Lime green fields of fresh-cut Sudan hay rolls slow and grows darker as it edges toward a wooded horizon in southeast Wise County.
A rusted disc with specks of white paint bites into green earth like a jagged smile. Golden yellow blooms of ragweed grow around the antique equipment.
And through a creaking gate, Daniel McCurdy steers a growling, 1946 McCormick W-9 tractor, red as a ruby in the afternoon glare, into the hay field.
“When we started, the tractor wasn’t running,” said the 18-year-old Boyd High School senior. “It was missing a lot of parts. After several months and 600 hours on my part, we were able to get it up and running. Pretty much going to school and working on the tractor – that’s my life when I’m restoring a tractor. I like to work with my hands. Go through a process and make something better.”
The effort and hard work of restoring the tractor has earned McCurdy a trip to the FFA National Convention and Expo next week in Louisville, Ky.
He’s part of an elite minority in FFA as he’s finished as a national finalist in two categories. He was one of only four national finalists in the Agricultural Mechanics Repair and Maintenance Entrepreneurship proficiency award.
He’s also one of only 12 finalists in the Chevron Delo Tractor Restoration competition.
“I’m pretty excited about both of them,” he said. “It’s always been a dream and a hope to be a national finalist and now maybe a winner. We’ll find out next week. I’m very blessed and surprised but very appreciative of where I am now. Without God none of this would be possible.”
Aubrey Fortenberry and his family from Slidell first got McCurdy into restoring antique tractors two years ago.
“Aubrey has been very supportive, a good friend and a mentor to me,” he said.
FAMILY HISTORY TIES
Bringing a tractor back to life holds special meaning for McCurdy. His family moved to Wise County in the late 1800s. They’ve been farming and raising cattle here ever since.
“As much as the American farming industry has changed, so has the popular opinion of agriculture,” he said. “It’s been forgotten in a lot of ways. All that the farms do for the people. And how much they really do care about feeding the world. It’s really important to keep it alive.
“It’s like history. If you lose hold of what you had 100 years ago, you lose what you came from. If we had no knowledge of what came before, we’d have no idea how we came to the point we are now.”
And much like his family and their way of life, the tractor he restored and kept it roots. It was originally purchased new in Justin by Ben Peterson. It’s always stayed in the Wise-Denton county area. And now it’s come back fresh as a crop grown on a once-fallow field.
McCurdy has always been intrigued by tractors and tools. He grew up on a farm with his mom Kim and dad K.C.
“It probably started from a young age, being involved with farming and agriculture and running tractors from a young age,” McCurdy said. “I always worked with mechanics and tools with my dad. Growing up on a farm and ranch you learn mechanic skills.”
“My dad is always there. He’s always there to help. He’s always interested.”
“At first it’s scary because you don’t want it to blow up on you,” McCurdy said of finishing a restoration project. “Then it’s a feeling of accomplishment. Knowing ‘This is mine. I did this.’ If it wasn’t for me, it’d still be at the junkyard or in pieces. You can see your time and hard work and financial investment has paid off. It’s a really neat feeling.
“Driving it for the first time is always really neat. You have to understand my fascination with old tractors and farm equipment. I grew up with pictures of old tractors in my room.”
He plans to major in an agricultural field at Texas A&M and hopes to return to farming and ranching after that.
“You don’t quite understand the feeling of winning with those tractors until you do it,” he said. “You invest hundreds of hours over five or six months. You get to talk to people about what you did, and then it’s even better if you win. Even if you lose every show you attend, you’re always going to come out with something good as long as your heart is in the right place and you’re doing your best.”
McCurdy continues to follow his passion. He’s already onto his next restoration project.
McCurdy’s workspace is a corrugated tin shop on his grandfather’s farm. Inside, the guts of another antique McCormick tractor spill across the floor.
“There’s nothing else I could have invested my time in and enjoyed it more than this,” he said. “A lot of long nights, dirty clothes and dirty hands, but it’s worth it.”