Published on Monday, March 16, 2015
Everything on the farm holds a memory. As a kid, it was the hayloft you used to play in with your siblings. The first tractor you learned to drive. The basketball goal on the side of the barn where you practiced your jump shot. The old truck you used to ride in with Dad when he had to go to town for parts. Or the creek you played in on warm summer afternoons when the day’s work was done.
As adults, those memories turn to the first field you ever harvested. The first piece of land or equipment you bought on your own. Or maybe even the exact place you were working when your wife called to say it was time to go to the hospital…your first born child was about to arrive.
Years will go by, things will change, equipment will evolve, and farms will grow. But those items, those memories, are priceless. And it’s because of those special sentiments that we are known for keeping certain things around. Some may say they’re old and not worth it, but to us…they’re like gold. Because they were a part of our farm’s foundation.
A Foundation on the Beck’s Farm
Growing up, the first tractor Sonny Beck learned to drive was a 1938 International Harvester Farmall F-20. His dad, Francis, always had International tractors on the farm. Over the course of 30 years, Sonny became very familiar with the F-20, H, M, 560, 706, and other various IH tractors.
During the 1970s, John Deere had some tractors that were becoming very popular. They had gone from 2-cylinder to 6-cylinder, and had larger horsepower.
In 1974, Sonny and his dad made a very memorable purchase. The first John Deere tractor for Beck's Hybrids.
It was a brand new 1974 John Deere 4430 with a cab, 125 horsepower, and a 6.6L 6-cylinder engine. The plan was to use it to work the ground down with their 33 ft. S-Tine field cultivator ahead of the planter.
“I remember the first season we used it,” Sonny said. “We hoped it would get here in time to plant corn, but it was one of the wettest early seasons we ever had and there was almost no seed corn planted in April or May in central Indiana.”
They were able to get a little corn planted in April but then nothing until the very end of May, beginning of June. This was really quite late for planting seed corn.
“The tractor arrived near the end of the planting season,” Sonny added. “We put a lot of long hours on it that first week of June because we were working day and night to get the crop planted. I even remember putting extra lights on it so we could see to work most of the night.”
As time went on, Sonny needed bigger tractors to pull tillage equipment, so the 4430 was delegated to pull an 8-row planter. After it got above 6,000 hours, it was transitioned to mowing roadsides and other light duty purposes. It was a very good tractor and never needed an engine overhaul, even after reaching 10,000 hours and being over 30 years old!
Within the last few years, however, the John Deere 4430 unfortunately suffered some damages. In 2008, a large storm took a shed down on top of the tractor and damaged the cab. Those damages were repaired and it continued to be used. But in 2013, employees were mowing a roadside when it caught fire and burnt down to the frame.
At this point, most people would have said that it’s time had come, buy a new one. But being that it was Sonny’s first John Deere tractor, it was one of those “farm foundation” items that he didn’t want to give up on.
“Everybody used it,” Sonny explained. “It was one of the first automatic transmission tractors with a straight gear shift lever versus a quad transmission, so anyone could drive it. I didn’t just want to junk it.”
They decided to fix the tractor so it could still mow roadsides. Sonny asked if they wanted to take it somewhere, but the employees volunteered to fix it up.
Beck’s shop manager, Blair Dunn, and employees began restoring it in December 2013 and are proud to have it finally completed.
“We knew it would take us at least a year or more since we were only working on it during the winter and slow times in the shop,” Blair explained. “But we knew it meant a lot to Sonny so we wanted to do our best work. There’s a reason why that tractor has stayed here all these years.”
With little left to the tractor besides the burnt frame, it wasn’t an easy task. The employees were starting from scratch. They did about 90 percent of the work at Beck’s, and utilized a donor tractor to ensure they had original parts as they were restoring it. That donor tractor was in Colfax, IA and at first, they couldn’t find a way to get it to Indiana. But it was essential to the quality of parts, so Blair took his truck and trailer and drove to get it himself. That is just one example of the extra personal time and money the employees donated to this project. Because to them, it was the right thing to do.
“It really became a passion for us to restore it,” Blair added. “Adam Fernung (one of the main employees to work on the tractor) said it best – we’re very grateful for everything the Beck family does for us and we wanted our work on this tractor to reflect that appreciation.”
Sonny would stop and check out their progress when he periodically walked the shop on Saturdays, and has been incredibly impressed with their work.
“It’s immaculate,” Sonny described. “It’s as shiny as a new penny, I think they polished every inch! They even asked me if I wanted the original yellow seat so it would look like it always did. They paid attention to every single detail. It’s one of the nicest restoring jobs I’ve ever seen.”
Beck’s employees Blair Dunn, Adam Fernung and Jesse Isaac (L-R), along with Curt Money, Rob Kincade, Cody Barnes, and Jason Beck (not pictured) all contributed to restoring Sonny’s 1974 John Deere 4430 tractor. They would also like to thank Kurt Billhymer, Murray’s Body Shop, and Reynold Farm Equipment for their support and assistance.
More Memories Left to Build
Now that the tractor is in such pristine condition, Sonny is rethinking putting it back to work on mowing duty. With all the work they put into it, he wants the employees to help decide what to do with it. Currently, they are considering very light duty uses like pulling the tour buggies at Becknology™ Days or even having it on display for customers to view during facility tours. This allows them to still get use out of it, as well as have it around to share the historical significance and memories behind it.
But no matter what is decided, Sonny made it clear that despite its new value as a restored antique tractor, he would never sell it. Because the memories from this tractor are worth their weight in gold.
“If it was in an auction, I would be the highest bidder.” – Sonny
Author: Chelsea O'Brien
Categories: Family and Farming
Tags: Beck's Hybrids, John Deere, Sonny Beck, National Ag Week, John Deere 4430, Tractor Restoration, National Ag Day, 1974 John Deere 4430
Beck's Hybrids marketing associate, social media specialist, southern Indiana native and advocate of agriculture.
3/18/2015 4:09 PM
what A great story, I can remember the first JD that I drove back in 1958
3/19/2015 8:06 AM
they did a wonderful job ! To me, it's a late model tractor. I use a 1954 60 as my big tractor, a New Idea picker & a 12 A combine. 😄
3/19/2015 5:19 PM
I salute the employees for doing such a great job of restoring this tractor..i'm proud of the Becks family and their family values and how much it means to the community and all the agricultural !!!
Barbara Hussey McVay
2/28/2018 9:34 PM
My husband Jim and I bought an old farm house from the Becks in the early 80's. To see how the business has grown just makes me smile a lot. I loved living there and loved the Beck family. Great people. Congratulations on a job well done. I now live in Texas but love Indiana more than I can tell. Miss it terribly.