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Frightening Accident Can’t Change Dick Hallberg’s Love of Antique Iron

Fri December 10, 2010 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams


Hallberg’s fascination with machinery began when he was a boy growing up in Massachusetts.
Hallberg’s fascination with machinery began when he was a boy growing up in Massachusetts.
Hallberg’s fascination with machinery began when he was a boy growing up in Massachusetts. Hallberg’s been taking his vintage iron to shows for years, hauling it around the New England states and showing it off. Relaxed and happy at the controls of one of his antique beauties.

Dick Hallberg’s love for the things he admires nearly cost him his life. But it wasn’t his time.

Hallberg, 81, a native of Woburn, Mass., has — since 1929 or so — had the time of his life with family, friends and earth-moving machinery. And while the heavy iron he adores crushed his body, it has awakened his spirit to the many admirers who care about him.

Hallberg’s family consists of his wife of 59 years, Joan; one son; two daughters; six grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren and some of the finest vintage iron ever brought back to life.

Life in Construction

When Hallberg was a boy in Burlington, Mass., his father worked as foreman at Akerson’s Gravel Pit. A love affair with rocks and how to move them was born.

“Mr. Akerson opened up a new Washed Sand & Gravel Pit on Mishawum Road in Woburn, which included a large three-story colonial house that became our family home when we moved to Woburn,” he added.

“I used to spend summer vacations at my Uncle Jim’s, who was a foreman for Bliss Dairy in Rehoboth, Mass.,” said Hallberg. “He was in charge of the cows and the milking end of the business. I became fond of the animals and the farming.”

Hallberg also couldn’t wait to join the adults driving around the farm. Vehicles fascinated him.

“I learned to drive a Ford dump truck at age nine,” he said.

As time went on, Hallberg took his love for the area and for machines and worked in Reading, Woburn and Burlington, Mass., for Lane Construction, Meriden, Conn., while Route 128 was being built, the major east-west artery south of Boston.

“I didn’t know when we were building Route 128, that it was going to become as important as it was,” said Hallberg of the highway that has been the most traveled East-West route south of Boston for 40 years. “Back then, it was just woods that had to be cleared,” said the veteran worker.

Big Changes

“In 1951, I was working on a job down on the Cape (Cod) for Land Construction at Otis Air Force Base,” said Hallberg. “I met a girl from North Reading, Mass., got married and lived in Osterville. Later on, we bought a house trailer to live in.”

Hallberg went to work for Bond Brothers from Everett, Mass., operating a new TD18 side boom, out on rental, installing large gas lines. He did that for two years and made enough money to buy his first dozer, a TD18 cable blade from Clyde Everett Equipment, in Burlington.

“We moved our trailer up to North Hampton, N. H., and I worked the dozer at Pease Air Force Base for three years while they were building it. When the job was finished, we moved back to Massachusetts and later bought a house in North Reading. I worked different jobs with my equipment under Hallberg Construction. In 1961, we started Earth Incorporated,” he said.

“We bought a parcel of land on Concord Street in North Reading and built our first garage. We would buy a machine, fix it up and put it to work,” added Hallberg. “In the early 70s, we decided to downsize our business and move to New Hampshire, as we found that we were spending more time traveling back and forth,” said Hallberg. “Joan did the research and picked out the lakes region area. We bought a farmhouse with a barn and 165 acres of land situated on a private setting in New Hampton. We gradually sold our real estate in Massachusetts and moved to New Hampshire. We raised beef cattle and had all kinds of animals.

“We bought a couple of gravel pits and the next thing you know, we were busier in construction than before, working for the State of New Hampshire, bidding jobs and the Forest Service throughout the White Mountain region, along with private work — which meant more payroll, more machines and trucks, more equipment, and more paperwork.” Hallberg continued. “By 1989, I decided to have an auction, which worked out very well. I could then spend more time farming and doing small jobs without the hassle of payroll, etc.”

