For a farmer, a tractor is one of the most important pieces of machinery. For Andy Whitehead, a tractor isn’t just a piece of farming equipment, it has a story.
For Whitehead, who grew up and farmed on Peppermint Road in Blount County, collecting tractors has become a hobby he has enjoyed for more than 10 years.
Whitehead isn’t a tractor restoration expert necessarily, he said, seeing himself more as a farmer who happens to see the potential of a rusty, antique tractor.
“He puts them back to working condition and uses them,” said Pat Whitehead, Andy Whitehead’s wife of 48 years.
One of the 10 tractors that Andy Whitehead restored is a John Deere that he refers to as “Old D.” “Old D” is special to Whitehead because the 70-year-old tractor once belonged to a man he knew, Neubert Stafford, who purchased it in 1935.
“It was the first tractor in Blount County with rubber tires,” Andy Whitehead said.
Brothers Fred and Herbert Ingles helped Andy Whitehead work on “Old D.” “Old D” was frozen and had been sitting, so it took some strength to get it unstuck and to get it to run, Pat Whitehead said.
In addition to working on the tractors, the Ingles brothers, who also knew Stafford, liked to swap stories about the tractor. Herbert Ingles said Stafford wiped out the back of his garage with the Model D John Deere.
“The bigger the tractor, the bigger the cylinders and the more horsepower,” Andy Whitehead said. Herbert Ingles said Stafford couldn’t get the tractor to stop because he couldn’t pull out the hand clutch, and he drove right through the garage. After Andy Whitehead and the Ingle brothers worked on “Old D,” the Whiteheads invited Neubert Stafford’s son, Phil, over to see the restored tractor.
The John Deere Model B is one of Pat Whitehead’s favorite tractors.
“It had spoke wheels, and it caught my eye,” Pat Whitehead said.
She said they were visiting relatives in Rockdale, Texas, where she used to live as a young girl, and they were driving the back roads wheb she spotted the rusty, dilapidated tractor with flat tires. She yelled, “Whoa, stop!” to Andy.
He stopped, and they took a look, but couldn’t find anyone to talk to about the tractor. Finally, they found someone who claimed the tractor ran a year or two ago.
They agreed on a price, but then the Whiteheads had to figure out how to get it home. They had a trailer built and hauled it back several months later.
Each tractor that Andy Whitehead restores takes months to be put back in working order. Sometimes, the most time-consuming activity is finding salvage parts. Andy usually has to knock out some dents in the tractor, and he always applies a fresh coat of paint.
The first tractor Andy restored was put on display at the Museum of Appalachia. In years past, Andy also would use the antique tractors to conduct hayrides at Sam Houston Schoolhouse and at church.
Each tractor is special to the Whiteheads. “I have a special feeling for each one,” Pat said of the tractors which stay in their barn.
They purchased a John Deere Model G in Georgia, and Pat said it had to be sandblasted because it was rusted so badly. They also have a tractor with steel wheels. “It’s a rough ride,” Pat said. She explained that during the war, rubber wasn’t available, and it was cheaper to buy a tractor with steel wheels.
They also own a horse-drawn corn cultivator from the 1940s. Pat said they found it with trees grown up around it.
When asked which tractors he likes, Andy said, “I like all of them, I reckon, as long as they’re green,” causing his wife to laugh and explain that her husband has a special fondness for John Deere tractors.