W hat sweeter moment can there be for the restorer of old iron than the completion of a project, looking at the finished tractor and drinking in the satisfaction of a job well done?
It is a moment restorer Bob Sherrard must experience in different ways.
Bob has long contended with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative genetic disease that has caused his vision to erode over the years. Today, at age 78, he can see only the fluorescent lights in his shop, which is located in a rustic 79-year-old stone barn. He preserves, collects and restores antique tractors by memory, touch and hearing, not sight. That dedication has not gone unnoticed. Last summer, he was honored by the National Early Day Gas Engine & Tractor Assn. (EDGE&TA) as a hall of fame inductee.
Tom Yearian, Hall of Fame chairman, presented Bob with an engraved plaque at the Kansas and Oklahoma Steam & Gas Engine Show in Winfield, Kan., on Aug. 15. The award recognizes those who have made a significant contribution to the preservation, collection and exhibition of antique tractors.
Bob’s restorations include a 1936 International Harvester F-12 (a complete overhaul), 1945 Allis-Chalmers C, 1951 Allis-Chalmers CA, 1950 Allis-Chalmers WD, 1951 Case DC, 1947 Ford 2N (along with a complete line of 3-point equipment), 1951 Massey-Harris Pony, and the following John Deere tractors: 1928 Model D, 1935 D, 1937 AR, 1937 B, 1945 LI, 1945 H (another complete overhaul), 1950 B, 1950 MT, 1952 AR and a 1951 R Diesel. He’s also restored a 1941 Chevy two-door sedan, 1946 Dodge half-ton pickup, 1948 Studebaker 2-ton truck, 1958 International half-ton pickup, and a 1927 Model T Ford.
Bob’s shop is so neat and clean it would put most restorers to shame. But a blind mechanic can’t have tools and parts lying around to trip over. As nuts, bolts and small parts are removed, they’re placed in cans, his pockets or shallow cardboard boxes. Every tool has its proper location above his workbench. If a tool is used and set aside, he must remember its location. Memory and touch compensate for a lack of eyesight: fingertips replace eyes. “I used to be a fast worker,” Bob says. “But I’ve learned patience.”
Some jobs – wiring, finding replacement parts and transporting equipment – he simply cannot do. Then, he turns to his son-in-law, Alan Brennan, for help. Alan marvels at how Bob’s other senses compensate. “I really admire how he can hear whether an engine is running like it should,” Alan says. Bob also turns the painting over to a helper, Danny Youngers. However, he’s quick to add, “I don’t ask them to do anything I can do.”
Like many restorers, Bob grew up on a farm where he much preferred his father’s 1927 John Deere D to the horse and mule team. After graduating from high school in 1949, Bob farmed with a 1937 John Deere B and a 1950 Allis-Chalmers WD. Then, like his father before him, he transitioned into the construction business, building residential and small commercial buildings. Failing eyesight forced him to retire in 1988.
Bob is an active member of the Kansas and Oklahoma Steam & Gas Engine Club and takes part in its annual show. His courage, determination and perseverance make him an excellent role model for other members. FCEugene Blake is a retired Presbyterian minister now living in Winfield, Kan. His work has been published in Green Magazine, Ageless Iron Almanac and Successful Farming.