Tracks and 2 Cylinders: Jim Sheppard's Tractor Collection
Florida collection showcases tractor favorites like Best, Caterpillar and John Deere.
Jim Sheppard's 1925 Best Logging Cruiser - complete with buggy on top - is perhaps the onyl one in existence.
Dr. James "Jim" Sheppard has come a long way from his roots, when he and his father farmed with mules in southern Alabama. Nothing shows that distance better than Jim's incredible collection of about 100 completely restored tractors, including Caterpillar, Holt, Best, John Deere and more. The 72-year-old's collection is poetic justice, because Jim was the driving force in getting tractor power onto his father's farm. "When I was 12," he recalls, "after my urging and cajoling, Dad finally decided to trade the mules and get a tractor.
"That 1945 John Deere Model LA was an enormous step forward in our productivity," says Jim, a specialist in internal medicine and cardiology in rural Ponce de Leon, Fla. "With that little tractor, we could do a lot more work than we ever could with mules." His father, Arthur, was a skilled cotton ginner. During harvest, Jim worked on the farm and Arthur ran the community cotton gin.
"We began to prosper, and eventually we bought the farm we had been sharecropping on," Jim says. "That was a profound experience." When Jim was 15, his father traded for a 1949 John Deere Model MT tractor. "Then we doubled our productivity," he says. "That machinery got us out of the pits of poverty, and endeared the old machines to me."
Nostalgia fuels collection
Jim went on to attend college and medical school. Fifteen years after graduation, he returned to his roots, buying a farm where he could raise his family. "I commuted to my office, and raised four kids here," he says.
When the time came to buy an old utility tractor for mowing on the farm, he immediately thought of that old Model LA. "In the intervening years, my dad left the farm and those old tractors passed on to other owners, and we lost track of them," he says. Instead, Jim bought a 1946 John Deere Model LA, and later, a 1949 John Deere Model MT. In 1974, he decided to restore one so it would look like it did when he was a kid.
Jim jumped into the old iron hobby with both feet. "There are several different kinds of tractor collectors," he says. "One group enjoys finding tractors, another enjoys collecting them but not restoring them, another enjoys showing, parading and talking about them. Old tractors mean different things to different people. When I started, the most fun was restoring the old tractors: getting them in the shop, seeing what was wrong, tearing them apart, fixing them up, restoring them."
He found restoration to be more fun than work. "I got to use my hands, and that's different from using my brain all day in my practice," he says. "I started thinking 'If I run across another old tractor, I'm going to buy it.'" Which he did … and one followed another. "I never intended to do any big number of them, but it's like playing tennis and fishing," he says. "If you enjoy it, you just keep doing it."
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