they were, but a few of the original purple tractors were discovered over the years when paint chipped and revealed the lavender hue under the current color.
“As a kid, I thought all tractors were Oliver’s,” Losey said. His collection of Oliver tractors numbers 45; some are the tractors that his father started collecting when he was young. They were mostly purchased from their customers.
Losey has worked on Ophelia, a 1965 Oliver tractor, for about five years. Many hours were spent on transforming her from Meadow Green to the pretty purple she now is. She was finished in June 2021. Losey has a YouTube channel “That Oliver Guy,” where he shares information about Oliver and White tractors.
In September Losey will be taking Ophelia across the Mackinac Bridge as part of the annual Bridge Walk. Losey has crossed the bridge on a tractor three times, with a different tractor from his collection each time.