FREDERICKTOWN — Kaid Benson’s tractor looks brand new. Sunlight bounces off the body, impeccably painted with a fresh coat of classic John Deere green. The wheels have been shined to perfection and there isn’t a speck of rust to be found.
It’s hard to believe that just two years ago, the tractor was languishing in his grandfather’s shop, untouched for nearly a decade. Hundreds of hours of hard work paid off this weekend, when Benson’s restoration of the tractor won this year’s overall best of show project at the Knox County Fair.
The John Deere 4430 had once been the go-to powerhouse tractor for the family farm, but it’s been sitting unused since Kaid was a toddler. When he began high school in 2017, Kaid asked his grandfather if he could fix it up for his FFA project.
“It was something I’d always wanted to do, restore a tractor,” said Kaid, a junior at Fredericktown High School.
While he had tinkered with tractors before, fixing leaky seals and doing some minor electrical work, this project was more ambitious. The 1970s model had multiple leaks. Many of the parts were rusted. It needed some body work, as well as a new engine.
“The coolant had leaked into the oil and damaged several components so we had to completely rebuild it,” said Kaid. “We had it down to just the crankshaft and block and camshaft.”
Kaid’s grandfather helped guide him through the process of stripping and reconstructing the engine, while his father lent a hand with the body work. Kaid also did his own research, poring through the original John Deere manual and searching for tips online. When he discovered that two of the custom connecting rods were covered in rust, he found a solution on YouTube. The video taught him how to blast away the rust by creating an electrical current, a process called electrolysis.
Kaid said that the highlight of his two-year undertaking was about a year ago, when he took the tractor for a ride for the very first time.
“My favorite moment was the very first drive out of the shop,” he said. “I finally got to enjoy what I put so many hours into making work right….It’s very satisfying. You really feel like you earned the right to drive that tractor.”
After he finished the interior, Kaid took it back apart and meticulously painted every piece, working feverishly to have the tractor ready in time to display at this year’s Knox County Fair.
“I’m elated that he has got this project done. He’s been pushing very hard,” said Kaid’s grandfather, Jeff Benson. “He’s worked countless hours, he’s learned a lot and he deserves a lot of credit.”
Kaid estimated that he has put nearly a thousand hours into the restoration. His father, Gene, recalled plenty of days when Kaid headed straight to his grandparents’ after school.
“He would disappear for three or four hours…sanding, wrenching, painting,” said Gene. “He’d be there for weeks on end.”
Kaid put the finishing touches on the tractor last week and has already started his next project—reviving another one of his family’s old tractors. His grandfather is more than happy to let him take the lead.
“I wouldn’t be afraid to turn him loose on any of my equipment… I don’t have a problem letting him do it by himself,” said Jeff. “He’s not a master mechanic yet, but he’s on his way.”
Meanwhile, Kaid is jumping into the endeavor with even more confidence than last time.
“The thing he’s learned the most is not being afraid to mess up,” said Gene. “When he started he was really tentative, he was worried about making mistakes. We told him, ‘if you mess up, we can start over. It’s a learning process.’”
Kaid’s tractor will be on display all this week at the Knox County Fair by the FFA building. Afterwards, it will be put to good use on Jeff Benson’s farm.
“It’s very reliable. It has a lot of power. It’s a very good all around tractor to have,” said Kaid. “It’s not just going to sit there.”
This school year Kaid will serve as vice president of the Fredericktown FFA chapter. After graduating high school, he plans to study agribusiness and become a hog farmer.