Like any great athlete, Matt Mahler didn’t settle for second best. He learned from his mistakes and got better incrementally each year until he finally came out on top.
Mahler doesn't play football or baseball, though. Instead, his “sport” is tractor restoration. He was recently crowned the Grand Champion of the 2015 Delo Tractor Restoration Competition. Mahler placed third overall three times before receiving top honors.
The Texas teenager’s winning submission was a 1972 John Deere 4320, a tractor he rescued after reading a newspaper ad from the owner, who was going to salvage it.
“It had close to 7,000 hours on it,” he says. “It was just tired. It needed engine and transmission work and a lot of cosmetic body work.”
Over 760 hours and $17,000 later, Mahler had himself a winner.
“There’s nothing you can’t figure out if you take the time to get it done right,” he says. “The most enjoyable part was the final restoration of the tractor. Seeing it through to the end was a big deal.”
Dan Holdmeyer, Industrial and Coolants Brands Manager for Chevron, says contestants learn a myriad of skills during the restoration process, including safety, time management, fundraising and budgeting, presentation skills and raw mechanical knowledge.
“It’s very encouraging to see the growth in these students,” he says. “Every year, the contest gets tougher and tougher.”
Competitors must track progress with a detailed workbook that shows before-and-after photos, videos and more. Twelve finalists present their projects to a panel of judges during the National FFA Convention and Expo.
Mahler’s prior projects have included a 1955 Ford 850, a 1970 John Deere 4020 and a 1976 John Deere 2240. He still owns all four tractors, “but for the right price, I’d probably sell them.”
For more information on the competition, visit http://www.delotractorrestorationcompetition.com/.