Restrictions imposed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic may have left more than a few people wondering how to keep busy at home – but retired Surrey firefighter Ron Henze didn’t let the sudden shutdown of ‘normal’ life keep him idle for long.
And the project that kept him busy – restoring a 1956 Farmall Cub tractor – did more than fill a gap in his own life. It returned a piece of history to its glory, evoking broad smiles from his best friend’s father, and even fired up a new glow in Henze’s South Surrey neighbourhood.
“When this COVID hit… I thought, I need a project. I needed something to do and I knew that tractor was there,” Henze said Friday, of the machine he’s seen sitting for the past decade in a shed on Bill McKeown’s Aldergrove hobby farm.
“It became the conversation piece of the neighbourhood.”
Henze grew up in Vancouver with McKeown’s son, Jim. Now 62, the pair have been close friends for more than 50 years.
McKeown bought the tractor back in the 80s, when he used to have some cattle on his 10 acres, his son recalled. At that time, it was already 30 years old.
Henze said he has long-admired the machine, and that he has often told McKeown during visits to the farm that if the senior ever wanted to part with it, he’d be happy to take it off his hands.
But while the 92-year-old wasn’t quite ready to bid it goodbye, he was thrilled by Henze’s offer to get it back up and running.
And so the project began.
Henze said after bringing the tractor home in April, he worked daily for close to two months to bring it back to life, bright red colour and all. His routine included coffee, music – and increasing curiosity from neighbours and passersby as he tinkered away for hours in the driveway.
Just about everybody that walked by or stopped to check in on the progress had a story to tell involving the same kind of tractor, he noted. Whether it was about an uncle who had one just like it, or of a time they used one back on their own farm, the tales – “these great stories about farm life” – came steady, Henze said, estimating he stopped eight times a day to talk to people about the tractor.
In the process, he even met neighbours he didn’t know he had.
“I think everybody just got to know each other a little bit better,” he said, describing the increased community feel as one of the positives that has come out of the pandemic. “It really brought out, in many ways, the best of people.
“Just working on (the tractor), meeting the people as they walked around, it was a feeling of comfort,” Henze added.
Fortunately, the restoration came together without a hitch, despite a seized motor, clutch and brakes. The only unexpected “challenge” was having to remove a pair of mouse nests.
Henze got all the parts he needed from a supplier in Ontario, and when he finished the tractor itself, carried on to restore a plow and other implements.
The day McKeown was able to take it for a ride was one for the memory books, the senior’s son said, lauding his friend’s “big heart.”
“He likes to see smiles on people’s faces,” Jim McKeown said.
“The joy he brought to my dad’s face was worth $1 million.”
“It brought tears to our eyes to see the joy that this project brought to a man that Ron has known for more than 50 years!” Henze’s wife, Brenda, added.
Henze said learning a little about the Farmall Cub’s history was another bonus of taking on the restoration and repair. He discovered groups and clubs of people fascinated by the International Harvester-produced equipment, or who have done their own restorations, all over North America, and even submitted a photo of his efforts to a contest being run by the Ontario parts supplier, in the hopes the image wins a place in the company’s upcoming calendar.
With the tractor now back at the farm, the father and son put it to use as recently as Thursday (July 2), using it to pull out a few trees.
As for Henze, it didn’t take long to find his next project – a 1960s Wankel motor that belonged to an uncle who recently passed away.
“It’s a challenge,” Henze said. “I’ve no idea what I’ll do with it if I get it running.”
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