A "Someday Project" never comes... until it does.
In the world of vintage tractor collecting, everyone has a “someday” project – a tractor you swear you’ll get running again one of those days. The problem, however, is that “someday” almost never comes. The tractor keeps rusting away indefinitely. Its ship never comes in.
But thanks to the help of my family and friends, one of my “someday” projects is finally complete. On Sunday, after five years of collecting dust in my barn, the first tractor I ever had roared back to life. That tractor changed my life. Today, it’s a part of my life once again. Back in 2016, my late friend Dennis Muret gave me the coolest toy in the world: a 1959 Farmall Cub. He hadn’t used it in years, and it was taking up space in his barn. Some friends and I loaded it onto my flatbed trailer and took it to my barn a few miles away. Before long, that old tin barn became a classroom. Wheeler Cobb, whom I met a few years prior when he was a substitute teacher at Blackwell Middle School, was a mechanic by trade.
He made several trips with me to the barn and taught me how to work on the old Cub. We worked on the tractor for a few weeks. After putting in new spark plugs and fluids, we got the Cub running again. It was my pride and joy, and I soon became addicted to tractors. Having an operable old tractor opened my eyes to an entirely new world – and an entirely different, wonderful group of people. The next spring, I took the Cub to the Oklahoma Steam Threshers & Gas Engine Association’s show in Pawnee. That’s where I met Bob Lynch, better known as Uncle Bob. That’s also where I first spent quality time with Jim Denney and the Zimmerschieds.
They soon became just as much family as anybody in my bloodline. I drove the Cub quite a bit in the first couple of years I had it. But the old tractor had been used a lot in its nearly 60 years of farming, and its engine didn’t have much life left. By the end of 2017, it quit running. And with only limited mechanical expertise, I had no choice but to relegate it to the corner of the barn, where it sat in dusty silence. Time went on, and life started to move quickly. I graduated from high school, started college, had two summer internships in Oklahoma City and stayed busy with school, work and other projects. But this summer, as I prepared to start my senior year, the Cub crossed my mind again.
My internship with The Saturday Evening Post magazine allowed me to work from home, and I had more time to visit the farm than I had in several years. I knew my senior year of college would be busy (it has been so far), and I wanted to get some of my big projects completed before I got out into the real world. And, of course, the biggest was the little old Cub. So, in June, my dad and I went to the farm, loaded the Cub up and brought it to town. We parked it in the shop at our house and dismantled the engine. We took the engine block to a mechanic to have the valves repaired, and we ordered shiny new piston rings, gaskets and seals for the engine. The only thing left to do was put it all back together. Dad, Uncle Bob and friends Jim Denney and Warren Lloyd spent the better part of Friday, Saturday and Sunday teaching me how to reassemble an engine, a lesson that was as exciting as it was challenging.
The precision involved in every step of the process – putting new rings on the pistons, tightening and torquing bolts to precise specifications and putting new parts together in just the right order – is strenuous. To top it all off, the engine is no light object to move around and reattach to the transmission. Thankfully, Dad figured out a pretty clever winch system. It helped us lift the block, but it didn’t lessen the gravity of the situation: Our work had to be exact. We had some close encounters with trouble through the process. We needed parts we didn’t have and found out the factory shipped us a couple of incorrect parts.
Blackwell’s NAPA and O’Reilly’s workers saved us, though, and got us what we needed. After hours and hours of work and several lastminute adjustments, we pulled the long, metal rod to trigger the starter Sunday evening. The engine turned over just a few times before it revved up, filling the barn with that familiar whirring sound. Hearing the engine come alive for the first time in five years was an experience unlike any other. Imagine going that long without hearing your favorite song, and when you finally hear it again, you’re with your best friends and family. Few things in life could be better than that. As I eased the Cub out of the barn, I was flooded with memories of Dennis and Wheeler.
I can still remember Dennis’ smile when he gave me the tractor back in 2016. I can still picture Wheeler showing me how to install spark plugs and work on the carburetor, too. Those two guys were like grandfathers to me. They were generous, patient, kind, good-natured and, above all, good-humored. I cherish every moment I spent with them, hearing their stories and learning their life lessons. I miss them so much. Those guys changed my life with that tractor, and that’s why this simple, small machine is such a big part of my life. They were my family, and this tractor allowed me to meet other tractor folks who – like Jim, Warren and Uncle Bob – have become my family, too.
My life wouldn’t be complete without them. For a little while, Heaven seemed to be on Earth on Sunday as I sat perched atop my Cub, looking at the road ahead as my playground. I sure have missed that view. Wheeler and Dennis, however, had the best vantage point. With the help of folks I love, five years’ worth of “some days” came to a beautiful end on Sunday when an old tractor came back to life.
Please support the Blackwell Journal-Tribune by subscribing today!