RIVER FALLS — Even though he lives in town, Donald Hershaw says he’s always had a passion for farming and in particular, tractors.

So when the River Falls High School senior and FFA chapter president heard about the Delco Tractor Restoration Project while attending the National FFA Convention last October, he was intrigued.

“I kept thinking about it pretty much the whole bus ride home,” he said.

Last December, Hershaw picked up a 1959 Oliver 950 Diesel that had seen better days from Gary Prissel of Mondovi.

Thirsty for a fresh coat of green paint, the tractor came in two separate pieces — the rolling chassis and the engine — but was otherwise complete.

With a little elbow grease and a whole lot of dedication, within six months, the tractor looked as good as it did when it was driven new off the dealer lot — maybe even better — and Hershaw entered it in the Delco contest.

Last month, he learned that he had made it into the top 10 in the contest, which drew 25 entries from across the U.S.

Hershaw is the first from his local chapter to participate in the competition and has the only Wisconsin entry in the top 10. 

At the National FFA Convention later this month, Hershaw will give an hour-long presentation about his project and answer questions for judges.

“You’ve got to know the tractor front to back,” he said.

Hershaw tackled the project for the pure challenge of it, said Ryan Pechacek, his agriculture instructor/​FFA adviser at River Falls High School.

“It was fun to watch him grow and learn and make mistakes,” Pechacek said.

Hershaw acknowledged that it was a long process, but he had a lot of fun along the way and would relish the opportunity to enter the competition again.

“I would start it right now in a heartbeat,” he said.

Devoting time before and after work and school, Hershaw estimates that he has more than 300 hours invested into restoring he tractor.

“It was definitely my pastime the past year,” he said.

Working on the tractor got him curious about its history, so he put in a call to the Floyd County Historical Museum in Charles City, Iowa, which is the birthplace of Oliver. He found out his tractor was first shipped to Saskatchewan, Canada, likely to work in the wheat fields.

It had rested in Prissel's shop for 20 years before catching Hershaw’s eye.

He first restored the rolling chassis and went through the transmission and rear end. Many parts are original, but some required replacements, and he had some shipped from Pennsylvania. Then, he began work on the engine, doing an almost complete overhaul.

“I tore it down and sent it to a machine shop for machining work,” he said.

When he got it back, he rebuilt the motor and fit it into the tractor. Then he was ready to sandblast, prime and paint the tractor, connect the frame and engine and do some tin and fender work.

Hershaw said he did most of the painting himself at Gilby’s Street Department, where he works as a mechanic. He also worked on the tractor some in the high school shop, especially over spring break.

The tractor got $3,000 worth of brand new tires donated by Titan Tire.

Hershaw’s local FFA chapter and FFA Alumni have been very supportive of the effort. The FFA kicked in $2,000 and the FFA Alumni matched that donation.

“I had to come up with a budget and plan and presented it to the alumni,” he said.

Some other local businesses also donated, to the tune of about $450.

Hershaw, who works full time in the summer and 40 hours every two weeks during the school year, said he paid for most of the project on his own, but “it’s hard to do by yourself.”

Pechacek said there was never any question that Hershaw had what it takes to see the project through, from start to finish.

“Anyone can tear apart stuff,” he said. “It takes a special student or team of students to get this done.”

Hershaw, who will graduate from high school next spring, said he hopes to study mechanical engineering at Michigan Technological University in Houghton.

Clausen is a regional editor for the Country Today, a publication of the Eau Claire Press Co. Contact: 715-268-7454, clausen@amerytel.net