The Invaluable Wamogo Regional High School Tractor Restoration Program
When a kid starts with some rusty crap brought in from the field with four flat tires, stays with the project, and ends up with a shiny, beautiful tractor that people want to photograph, they beam with pride because they were part of that. It’s a great feeling.
For the past decade, I’ve spent Friday nights mentoring the kids on the Wamogo Regional High School tractor restoration team. COVID-19 has curtailed afterschool programs since last March, but I know that for me and for them, the fire is still there.
The program is a hands-on experience that teaches guys and girls much more than just how to restore a piece of machinery. They realize that they can do the work themselves and that restoration is a real job with a great future.
Why a the Wamogo FFA Tractor Restoration Team?
Wayne Carini knows it’s important to involve the next generation because they won’t appreciate something if they don’t feel included. He’s spent time with our kids and told them, “I hope you like this and share what you know. The program is good because you can sit and touch stuff. When I was a kid, I was told not to touch.”
Tractors are simple, especially antique tractors, as compared to cars, like the Model T, and a good learning tool but the machine is more than a tractor. It’s workmanship over which people bond. If it’s got an engine and wheels, we’re into it.
We Don’t Know Everything But, Together, We Can Figure Out Anything
The kids in the program learn everything from engine rebuild, valve grind, electrical, and fuel systems. They’re taught how to disassemble the right way, labeling and bagging parts so, when it comes time to reassembly, they know where everything is.
The program is not a one man show. We take a team approach to problem solving, assessing the machine and doing compression tests. We check brakes, hydraulics, and take notes. Mentors will take three or four kids to work on the rear end. Another bunch will work on the motor as it sits on the stand. Some will put the clutch in. Some will wire the headlights.
The kids also learn skills like public speaking. You can be great at what you do but if you can’t communicate with confidence, then you are at a disadvantage. We’re teaching more than restoration and keeping the hobby alive by including field trips. Kids are more likely to become car collectors or support groups like the Piston Foundation and support scholarships.
How the Program Started
In 2009, when my daughter was in 10th grade, our family attended a tractor pull. I noticed that kids were into it and thought it would be cool to create a school project where they could restore a tractor. So, I did my homework and got approval from Wamogo.
I didn’t get money or a workspace so I shifted some vehicles at my place. Friends chipped in and we bought a tractor for $1,000. Four students completed the project in one year. They took the tractor to local fairs, car shows, and other events to sell $10 tickets for the chance to win the restored tractor.
We ended up selling 600 tickets and I was more than happy to plop that amount in front of the people who said they wouldn’t be able to budget $3,000 for the students and this idea.
Now, we don’t have to buy tractors. People donate them for the kids because they’re just as proud as the kids. One of our tractors is on permanent display in Roxbury, Connecticut, next to gigantic steam prairie tractors.
We’ve been doing one tractor a year. That’s important because the kids get a sense of accomplishment that they wouldn’t get if the program dragged on for years. This way, they get to the finish line together.
Rick Theriault is the founder and leader of the Wamogo Regional High School FFA Tractor Restoration Team. He is a professional sheet metal fabricator and restores vehicles as a passion in his spare time. Piston Foundation is proud to share Rick’s story as an example of how vital it is to support the amazing people teaching the next generation skills that would otherwise be lost.