This may be the year of the drought, but there are some very positive, almost amazing things happening at the same time. Recently, Donnie Sheldon, ag science instructor and Martinsville FFA advisor, and his students unveiled a tractor they have been working on for more than a year. It's an original Empire tractor, and if you visit the state fair, look for it in the antique tractor display in Pioneer Village.
Made by the Empire Tractor Company for only a short period, it was basically a Willys war-time jeep turned into a tractor.
To say they started from scratch would be an understatement. All the parts were there, but the tractor was rusty and had been sitting outside on a farm in Kentucky for years. Having earned a reputation for restoring tractors through previous projects, a person with access to the tractor asked if they would tackle this one.
"We had to completely take it apart, rework many parts and put it back together," Sheldon says. "It proved to be a long, drawn-out process."
Most of the equipment on the tractor is original. Since parts are no longer available, they had to do some improvising. One of the downfalls of the tractor was its brake design. The brakes were in need of complete restoration, and a local repair shop helped them reconstruct the brake system. Otherwise, most of the work was done in the Martinsville High School Ag Shop.
The FFA members also painted the tractor, doing their best to restore it to its original color and keep the original appearance as much as possible. As it turns out, there are Empire Tractor Collector Clubs, and even an Empire Tractor Show in New York State.
This tractor is now in running order, and on some days, it even starts with electrical start from the battery! If the battery can't turn it over, it starts easily with a pull start, Sheldon says.
He's not sure what model he'll tackle with the students next, but the word is spreading, and his list of people who want tractors restored is growing.