Back in 1976, Trojan Seed Company hosted its first Cornland USA event. The three-day September show was open to the public and free. Entertainment galore including stage shows by Rex Allen Jr., Nelson Waikiki from Hawaii; 22 acres of exhibits; the Cornland 5000 Biggest Tractor Pull in the Western Corn Belt; plus women’s activities each day in the huge Trojan warehouse — even an ag aviation day with sky diving, aerobatic and stunt flying. Each day featured a free drawing for a Hawaiian trip for two.
Estimated attendance to Cornland USA was 30,000. Spectators couldn’t believe it. And a huge surprise to every farmer: Big Bud, the new 650-horsepower tractor manufactured in Havre, Mont. Yes, Big Bud was the biggest tractor to ever show its mighty muscles at a farm show. And proud to provide this firstt Minnesota showing of Big Bud was Renville County agriculturist Harlan Johnson who thrived on notoriety in his farming career.
That was 44 years ago. Hector-area farmer Charlie Melberg was 21 and just getting into this exciting game called farming. But already he was into tractor pulling events so this western corn belt’s biggest tractor pull at Cornland was on his agenda.
But he knew nothing about Big Bud until viewing this mastodon at Cornland.
The impact of Big Bud never left Charlie’s mind. Nope, he never owned one. However, three John Deere 8620s (620 hp) were sitting in his farm yard when I pulled in for a May 5 visit. I was there to view a scale model Big Bud 525/50 — an exact replica of the Big Bud Charlie had first viewed at Cornland USA in 1976.
Yes, Charlie, now 65, built this Big Bud from scratch. Imaginative minds, gifted hands, good tools, welders, metal cutters, scads of creative patience, family help and a few key outsiders produced this incredible tractor. Charlie intends to put his Big Bud into a few summer parades — including Olivia’s Corn Capital Days event July 25 (if Covid-19 has disappeared). The Renville County Fair is also on Charlie’s itinerary if Covid-19 is history.
So how did this happen? Charlie credit’s Madden, his 11-year-old grandson. Two years back, Madden asked Grandpa to make him a tractor. “We had already made four small Minneapolis Molene Jet-Star tractors for the other four grandsons,” related Charlie. “But Madden said, ‘I don’t want a Jet-Star; I want a Big Bud!’ I thought about it for a year and finally said, ‘I think I can do it.’”
Even with help, Big Bud was a two-year project. Charlie recalled, “When word got out about my project quite a few ‘I can help’ comments started floating around town. First was David Nelson at Loftness Manufacturing here in town. He stopped by and said, ‘I can do some frame welding pieces.’ My son-in-law did some drawings on these special pieces; then Dave Nelson took his drawings and did the work needed. Pat Schmoll at Schmoll’s Welding helped us out. Dennis Mosic and his guys helped with some special painting; Cole Carlsom did the special stickers. We’re just a pretty good community. Folks pitch in as they can. We powered it with a 25-horsepower, 3-cylinder diesel Yamar engine.” Charlie hasn’t put Big Bud on a scale, but something over a ton was Charlie’s estimate.
Have any of the Big Bud guys from Montana been here? “Not yet; but they know about it,” said Charlie.
“I talked with the engineer that helped build Big Bud; and I talked with one of the owners, Ron Hardam, about how they created their first Big Bud. Basically they just wanted something bigger and better for modern agriculture. I never did ask how many Big Buds were built; that might be accessible on the Internet.”
Big Bud definitely had a different look: painted white with some red touch ups makes this a classy looking farm tractor. “I found some reading that said the first two series were all white,” said Charlie. “Then the third series was touched up with some red. I even talked with the guy who designed the stickers for Big Bud and still makes them today. But he couldn’t make mine because his wife was sick. He gave me some more ideas anyway.”
On that fine May 5 day I squeezed into the cab of Charlie’s Big Bud and enjoyed driving this incredible gem for a few minutes in the Melberg farmyard.
Has Charlie’s grandson yet driven his very own Big Bud? “Not yet,” Charlie stated. “He’s still got school work and lots of farm activity too. He’s our lawn mowing kid. We just finished getting all our crops planted. Perhaps the best spring in recent memory that job done.” Two 48-row JD planters each powered by a JD 8425 speeds that planting effort.
Charlie’s somewhat of an inquisitive guy. That’s almost a natural trait when you’re in farming and curious about the next chapter in your farming career. He’s done a bit of world traveling — throughout much of Europe, the Ukraine, Russia a couple of times, into Africa and twice down to Brazil. And always asking questions about farming — especially sugar beet production. Yes, sugar beets got on the Melberg farming agenda years ago when the big sugar beet plant at Renville got into production.
I asked Charlie how long he’s been farming. His immediate response, “All my life. It’s just great work. New technology, new crop seeds, new pesticides, new farm equipment keeps stirring up interest and excitement. Yep, we’ve got some tough months ahead for both crop and livestock production. Some of these ‘band aid’ programs help a bit; but what we really need are better prices … we need to get supply and demand working again.
“I’m still sold on agriculture. We are living in a beautiful state growing corn, soybeans and sugar beets. I’ve been around the world a few times and with each journey I appreciate our home farm even more.”
He’s entertained Russian, Ukrainian and German famers on his farm too. He’s hired South American immigrants to assist at Melberg Farms.
Yes, curiosity often compels Charlie Melberg on his overseas visits. “My good friend Gary Toreen once asked, ‘where next?’ I told him I’ve read about all the technology showing up on farms in the Ukraine. We wanted to see where all the John Deere tractors and other technology was doing in these countries. The guy in the Ukraine took us around his country for two weeks. He’s now been to America and visited my farm also. That’s the good nature of farmers and farming around the world. We don’t mind seeing … and learning.”
Charlie and his wife Barb raised two sons, Brad, 45, Mark, 41, and daughter, Tracy, 37. They have six grandchildren (five boys and a girl).
Dick Hagen is the staff writer emeritus of The Land. He may be reached at email@example.com.