ORAN — Since April, Oran High School junior Alex Schlittmight have been a little hard to find unless you knew where to look. He's spent more than 500 hours fixing every detail on an antique tractor in a workshop on his family's farm.
Schlitt has entered his 1946 Farmall M tractor in Chevron Corp.'s national Delo Tractor Restoration Competition that ends in October. According to the competition's website, its purpose is to encourage "creativity, technical aptitude and business knowledge" in members of Future Farmers of America.
Schlitt said most competitors begin working on their tractors for the next year as soon as the prior year's competition ends. Most also work as a team. Schlitt wanted to do the project on his own. First, he had to convince his parents that the time and money he would invest would be worth it.
He did with a lot of prodding and by giving the example of his 1970s-era Ford Bronco he restored and now drives back and forth to school, he said.
He bought the tractor in April and sought advice from his agriculture teacher at the high school, James McCormack, who restores antique tractors as a hobby.
"My students learn about basic mechanics and internal combustion in class, but this is much different and he's taken it all on himself," McCormack said.
New paint and tires for an antique tractor can cost thousands of dollars. Schlitt farms in the summer but sought community support to help afford everything, he said.
Local Case dealerships donated paint, and the high-dollar tires were a donation from Titan, the manufacturer.
Schlitt said he is amazed how local businesses, his school, his friends and his family have supported him. The restoration process has also helped him form stronger relationships within his family. He said they are already close-knit, but his father and his grandfather have taken an exceptional interest in his drive to complete the project.
"My dad works for the railroad and is gone a lot," he said. "Every two days, I would take a picture of the work I did and text it to him. He couldn't believe how much I was getting done, and he was really proud."
His grandfather lives next door.
"Every time he would see the shop light on, he would be over here in no time," Schlitt said.
The contest requires documentation of work with a workbook and video. Entries are judged based on restoration effort, documentation and safety precautions.
Schlitt said he thinks the judges also look closely at authenticity and that he has focused on making his tractor true to its original look and mechanics.
Although he said he is hopeful about winning the competition, Schlitt said he wants others to see the tractor and restoration as an educational tool.
"I hope I have a kid call me in a year or two and ask me how I did it," he said. "I don't have it just for show. I just want other kids to know they can do something like this too if they want to put in the work."
Schlitt hopes to attend MU to study agriculture before returning home to farm. If he wins the competition, he said, he'll pay for college out of the cash prize — after he organizes a dinner for all the people who helped him.