Tractor Restoration Yields Rewards for Texas Teens

The Cotton Center High School FFA team in Cotton Center, Texas, has a reputation of excellence in antique tractor restoration.


| July 2005



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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.

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."