The Nuts and Bolts of His Passion: Restoring a John Deere 435

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courtesy of Ricky Shilling
The national champion and his finished project. “This is my first year and I was not expecting this,” Ricky Shilling says. “I was just expecting to come up here and do my best.”

Inside a barn in Fayetteville, Texas, a small town halfway between Austin and Houston, Ricky Shilling spends his free time restoring antique tractors. At 16, he’s already accomplished at his craft.

In October 2018, Ricky was named grand champion of the Chevron-sponsored Delo Tractor Restoration Competition in Indianapolis, Indiana. He bested 11 of the country’s top high school-age tractor restoration enthusiasts competing for the title in Indianapolis as part of the annual national Future Farmers of America (FFA) convention.

The competition is open to high school students from all over the U.S. Entries were narrowed to 12 finalists who presented their projects to a panel of four tractor restoration experts. Each project was graded on the restoration process, safety precautions, results, documentation and oral presentation.

Boy in a yellow fire jacket with a welding helmet on power washing the tractors transmission housing

As grand champion, Ricky won a $10,000 cash prize, which he intends to put toward his education. “The value of the Delo Tractor Restoration Competition goes well beyond bringing an antique tractor back to life,” said Dan Holdmeyer, Industrial and Coolants Brand Manager, Chevron Products Co. “This event is a combination of a vocational and business school experience that provides lessons our participants will take with them throughout their lives.”

To qualify for the competition, Ricky had to provide photographic documentation of the project, as well as a workbook outlining the myriad steps of restoration. He then created a video for the judges, detailing the complexities of his work.

Hooked by a class in ag mechanics

A junior at the Fayetteville high school, Ricky serves as an officer in his school’s FFA chapter, and is a past president of his local 4-H club. An outdoor enthusiast, he enjoys hunting and playing baseball. On the ranch, he assists his parents, Richard and Jeanne, making hay, tending to livestock and clearing land for grazing.

He became interested in ag mechanics as an eighth grader, when he took an agriculture class. There, he learned welding and fabrication. “A couple of my friends were going to do a project, and I wanted to do one too,” he recalls. “I talked to my dad, and we decided to make a new hay fork for him to use.”

For Ricky’s next project, his father suggested he restore a tractor – a 1956 Farmall 200 – that eventually placed in several state contests. Not one to rest on his laurels, Ricky decided to tackle a bigger challenge. Under the tutelage of his father and his mentor, Royce Bartels, he set about rebuilding a 1960 John Deere 435.

A boy in a denim shirt and pants checking connecting rods for the Detroit engine

Starting from the ground up

When Ricky began the project in May 2017, the tractor hadn’t been used for many years. Over the course of the next nine months, he poured some 1,300 hours of labor into the project.

His father, Richard Shilling, purchased the 435 at an Indiana farm auction. Built in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1959 and 1960, only 4,626 of the model were manufactured. The Shilling tractor has an electric start and weighs 3,750 pounds. When it was delivered to the Shilling family ranch, it was time for Ricky to roll up his sleeves.

“I moved the tractor into the barn, and I just started disassembling everything down to its main housing,” he says. “Then I found out the engine was stuck and the rear end had water in it. It needed a complete overhaul.” Many components were in poor condition, and the sheet metal needed a lot of work, but it was usable (with lots of straightening and welding).

A boy in a denim shirt and pants in a garage removing the rear wheel nut

The tractor’s bearings were excessively worn and required replacement, but the gears were in good shape. Because the 435 has a continuous running PTO, it has a two-stage clutch that had been replaced and was in good shape. “I started by disassembling the transmission and final drives,” Ricky says.

Then he steam-cleaned the main housing and ordered bearings and seals from John Deere. The shifter required a lot of work. “I machined the shifter top, fixed the stick, and installed a new guide pin, keeper and boot,” he says. The tractor’s front housing was cracked and no new replacements were available, but he found a good used replacement.

