A new look for old tractors

Thursday, March 1, 2012
Terry Palmer (left) sits atop the restored Farmall H while Bret Palmer (right) rides the Super M-TA.

For father and son Terry and Bret Palmer, farming is not just an occupation, it's a lifestyle built upon generations of hard work, appreciation and respect.

Bret and Terry continue to live and farm near Holly Island on land their family has worked for over 100 years. This bond with history, and above all family, continues today in a number of ways.

Bret has channeled his love for farming and its impact on his family through restoring classic tractors during the winter months. To date, he and Terry, with help from employee and fellow tractor enthusiast Ben Stirnaman, have restored three tractors owned by Terry's father, George Lemuel Palmer, called "Papa G" by his grandson Bret.

The first project completed by Bret and Terry was restoring Old John, a 1931 John Deere GP Wide-Tread Series P tractor. Old John was restored a few years back and has been spotlighted on the RFD TV network, as well as local parades.

The Palmers now have completed work on a 1950 McCormick Farmall H and a 1954 Farmall Super M-TA.

The Farmall H, bought new in 1950 from Haywood International (later Haywood Motors) in Piggott, was often used in tandem with G.L. Palmer's M-12-H one-row cotton picker, one of the first pickers used in the area. The picker was placed atop the small tractor and was able to efficiently collect cotton at a much faster rate than was possible by hand.

"He farmed 20 acres in 1950," Bret said of his grandfather. "He'd get his crop out, then people would hire him to custom pick (their crop)."

The picker and tractor were a strong combination, remaining in regular use until 1978. The equipment was used to pick up to 160 acres of cotton during harvest.

Because the old H and the cotton picker had served him well, G.L. was hesitant to part with the implements. Both tractor and picker were kept in storage for a number of years.

As a child, Bret often drove the H for fun. At age seven, he asked his grandfather if the picker could still work. G.L. believed the reliable picker was still capable, and he began working to prepare it for use.

"It picked good," Bret said. "We picked a trailer load. Grandpa did it for me, but I think he had more fun than I did."

About four years later, the old picker was a casualty in an effort to clean up the farm, being cut up for scrap.

"I'd love to have that picker," Bret said. "It meant a lot to my grandpa, and I wish we still had it."

Bret is searching for a picker to restore and have alongside the old H.

"If I can find one like it, I'd sure like to have it," Bret said.

The H is the most recent restoration project, with work on the classic tractor finishing up on Feb. 15.

The Super M-TA, purchased from Haywood International in 1954, includes the torque assist feature, which essentially creates additional gears and pulling power for the small tractor.

Restoration on the Super M was completed in February of 2011. The sheet metal on the tractor was taken off down to the steel and replaced, taking years off the tractor's appearance. Fresh paint, matching the original McCormick coloring, was applied to both tractors, making them stand out whether on display or in the field.

"That Super M was pretty much untouched for 30 years," Bret said. "In its day it did a lot of work. Those two Farmalls were the workhorses for the farm for a lot of years. They pretty much did everything."

Bret brought the Super M back into service last year, using the short, but still stout tractor for pulling center pivots on irrigation systems.

Now that the tractors are restored, they're working days are likely behind them.

"We had been using them for odd jobs," Terry said. "Now that Bret's restored them, we might have to retire them."

The two tractors were a project of passion for those involved. Bret estimated there was probably 80 hours of work on each tractor in the restoration process.

"There's just something about these old tractors that makes them special," Bret said. "Knowing my grandpa used these and what they meant to him makes them even more important to me."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: