The Perfect Restoration

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The Perfect Restoration
by Chris Pratt

Often, in quiet moments, I have wandered back in my thoughts to the many tractors I have seen over the years and wondered which one inspired me the most. Sure, we have a fond attachment to one brand and model or another, sometimes it was remembering that first time we got to climb up in the drivers seat and command that roaring beast, or maybe because when you see that special model, you can't help but see Dad on it, he's gone, but everytime you see a tractor like his, it's a like part of him is still there. Sometimes it may be something completely different... that respect and amazement of the immaculate restoration, a blending of history and things past with the determination and pride of things present... where someone has really taken the extra effort to make every detail perfect... and you can't help but walk over and shake his hand and say "nice job, she's beautiful". Certainly we become inspired when we see a machine that represents the last of it's kind... maybe there were only a few made and all of its brothers were sacrificed to become a Liberty Ship, airplane or tank when the country called, yet this one survived and lives on. That one has a special meaning that transcends its rarity... and far beyond it's surface value... and a parallel to long passed operators that brings one to a respectful pause. But I've often found, during these thoughtful musings, that one tractor really stands out... the most poignant reminder of why I love these machines. No, its not the most precious rarity and not the machine we had as a child. It isn't the tractor that honors the showroom to a tee. These all have their moments in the love of this passion, but the one most loved is the one that tells the story of the family and lifetimes it represented.

On a lazy afternoon, there is nothing more fun that walking down the rows of a tractor junk yard. Of course the reason we're there is to find that part we need so badly and the excitement of the find leaves little room for reflection and yet... look at that... absolutely nothing to do with what we're looking for... our keen expert eye can't help but pause and wonder if the shade of red on that John Deere carcass is slightly off... now of course the first reaction is our righteous indignation... it should be anyway. We walk over and look at this poor violated machine, picked apart by the vultures and left in half-eaten shame without even having the honor to die in it's family colors... after recovering from our righteousness, we feel superiority for a minute that some unenlightened individual that clearly couldn't spell John Deere, or possibly even tractor, would make such a grievous error... we almost say out loud... "it's a J-O-H-N D-E-E-R-E... They are G-R-E-E-N... and not just any old green you find at the hardware store... and mind the rims please, they aren't green... have some R-E-S-P-E-C-T man". Having clearly taken command of the situation, we regain our composure and can finally take a minute to reflect...

No, they didn't know the color, certainly not the year, "serial number? why would it have a serial number, it's just a tractor", in fact, they possibly had no idea that it was a John Deere... but there's story that goes beyond all that and this carcass is planning to tell us if we listen. It's a story of a family's life and legacy, a unique history that runs side by side with the production numbers, which factory it was produced at, how many had mags and how many had distributors and who had the helm of the company that year. A specialized history which should be enjoyed with all the inspiration and excitement that we get from those other things. For us, far removed from the events and life of this tractor, our imagination teams up with the scars, mistakes and modifications that stare back at us to let the story unfold, mostly make-believe, but maybe just good enough to honor the passing of something long forgotton but very important. Indeed, it occurs to me, as I stare at this machine, I possibly stand alone as only one alive to remember those lost moments of this family... a responsibility I can't take lightly.

I pop open the army surplus ammunition box... that aftermarket accessory so necessary since the original had long ago fallen off and buried itself in the field during plowing. These are always brimming with tales to tell... that is once you move aside the mouse family tales (and tails) that are inevitably apparent. Look at this broken hitch pin... not much of a story here but probably an intense and frustrating moment, surely corrected with a 5/8 inch bolt after a long walk to the shop, in fact... look here... two unused 5/8 bolts... he must of grabbed a couple of spares... just in case... he wasn't takin' any chances. I pull aside a pair of ripped up gloves... the thumb completely severed on the right hand and I wonder... did this mean a trip to the emergency ward and a tense and sad evening for the whole family? Probably not, probably more likely this fellow was like me and kept everything long after it's serviceable life and, if anything, the fact that he forgot the gloves in here is the only thing that forced him to buy new ones... or did his wife surprise him with one of those spur-of-the-moment purchases while shopping, "Here, I picked you up some gloves, you'd forget your head if it wasn't for me!"... one of those moments that warmed his heart, but for some reason, he never really mentioned how much those little things meant. I pick out the crushed beer can. a brand I haven't seen for 20 years... this fellow and I both shared that nice peaceful feeling when the work is all done, we sit back and rest for a moment, proud of our efforts, happy with the results... and across time, I smile at him in kinship.

My attention wanders from the toolbox as I notice the exhaust pipe extension... just a piece of galvanized raingutter downspout... there's a leftover from the new-gutters-on-the-house project if I ever saw one. That hot summer day... his wife coming out occasionally with a lemonade and a compliment about how nice it looks... the pride that gave him inside... but of course he'd reply by pointing out the mistakes... and his son constantly pestering... "come on Daddy, let me climb the ladder now". Decidedly he and I are packrats and get no greater satisfaction than when our "collection" finds a second use in the most improbable place... but now really, a downspout... I do understand guy, but this is over the line. Then I'm back to the paint, I really can't relate at all on this one but I bet even here, he was proud to show it to the family, that he'd finally sealed the old tractor from the elements... in fact they probably admired the brush painted job just as much as you and I appreciate those beauties with well sanded base coat, multiple coats of authentic pigment and the perfect sheen of the clear coats. As I snap to reality and remember to get on with making "the find", I wonder... where is this family now... what happened to them... is there anyone left to honor the memories that surrounded the days of their lives with this tractor.

Viewing this alternate history of the machines we love has happened with nearly every tractor I've purchased and so many I've seen. Sometimes the more original it is, even with no restoration, the more fascinating it is. When new to restoration, I wanted every machine to be pulled apart, sand blasted, painted, the engine rebuilt and every trace of damage or rust eliminated... I remember the first time I realized that this could be a damage in itself... erasing forever the history of the machine. I had approached a farmer that had several big working machines... and one small small TO-35, never repainted, a bent steering wheel, clearly no cosmetic correction to its time-worn condition, but it ran like a top. In my naive enthusiasm I asked him "are you going to restore it?". He slowly turned around to the tractor and said "My dad used to pull the wood sled with this tractor... he'd load it to the gills and drag it home". Then he looked back at me rather flatly and pointed to the steering wheel. "Thats what killed my Daddy".. I understood immediately... that tractor, just as it was, repeated the greatest story of his family's life, a memory that would be honored everytime he looked at it... everytime he drove it... everytime his hand touched that bent steering wheel. I drive by that tractor every day and I too like it just as it is, without restoration, it tells me a story too now, a precious chance to look and remember the history of a family and how its memories are kept alive. Maybe it is... the perfect restoration.

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