In Cotton Center, What's Old is New Again

| July 2005

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 expenses.

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 it."

"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."