(The following story originally published Oct. 20, 2013, at www.grainews.ca. It appears with permission of the publisher and author. Click here to read the original report by Dave Bedard, online editor for the AGCanada.com Network in Winnipeg.)
For a few days in the summer of 2012 it may have been the most famous tractor in Western Canada, though it would never pull an implement again.
But a southern Manitoba equipment dealer who bought the 2009 Case IH Steiger 485 says the unit, long since dismantled for parts, could possibly have been put back in use -- even after it languished for months completely buried in manure.
When it was reported missing on Dec. 21, 2010 from Leo's Sales and Service in the RM of Rosser, just northwest of Winnipeg, the Steiger Quadtrac was valued at about $300,000.
Needless to say, the tractor had depreciated by the time it was found in early June last year. RCMP from Fisher Branch -- about 150 km north of Rosser -- followed a Crime Stoppers tip to a farm in the RM of Fisher, southwest of the town.
RCMP said they took out a search warrant, hired an excavator and, over the next couple of days, found the tractor "buried underneath a 12- to 15-foot manure pile on the property."
RCMP photos of the dig were widely circulated. The tale of the tractor's discovery made nationwide news and was the second-most viewed story on AGCanada.com in 2012.
The photos show a tractor in which the cab's glass broke under the weight of the burial. "The pile of manure was like a sponge to water," and water had collected in the unit's major cavities, Gerald Grandmont of Leo's later recalled.
The tractor's insurer had already settled with Leo's for the unit after it had disappeared, he said, thus the insurance company owned the recovered tractor. It was put up for salvage tender, thus wouldn't be put back into service, he added.
However, the 534-horsepower tractor could conceivably have run again, according to Bernie Chabot of Chabot Implements of Elie, Man., which bought the Steiger from the insurance company for parts.
Service staff at the dealership hooked up a battery to the unit and were able to restart it, Chabot said. Two offers came in to buy the tractor whole, he said, but in any case it turned out to be worth more as parts. The engine, transmission and rear end and other major components were all salvaged and sold.
"We thought (the damage) would be worse than that," he said, noting a bit of rusting.
"Even the interior of the cab wasn't that bad," Chabot said. "We put the seat in a payloader we have here."
Don't expect answers to the lingering questions, though: How did the tractor end up in Fisher? And why was it then buried in manure?
Julian Friedrichs, 25, who operated the farm where the tractor was buried, pled guilty in December last year to a charge of possession of property (value over $5,000) obtained by crime.
Friedrichs' former common-law wife, Christin Peter, 23, was also charged in 2012 with possession of the stolen property and was not convicted, according to RCMP.
Provincial Court Judge Cynthia Devine gave Friedrichs a conditional discharge with 12 months' probation and 25 hours of community service, based on a joint recommendation from Crown and defence lawyers, and also ordered him to attend counselling.
Crown attorney Kathleen Tokaruk told the court Friedrichs admitted knowing the tractor was on his property and that it was stolen, but he has denied stealing it.
Defence lawyer Greg Gudelot said Friedrichs -- who emigrated from Germany to Canada years earlier, bought the rural property and had tried since then to farm -- "reluctantly" agreed to a request to keep the tractor there.
Lawyers at the December court hearing did not name anyone as having made such a request.
"I don't know if he's necessarily aware of why it was put there" in the manure, Gudelot told the judge, adding the tractor was never used on the farm and was buried "continuously" from when it arrived there.
"It doesn't appear... that you've benefited in any way from having the tractor on your land," whether through farm use or resale, Devine told Friedrichs during sentencing.
She noted he had "faced some financial disaster" on the farm and was in the process of "trying to pick up (his) socks." The lawyers noted Friedrichs had no prior arrests or criminal record.