A Heavy Iron Hobby

When Hallberg stopped working so much, he started collecting vintage machines, the kinds of machines that had fascinated him when he was a child. He would buy them rusty, find the right parts, repair them and make them hum. Soon, he was bringing them to antique equipment shows.

“It was a few years later that I got interested in antique equipment and bought a 1925 Holt two ton to restore. I enjoyed doing it, so along came another, and another, and another and they’re still coming. I enjoy taking them to shows and fairs,” said Hallberg.

But one day, it was just another day at the tractor show until Hallberg’s great love almost ended his long life.

The Accident

Last summer, Hallberg went to a popular tractor show in nearby Thornton, N.H.

“I took my 1925 Regular International tractor with steel wheels. I have unloaded this tractor many times before, but never had any trouble. But this time, I guess the gravel was a little rough when I backed down the ramp. The drawbar hit the ground first, spun the tractor around and knocked me off the seat and onto the ground,” he said. “I don’t remember anything from the time I left the seat until the tractor rear wheel was running over my chest, breaking thirteen ribs and puncturing my lung.

“I was taken to Plymouth Hospital, then airlifted to Dartmouth Hospital in Lebanon, N.H., which I don’t remember,” added Hallberg.

His wife was cleaning when she got the call.

“He goes to these shows all the time. This particular day he was up in Thornton. I was doing my usual chores,” said Joan Hallberg. “The phone rang. A man said, ’Mrs. Hallberg?’ I said, ’Yes?’ He said, ’There’s been a problem, an accident. It’s your husband. He got his foot caught between the two wheels.’ I thought Dick’s foot was broken or cut or something so I said, ’Do you want me to go pick him up? Shall I meet you at the hospital?’ I really didn’t think too much about it. I just figured he’d have a cast on his foot,” she added. “He’s been around equipment all his life. He’s been lucky. Many times, I worried about him, but nothing had ever happened. So, I wasn’t even really concerned when I got there.”

Upon arrival, however, she was hit by the reality of how close her husband had come to being killed by the machines he has spent a lifetime working.

“I went to the hospital. When they let me in the room I thought, ’This isn’t his foot.’ It ended up he didn’t have anything wrong with his foot. He had a whole lot of other problems. I saw doctors. Nurses. He was in such pain. I don’t know. I had no idea. I was speechless,” she said.

“The hospital gave him first-class service. They were really very, very good,” said Joan Hallberg. “He couldn’t do anything. The first doctor was a male doctor. He could pick (his body) up. He had to lift him (from place to place).”

Recuperation

There have been weeks of recuperation and many well-wishers who responded to his accident. Hallberg thanked them all publicly and gave them updates by email, letter and with a posting on the New England Chapter of the Rockbusters Association website, thanking them all, and telling them he was back in the tractor seat.

“I am thankful to those who sent so many nice cards, prayers and phone calls, wishing me well. I know they helped speed up my recovery much faster. I never realized I had so many friends,” said Hallberg.

He then praised the best thing that ever happened to him.

“The best thing that ever happened to me was marrying my wife, as she has kept me out of trouble and helped me manage our business,” Hallberg stated.

The worst thing (so far in this long full life) was the accident.

“I was conscious when the wheel was going over my chest and I thought for sure it was the end. I guess it just wasn’t my time,” said Hallberg.

It was in 2007 that Hallberg joined the RockBusters Club at the New Hampshire Speedway.

“They had their booth set up and I came along and signed up. I believe it was Bruce Crawford that hooked me in and I have never regretted it. I have met many nice people and made many friends,” he added. “There are too many to mention and I would not like to miss anyone. I have attended many shows and try to attend all the meetings.”

His mishap has not deterred him from working on his collection or putting it on display around the six New England states.

“I have about 25 pieces restored, and many more waiting. I guess the rarest piece is a 1929 Coleman dump truck that was in pretty rough shape when I got it. Also, (I have) a Cat 40 gas tractor and a half-yard Bay City cable backhoe mounted on a Bay City truck. Almost all of them have a story where they came from,” said Hallberg.

But few of them are as colorful a story as his; and none with a happier ending. CEG