By: Guest Blogger Halle Hough of the Luverne-Adrian FFA Chapter
With one of 877 ever made, Jesse Wise of Virginia made the decision to donate his 1958 International Harvester Farmall 350 High-Utility tractor to an FFA Chapter or a 4-H club that was willing to restore it. Levi Wicks, president of the Albert Lea FFA Chapter, received word of Wise’s generous offer and contacted him.
When Wise originally posted the tractor to Facebook, he expected to hear from a teacher or FFA advisor, not a 17-year-old. Without knowing the tractor was in Virginia, Wicks agreed to take on the project while thinking, “We’d probably drive a couple hours to go get something like that.”
Instead, Wicks , along with Jaydon Weigel, Kevin Smeby and Coltan Uthke, embarked on a 50-hour trip to the state of Virginia in mid-October.
“We determined it was worth it for a free tractor,” said Wicks. That’s when the Albert Lea FFA Tractor Restoration Project began.
The team of four young men began work on the old Farmall in December in Smeby’s workshop. They started with a complete tear down — not one bolt was left unturned. The team then cleaned and sandblasted every part of the tractor. The motor was completely gone through, the torque amplifier was professionally rebuilt, the entire rear end was rebuilt, and the hydraulics were redone.
The team also had to repair the front axle knee to its original angle because it had been broken and repaired. At first, they weren’t sure how they were going to fix the knee. It is intentionally angled, but a previous repair had welded it straight. The boys solved this challenge.
The project tallied approximately 1,500 hours of labor and $6,000 in parts.
Wise was very impressed as he followed the boys on their journey of this restoration.
“I was very impressed with Levi and the rest of the group,” said Wise. “They gave me a new hope in their generation, the younger generation.”
Local businesses and community members in the Albert Lea sponsored the team, providing generous donations to make the restoration possible. The biggest donation, of course, was the tractor itself, with no strings attached.
The FFA members plan on raffling off the tractor this summer at the Freeborn County Fair. It will be on display at the food stand August 4. With the raffle, the FFA members are hoping to earn back their investment in the restoration project.
“I’m happy to see that they did what they said they were going to do, and I hope it helps their organization in some small way,” said Wise.