1898 Nichols & Shepard steam engine
Craig Dobbins of Wilton, Iowa, looks and acts like most other 21 year olds, but few people his age have acquired the skills Craig has for restoring antique farm machinery -especially steam engines.
At the 74th National FFA Convention in October 2001 in Louisville, Ky., Craig received first prize out of 260 entries in the 2001 Chevron Lubricants Tractor Restoration Competition. He was recognized for his restoration of an 1898 Nichols & Shepard steam engine - the first steam engine ever entered in the competition.
A member of the Wilton FFA Chapter, Craig chose the Nichols & Shepard engine, a 16-50-hp, single-cylinder engine, originally made in Battle Creek, Mich., precisely because nothing like it had previously been restored for the Chevron contest.
'I had experience restoring more steam engines than tractors,' says Craig, who bought his first steam engine at age 11. 'It seemed like everyone else was restoring old tractors, so I decided to do something different and picked a steam engine.'
Craig's steam engine entry in the contest may have been perfectly timed, and even more historic than he could have imagined. According to Amy Whelan, who works for Chevron Texaco and assists with the competition, despite the very excellent job Craig did with his entry, the company recently decided to ban steam engines from the competition because of the relatively young age of contest entrants and the potential for serious accidents. She said the decision was made in part because of concerns that arose after the July 2001 steam engine explosion at Medina, Ohio, that killed five people. If the ban is permanent, it will make Craig's machine the only steam engine ever in the contest.
'I haven't quite figured out why they think steam engines are too dangerous for the competition,' Craig says. 'I guess because steam engines can be dangerous if not supervised correctly.'
Rut, he notes, the restoration contest, even without steam engines, is an ideal way for young people to learn the operation of tractor mechanics as well as the business aspects of restoration work.
'To me it's all about learning rather than doing anyways,' he says. 'Kids can help out with the hard stuff with an adult and learn in the process of watching. That's what the FFA competition is about anyways. Eventually these kids will learn how to do the hard stuff.'
Judges evaluate the Chevron projects on overall appearance, mechanical operation and safety components, using special workbooks developed by Chevron Texaco for the contest. Participants are required to track the progress of their restorations in the work books, which are designed to help teach the students such real-world skills as record keeping, expense management and project coordination.
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