Capital Press

MOSCOW, Idaho -- A group of University of Idaho students got a lesson in old-school mechanics this year.

The UI College of Agricultural and Life Science recently unveiled its restored John Deere Model AW tractor, as part of a celebration of the history of agriculture.

Jim Connors, head of UI's Agriculture and Extension Education department, developed the class, designed to introduce students to the agricultural history of the Palouse region and the history of various tractor models.

The university purchased the tractor for $500 in the summer of 2012, from the Viola, Idaho, farmer Howard Musick, who recently died. He was the third owner of the tractor.

"We've actually researched the whole history of it," Connors said. "We know the date it came off the production line, it was sold to the branch house in Portland, shipped to Spokane."

It was sold to the Everett Will Tractor Co., and Connors said research even turned up photos of the dealership and of Will.

The tractor was primarily used for cultivating crops.

The lass had six students in the fall and seven in the spring, including project director Jacob Hudson, a UI sophomore with tractor restoration experience. The students met Thursday evenings. Hudson estimates more than a thousand man-hours went into the project. Total restoration costs were about $5,000.

"The value of the program really is teaching old school-style mechanics to the new generation," Hudson said. "It's very simplified, but there's different ways you have to do things, as far as taking things apart. Things are a lot more difficult that have been rusted together for 70 years."

The students disassembled the tractor through the fall and reassembled it to running condition in November. It likely hadn't run for about 25 years, Hudson said.

The students disassembled the tractor again to sandblast and paint it, and reassembled it in late April.

The tractor has 26 horsepower. By comparison, most tractors today have 150 to 500 horsepower.

"The students do learn valuable, hands-on skills," Connors said. "Yes, it's 70-year-old technology, but it's still two-cylinder, John Deere tractors. There were hundreds of thousands produced."

Skills students learn include troubleshooting, shop safety, problem solving, teamwork and the value of maintaining equipment, Connors said.

Connors said the program may continue next year, using the tractor to promote the UI College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and agriculture in general in various parades and events.

"We think a 70-year-old tractor is going to last another 70 years on display," Connors said.

He's awaiting approval to continue the project. If it is approved, finding more tractors won't be an issue.

"We actually have tractors coming out of the woodwork," Connors said.

Some students may wish to restore some of their own tractors, and the group received a John Deere B tractor, which may be the project next year, he said.

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