SALEM, Ohio – Sometimes the best lessons aren’t learned in the classroom, but in the garage.
Rich Adams and Mike Hill spent the majority of their senior year in Waterford High School’s shop with grease stained into the ridges of their finger tips and wrenches in their back pockets.
The Washington County teens worked too many hours to count, through study halls, during weekends, on Valentine’s Day, just about any spare moment. They wanted to turn this piece of rusted junk into a running, decent-looking tractor for an FFA project … and for Mr. Roe.
But what they were working on would also throw them into the national spotlight.
The Roe family. Wayne Roe’s father, Frank, had several tractors on his small farm in Waterford, Ohio, but that 1944 Farmall M was his favorite.
Years went by, the Farmall M sat untouched and Frank passed away. By the time Wayne and his wife, Norma, decided to restore it, it didn’t look like there was much hope.
They gave it to the high school’s ag science program and said if the FFA kids fixed it up, they’d ante the money for parts and restoration.
Stripping, restoring. FFA adviser Matt Hartline and his students, Adams and Hill, went to work last September and didn’t stop until graduation in May.
They stripped that tractor down to the bare block and restored every inch of it, from the engine to the bearings and from the wheel wells to the International decals.
All three were raised on farms and had helped work on equipment now and then, but none was the kind of mechanic this job needed. So they made calls, talked with “experts,” read renovation manuals and watched a how-to video.
A contest? It wasn’t until they were many months into the project that they heard the words “antique tractor restoration contest.”
The students put together a book, sort of like a diary, of everything they’d done with the tractor, about the engine and the auxiliary systems and the paint, and dropped it in the mail.
In the meantime, they finished the transformation. They painted it International red, revved it up and took it to Wayne Roe.
The look of shock and gratitude on Roe’s face made every second of work worth it.
Finalists. The day Hartline heard his two students and their tractor were one of six finalists in the national contest, he got goose bumps and pride pumped through his body.
The three of them went to Louisville, Ky., in late October for the ninth annual Chevron Texaco Tractor Restoration Contest during the National FFA Convention.
Adams and Hill spent 20 minutes before a panel of judges presenting their work and then answered their questions.
Although they didn’t win, the knowledge they gained from the project wasn’t just because of the contest.
“I probably learned more useful things working on that tractor than through my whole education at school,” Adams, 18, said. Now he knows how to rebuild an engine, how to take apart a vehicle and put it back together, and how to use tools he didn’t even know existed. Useful stuff, he stressed.
Hill, 19, agrees this project was about much more than just restoring a tractor.
It required working as a team and communicating, things that couldn’t be learned better any other way, he said.
As for the tractor, it’s sitting in the Roe’s garage.
“It’s so pretty now, we don’t want to get it scratched,” Norma Roe said.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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