“One thing interesting about this engine is it is a 2-stroke diesel,” he noted in his workbook. “It is more complicated than a 4-stroke, it’s loud, which I like, and can run clockwise and counterclockwise. The reason John Deere used this engine was because in 1960 they didn’t have a diesel variant and diesel tractors were in demand. They used the Detroit General Motors 2-53 2-stroke engine.”

Deere & Co. produced three transmissions for the Model 435: four speeds, five speeds (without continuous running PTO) and five speeds with continuous running PTO. Ricky’s tractor is equipped with the 5-speed with live running PTO.

A boy in a denim shirt and pants removing a roller pin in the PTO collar

Learning the restorer’s skills

Ricky quickly learned what any restorer knows: original operator’s manuals are an essential part of the restoration. “I went to local shops and took the part numbers and descriptions. Sometimes I had to order parts, and those that were obsolete we had to find in different places, or build them,” he notes. “We had to make a lot of pulling and pressing drivers.”

A young man reinstalling the brake linkages to a green tractor

He spent countless hours at the lathe, learning how to shape parts and tools. When the last bolt was tightened, the final coat of paint applied, and with one final start-up of the engine, Ricky’s tractor looked like it had just stepped out of 1960.

“It runs like it came off the factory showroom floor,” he says. “It is completely restored. I really like how the old tractors come to life. Originality is really the key. I could use it, but it’s going to be a great tractor to take to tractor shows and parades, and it’s going to be babied the rest of its life.”

Tackling the next project

Ricky plans to display the tractor in FFA events, local shows and pulls, and at fundraisers for agricultural organizations. He’s already at work on his next project. When he isn’t helping his dad on the ranch or helping Bartels with his custom farm work operation, Ricky steals away to the barn where he’s restoring a 1973 International Harvester 1466.

Picture of a boy and his Green John Deer Tractor in a green field

Down the road, he’s looking at a career in engineering or agribusiness. For now, though, he’s completely captivated by old iron. “I really fell in love with this,” he says. “This is my hobby. I don’t play any sports. I try to stay involved in the community, but in my spare time, I really work with these projects.” FC

Best of the best selected as finalists in Indy

The only national event of its kind, the Delo Tractor Restoration Competition rewards the determination, mechanical skills and business savvy of high school-age tractor restoration experts nationwide. Many participants go on to careers in mechanics or have used the experience to launch careers outside of agriculture.

Finalists for the 2018 competition included:

  1. Everett Herrington, Idalou FFA, Idalou, Texas, 1968 Massey Ferguson
  2. Austin Reynolds, Ira FFA, Ira, Texas, 1955 Farmall Cub
  3. Austin Chavez, Cuero High School, Cuero, Texas, 1965 John Deere Model 4020
  4. Four Rivers Career High School, Four Rivers Career Center Night Shift, Washington, Missouri, 1949 John Deere Model A
  5. Devin Haywood, Hastings FFA, Hastings, Michigan, 1957 Farmall 450 Diesel
  6. Box Elder High School, Box Elder FFA, Brigham City, Utah, 1949 Farmall C
  7. Riley Dalrymple, Uvalde FFA, Uvalde, Texas, 1925 John Deere D
  8. Ryder Merta, El Campo FFA, El Campo, Texas, 1949 John Deere B
  9. NorthWood High School, NorthWood FFA, Nappanee, Indiana, 1950 John Deere MT
  10. Corey Verstraeten, Southwest FFA, San Antonio, Texas, 1955 Oliver Super 88 LP
  11. Mack Blair, Dubiski Career High School FFA, Grand Prairie, Texas, 1949 John Deere A

Write Ricky Shilling at 2222 Roznov Rd., Fayetteville, TX 78940; (979) 966-7398; email:

For more about the Delo Tractor Restoration Competition, visit

Sara Jordan-Heintz is an award-winning writer, editor and historian. She is the features writer for the Times-Republican in Marshalltown, Iowa. Follow her on Twitter: or contact her at

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