Well-known tractor restorer, Ken Peterman, died a year ago this month. Ken spent nearly 30 years of his life rebuilding and restoring old tractors in his shop near Webster City, Iowa.
In the wake of his passing, Ken left a tradition of excellence. The tractors he worked on had to be exactly right. If a part was not right, he would re-order it or simply make it himself. Ken was a perfectionist, but the one imperfection he couldn’t fix, the one somewhere in his heart, cut his life short at the age of 64.
There is also the tangible legacy, the tractors he brought back to life with his hands. Tractor enthusiasts from all across the country sought his time and his knowledge to restore their tractors. Many of the relics had been rescued from farm groves or abandoned farmsteads. Ken would take these outcasts in, research their unique pedigrees and revive them – someway, somehow.
In the footsteps of the perfectionist is Peterman’s son, Dan. For most of the past 15 years, Dan Peterman had worked with, watched, learned from and loved the man he called ‘Boss.’
‘He brought me up doing this, and I love doing this, but I didn’t think I could do it without him,’ Dan said. ‘There are still times I want to look over my shoulder and say, ‘Dad, what do I do?”
Dan decided to continue the restoration business his father had named ‘Rusty Acres Restoration,’ but it took him several weeks after his father’s death to make that decision. He knew the business could never be the same without his dad by his side, but something deep inside him knew that he had to try.
‘Everyday since I was 13 years old, he was in the shop, and I was out there with him,’ he said. ‘When I got home from school, he was there. Then fulltime for all those years, he was there. Then one day, you walk in and he’s not there. I wanted to quit, walk away from it all and start a new career. I wanted to sell all my tractors and just start over doing something else. It took me awhile, but I knew he’d be looking down on me, chewing my butt if I would have quit.’
Perhaps the one thing which helped Dan decide to continue the business his dad built was the one thing his dad did not finish – a 730 John Deere he was working on for his personal collection.
The day after Ken died, Dan said he went down to the shop to be alone with his thoughts. After entering the shop, he saw the last tractor his dad had worked on and he knew he had to finish it – for his dad.
‘He put his whole heart into that tractor, but he didn’t get it done, so I finished it up for him,’ Peterman said.
‘My dad taught me everything about this business,’ he said. ‘He taught me how to paint, how to rebuild, about engines and about the unknown areas of a tractor. He was my teacher. He got me here, but I just wish I would have had six months to get ready for this. It’s my business now, but he’s everywhere in this shop. He’s everywhere you look.’
Randy Mudgett is a farm news reporter for The Messenger of Fort Dodge, Iowa, this article was originally published there a