Edgerton students bring 1949 John Deere tractor back to life for Father's Day auction

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Neil Johnson
Friday, June 13, 2014

EDGERTON— When Edgerton High School students found it in a farm shed two years ago, the 1949 open-seat John Deere Model B tractor was sunk into the ground.

Like so many old area tobacco farming rigs that went to the graveyard, many of its parts had been cannibalized. It was rusted and caked in layers of barn dirt.

“You'd pretty much say it was a mess,” Edgerton student Matt Barrett said.

It took Barrett and 20 other students in the Edgerton Future Farmers of America chapter six semesters—about half their high school careers—to scrape rust, pound out dings, repaint and rebuild the mechanics on the old John Deere.

After months of after-school sweat equity, countless thrown wrenches and help from some of Edgerton's most deft farm mechanics, the students have given new life to tractor nearly old enough to be their grandfather.

The old Deere is running, and it's ready for auction Sunday. 

The Edgerton FFA Alumni is auctioning off the student's rebuilt tractor Sunday at the group's annual Father's Day tractor pull at Racetrack Park.

The FFA is using money from the sale to start a new scholarship fund in memory of Edgerton native Sid Watson, who was an active member of the Edgerton FFA Alumni. Watson, described by tractor pull organizers as a “huge fan of John Deere tractors,” died in 2013.

Edgerton FFA students have rebuilt tractors in past years, but this is the first time the group has held a major auction to sell one of its rebuilds.

FFA members Dakota Salm, Ben LaValle and Kurt Weisensel, whose family donated the tractor, led the rehab along with Barrett. Barrett said he and other FFA members had worked on tractors before at school and at home but never fully rebuilt one.

He learned how to reset the timing on the Deere's classic magneto starter, blow out a plugged vent in an old glass bowl carburetor and retool the tractor's Roll-O-Matic, a front wheel gear system designed to soften the ride on bumpy fields in the days before power steering.

The group swept the continental United States to find the only remaining original starter for a tractor built in 1949.

“The next-closest one, and the only other one anywhere, was in Manitoba, Canada,” said rural Edgerton resident Matthew Harried, who helped students with the mechanical work.

“It's been really cool to go from a piece of … scrap, to a nice, new tractor,” Barrett said.

It's got a gleaming green paint job; new decals; new lights; a new, cushioned seat; and new tires custom stamped with the national FFA emblem.

Barrett said nobody who worked on the tractor has had a chance to drive it, but it's enough to know they got the job done in time for the tractor pull and auction. The finishing touches and tune-ups came this week as the students were already busy at the annual FFA convention in Madison.

“At times, they were a little skeptical it was going to happen, but they hung with it,” FFA adviser Rick Reese said. “It's really amazing. A year and a half of work on something seems like no big deal to an adult. But for these students, the timeline of this project has encompassed half their time at high school.”

Barrett, who will be a senior next year, said he and other FFA members already are thinking of their next big project.

“It's time to try and find another old tractor and do another job,” he said.

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