Tractor Restoration Yields Rewards for Texas Teens

1 / 2
Opposite page: Horizons have broadened immeasurably for members of a west Texas FFA chapter. They’ve trekked to competitions in Texas and Kentucky, and some members of the chapter visited Orlando, Fla., as a bonus prize from ChevronTexaco. “This allowed us to see the ocean,” says Cody Heath. Team members present at the Louisville, Tenn., competition (left to right): Heath Reeves, Jessica Caswell, Cody Heath, Julie Heath, Nikki Edwards, Brenda Marquez, Brittany Swoap, Jesse Masters, Amy Davis and Jennifer Heath.
2 / 2
Above: The Cotton Center FFA project tractor, before restoration. Team member Julie Heath says restoration of the tractor’s copper oil lines was the biggest mechanical challenge. Her brother, Cody, who was among those working on the lines, agrees. “That was like a big maze,” he says.Below: The Cotton Center tractor after restoration. The team received a letter of congratulations from Texas State Representative Pete Laney.

A tradition is building in a small west Texas
town, and it has nothing to do with either Friday night football or
oil fields. Thanks to the hard work of a local high school’s FFA
chapter, Cotton Center, Texas, is fast gaining a reputation as a
center of excellence in antique tractor restoration. The Cotton
Center FFA chapter routinely places in the annual ChevronTexaco
Tractor Restoration Competition, held each year at the Future
Farmers of America (FFA) Convention.

Since 1995 the competition has rewarded the determination,
mechanical skill and business savvy of high school FFA members from
around the country. “One of the reasons ChevronTexaco sponsors this
program is because it inspires teens to learn,” says Kurt Schulte,
commercial automotive specialist, ChevronTexaco Products Co. “To
finish their projects, kids seek out knowledge from teachers,
advisors, family, friends, community and teammates. A program that
inspires kids to ask questions, interact, learn and ultimately
accomplish the incredible is something we are proud to
support.”

It was with great anticipation that the Cotton Center High
School FFA team (Jesse Masters, Heath Reeves, Sara Barr, Jessica
Caswell, Nikki Edwards, Brittany Swoap, KC Garcia, Toby Castilleja,
Amy Davis, Cody Heath, Jennifer Heath, Julie Heath, Brenda Marquez
and Chapter Advisor David Howell) geared up for the 2004
competition. Teams from Cotton Center had done well in recent
years, qualifying for the competition and placing in the top five
each year since 2000. But this year’s team, composed of 11 seniors
and two juniors, had extra motivation.

Two women closely connected with the team were fighting cancer
during the restoration process. Robin Heath, mother of triplets
Julie, Jennifer and Cody Heath, and Becky Gast, wife of Cotton
Center School Superintendent Keith Gast, both became ill around the
time of the competition. Robin Heath was diagnosed with breast
cancer while the team was in the middle of the project, and Becky
Gast underwent surgery and radiation therapy over the summer to
treat a brain tumor.

And then there was the matter of bragging rights. The FFA team
representing Cotton Center’s chief rival, Abernathy High School,
had beaten Cotton Center in 2003. Emotions ran high. “It didn’t
matter where we came in – fourth, fifth, whatever,” says Cody
Heath, recalling the days leading to the competition, “just as long
as we beat Abernathy.”

Despite the intense competition between the two schools, the
level of enmity is not exactly on par with the Yankees and Red Sox.
“It’s a very friendly rivalry,” says Jessica Caswell. “The FFA
members are all friends, and we appreciate the work done by each
other.”

“One of the reasons ChevronTexaco sponsors this program is
because it inspires teens to learn,”

The process of restoring the Cotton Center tractor, a 1939 John
Deere Model H, was quite involved. The team split the work by
gender: The boys did the mechanical work while the girls took care
of the body work and workbook. Competition rules require teams to
submit a workbook detailing the entire tractor restoration process,
from mechanical overhauls of the engine, transmission and related
systems, to the tractor’s external appearance.

The team completely tore apart the tractor, rebuilding each
component and making a number of parts. “We worked as much as we
could during school hours,” Cody says, “but most of the work was
done on weekends.”

Once the work was done, the fun began. Team members agree that
traveling to the competition was a highlight of the experience, in
large part because Robin Heath and Becky Gast were able to join the
group. Both women responded well to treatment and accompanied the
team to Louisville. In recognition of their presence, the team
dubbed the trip the “Celebration of Life Tour.”

At the competition, though, the team was all business. Each team
member had put considerable effort into preparing for their
presentation to the judges, and was confident that the hard work
would be evident. “We all worked together to get the presentation
where we wanted it to be,” Jessica adds.

The judges agreed, and awarded Cotton Center the Grand Prize in
the FFA Chapter category. (Rival Abernathy also had a strong
showing, finishing as second runner-up.) “Our personalities put us
over the edge,” says Julie Heath. “The judges could see how well we
got along. We didn’t go in there pretending to know everything
about the tractor. We just went in and told them what we knew.”

After the victory, the Cotton Center team was given a hero’s
welcome back home. When the group arrived home late Sunday night
following the competition, they found the school gymnasium’s
parking lot filled with cars. As the team members walked inside, a
throng of family and friends screamed, “Surprise!” and waved
welcome banners.

Reflecting on the experience, the team is grateful for the
opportunities provided by the competition. “It’s great to see
ChevronTexaco investing in the youth,” says Jessica. “We’re the
future of the industry and it’s nice to know they care so much
about education and developing our skills.”

– For more information on the 2005 Chevron Delo Tractor
Restoration Competition: www.allen-martin.com/tractor.htm

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment