Warringtons’ passion for John Deere a family affair
LAUREL, Del. — Jerry Warrington and his family are obvious fans of John Deere tractors. So much so, that, according to family lore, his great-grandson’s first word was “tractor.”
That’s according to the family, even though the little one doesn’t pronounce it clearly enough that anyone else would understand.
Warrington has restored 20 pieces of John Deere equipment, not including two John Deere bicycles. He has a wall full of trophies from parades and shows in which he has participated. In his shop is a whole room dedicated to John Deere toy tractors, plates and other memorabilia.
Asked if he had sold any of the tractors he has restored, Warrington said, “My wife would sell me first!”
Carol Warrington, Jerry’s wife, likes them as much as her husband does.
She was the first president of the First State Antique Tractor Club when it was organized and remained in office for three or four years. “I’ve held every office but treasurer,” she said, “and I refuse to do that.”
The Warringtons’ sons, Roland and Wayne, are also “into” tractors, as are their four grandchildren, but their daughter, Sandra Atkinson, is not.
Jerry worked at DuPont as a mechanic for 33 years, in addition to farming his 220 acres. He learned his trade out of necessity, he said.
His grandfather originally owned the farm and the family couldn’t afford a mechanic. Jerry transferred his knowledge to his sons, teaching them how to work on transmissions and so forth.
“That’s how we got started (restoring tractors),” he said.
Roland said his father is “the neighborhood ‘go-to’ guy” for quick fixes when their equipment breaks down.
Roland is an accountant for Merck, a pharmaceutical company, and Wayne buys cars for Pohanka in Salisbury.
Carol worked at Acme for 17 years after the boys were out of school. She also took care of the farm’s chickens until 1980.
The restoration bug bit in 1987 when Wayne got a 1939 John Deere as a graduation present from George Short in Linkwood.
Jerry bought one for parts, but it was too nice to scrap, so he fixed it.
Another tractor, a John Deere B, was given to him by a young man cleaning out an old canning house who said it would be stolen otherwise. Jerry intended to use it for parts, but fixed it too. Restoring tractors had become a hobby.
He has a 1937 John Deere A and an earlier unstyled A on which the radiator is not covered.
He also has two John Deere B tractors, one styled and one unstyled, and an LA, M, and MT. He has a John Deere 1952 “MC” Crawler S/N MC-16506, one of the last of the production run that began in 1949.
Only one of his tractors is not green — a Sheppard SD-4 which his uncle purchased new in Hanover, Pa., in 1955. When the uncle died, two cousins used the Sheppard to continue farming. When they quit farming, they offered it to Jerry at the right price, and he restored it five or six years later.
The RH Sheppard Company was a prominent manufacturer of diesel engines in the 1930s and 1940s. During World War II, it produced thousands of small, reliable diesel engines to use on lifeboats.
After the war, the company decided to put their engines to use in a line of tractors. Three models were released at the 1949 Pennsylvania State Fair, but the company stopped producing tractors in 1956.
Jerry does all the work himself up to priming for painting. He had Frank Perdue do the painting until he died 20 years ago. Chet’s Body Shop in Laurel painted the last.
“You can get parts, but you know it when you buy them (because they are expensive),” Jerry said. He was able to get most of his parts from Dennis Polk Equipment in Warsaw, Ind., which just recently closed. “I could call the lady there (Jean Goodnight) and she’ll have all the parts I needed.” The company started when Goodnight’s father was selling tires and started buying out parts dealers who were going out of business. She and her son carried on the business after her father died — until now.
One time Jerry needed a side hood because birds had built a nest in the gas tank of a tractor, and Goodnight gave him a deal. She attended a sale in Florida and found three, brand new, with the labels still on them.
The hardest part of restoration is getting a tractor ready to paint. “It’s worse than rebuilding it,” Jerry said. “If it’s not clean, the paint won’t stick.”
“You have to degrease, then sandblast, wearing a suit and hood,” Wayne Added. “It takes a long time and is very involved.”
But, the best part is “when we get one done,” Jerry said.
He recalled late one night he was working on a tractor so rusted he figured he’d never get the hub locks off to remove the wheels. Then he discovered someone had put wax paper under the hub locks to keep them from sticking. They slipped right off. “Those were the easiest I ever pulled,” he said. When he wanted to put them back on, he went into the house for wax paper, but they had none. So at 10 p.m., he called a neighbor to borrow some. “I’ve put wax paper on ever since,” he said.
Roland also collects tractors. He has six, all restored. He also buys “hit and miss engines” from the 1920s and ‘30s to run equipment.
“It’s something to do,” he said. He has restored a 1939 pick-up truck and a Model A Ford car.
The family participates in a number of events, including parades, plow days and tractor shows. “When we were younger, we had something every weekend, said Grandson Beau. “If we weren’t playing sports, we were at one of those things.” From the time he rode in a wagon as a baby in 1993, he said he’s never missed a Fourth of July parade.
Multiple entries in a parade requires multiple trips to haul tractors. One Fourth of July, Jerry said he got hung up in traffic on the Route 9 Bypass and didn’t get home until 11 p.m.
“I changed my shirt three times that day,” he recalled.
Then there have been Christmas parades when he felt he’d freeze to death.
“I’ll never go back,” he said. The last parade he participated in was for a co-worker at DuPont.
Jerry recently gave up farming, after three hospitalizations since November. The land is now rented.
But he’ll likely be at the Laurel Farmers Auction Market June 24 through 26 when the First State Antique Tractor Club partners with the Eastern Show Antique Automobile Association for the tractor club’s annual show — perhaps with a tractor or two.