In Cotton Center, What's Old is New Again
Members of the Cotton Center, Texas, FFA team and their national champion tractor restoration. Nearly one-third of the Cotton Center high school student body (a total of 45 pupils) was involved in the project.
Tractor restoration operates like a well-oiled machine at the
Cotton Center (Texas) FFA chapter. The award-winning program
features an annual restoration project, and has a six-year waiting
list of customers. "We're just finishing a Ford 8N," says Chapter
Advisor David Howell, a 30-year veteran educator. "A guy left money
in his will for that tractor to be restored."
The program began six years ago when a local family donated a
vintage tractor and funding for every aspect of its restoration.
The chapter sold the completed project and used the proceeds to
fund a project the next year. After that, the chapter began
accepting commissions from people who had tractors needing
restoration, with the tractor owner funding all restoration
The award-winning 1939 John Deere Model H, for instance, belongs
to a Flomont, Texas, man who wanted the tractor dressed up for
parades. The tractor hadn't been moved for perhaps 15 years, hadn't
been started for 20. "It was completely rusted," says team member
Cody Heath. Following the owner's instructions, the students
restored the tractor to its original state, down to and including
copper lines and John Deere gauges.
The students agreed on a division of labor. While the boys
worked on mechanics, the girls focused on body work. "We sanded and
primed," says team member Jessica Caswell, "and there were a
lot of dents."
Literally every part of the tractor needed attention. "The
engine was rusted through," recalls Cody Heath. "We bored out the
cylinders, restored them to original, restored the pistons and
connecting rods; did the head and valves, and we basically rebuilt
the block. Everything is original except the parts we had to
replace. The main case had a crack in it, so we had to order a new
one. And one of the teeth in the bull gear was broken off. It would
have been easier to buy a new one, but we decided to rebuild
"You need to understand," says David, "that there was not one
part of that tractor that wasn't broken down to its smallest
component and then rebuilt or replaced."