ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
From many pieces to masterpieces.
If rebuilding and restoring old tractors qualifies as an art form,
that pretty well describes the creative effort Dennis Funk exerts
his farm east of Hillsboro.
His pride and joy?actually, the only example of his handiwork he
his own?is a two-cylinder diesel John Deere 720 that originated in
1957. Or 1958. Or both.
?It probably depends which serial number I want to use,? Funk says
wryly. The parts likely came from both years. And maybe more.
This project started on a handshake deal.
?I traded a guy a paint job on a tractor and gave him an old A
(tractor), and he said he?d give me enough pieces to make a
he explains. ?He brought three pieces of junk over. We scattered
all out in the shop and started in at it.?
The ?we? in this case is mostly Funk himself, plus occasional
assistance from his two sons, Sheldon, 16, and David, 12.
The end result of their energy is truly a work of art?and of
mechanical genius. Except for some worn rear tires, the John Deere
looks and runs like it rolled off the assembly line yesterday.
Funk?s tractor will be among several local treasures on display
Saturday at the Hillsboro Folk Festival. The antique tractors are
owned, and some restored, by amateur collectors from the area.
Funk has been restoring and rebuilding tractors for only five or
years?he?s not quite sure when he started. The John Deere was by
means his first effort.
?I just wanted one for myself, so if guys wanted to know what
kind of look like when I?m done, I can say, ?Here?s one we slapped
Funk has no idea how many hours he invested to ?slap together? his
?Probably better not to know,? he says with a smile.
But it was a literal from-ground-on-up project.
?We started with just the transmission housing and just bolted
together from the other tractors,? he says.
?We ran into all kinds of trouble,? he adds. ?Some of (the parts)
been updated and nothing seemed to work. We just had to keep
pieces around to where we could get it all together.?
Once he had the parts assembled and running, he sandblasted the
tractor down to the bare metal and started painting.
Only the authentic lead-based paint of that era would do.
?It was really hard to find it,? Funks says. ?I had John Deere put
on locator, and they rounded up the old leaded paint. I?ve got
left to do one more tractor.?
His John Deere took about five painstaking coats of paint. Funk is
particular about the results.
?You?ll be out there a lot of the day,? he says of the tedious
process. ?You may be out there painting for five or six hours
Funk came by his mechanical skills almost naturally. His father,
operated a repair shop on the family farm for many years. Two of
Dennis?s brothers are accomplished auto mechanics.
?We just grew up doing that kind of stuff,? Dennis says.
What attracts Funk to restoring tractors is the challenge of
something valuable out of what often amounts to mostly junk.
?I need to take a picture (of the tractors) beforehand,? he says.
?Guys would come to the shop and the shop was just full of parts,
everywhere. They just couldn?t imagine what I was going to make
that mess. The guys who had seen the pile (of parts), and then saw
tractor, they were amazed.?
And apparently they?ve shared their amazement with others. Funk
taken on several restoration and painting jobs locally, but
have come to him from as far away as Texas, Wyoming and Minnesota.
?It?s all word of mouth,? Funk says. ?But a lot of them have
connections around here. It?s not like out of the blue they come
driving down the road.?
Funk does his restoration work during the winter months and rainy
spells, when his farming operation is on hold. But more and more
requests keep coming his way.
?Now, it?s getting to where I?ve got so many of these that I could
almost do it full time,? he says.
But he doesn?t plan to just yet.
?That?s what I like about summer,? he says. ?You can get away fro
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF