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Stella: A tractor fit for The King
Shane Louwerens didn't even tell his students about the tractor's past owner. They wouldn't have believed him about the 1963 John Deere 4010, anyway. But, it was definitely a machine that needed a lot of rehab...about 400 hours, to be exact.
Stella is her name and Graceland was once her home. She once belonged to "The King" himself, Elvis Presley, and by the time she made it to Louwerens' shop at Mississippi Northwest Community College in February 2009, she needed a lot of work.
So, without spilling the tractor's secret, Louwerens set his John Deere Ag Tech Program students to work, learning the ins and outs of the machine as they broke it down and refurbished it. First came disassembly of everything except the engine and differential.
Keeping the machine's origin a secret while the students worked wasn't easy. "“None of the students knew; none of the faculty knew,” Louwerens says. “They didn’t understand why I had to have every single part that was on the tractor. They didn’t understand they couldn’t just throw this stuff away. And I couldn’t tell them."
The tractor's loader proved to be a major challenge. The loader’s cylinders were leaking and rusted. Ten-penny nails had replaced original keeper pins. The hoses were bad, but Louwerens knew they would never be put under load again. “We came up with some unique techniques to make them look really nice,” Louwerens says.
Sanding and washing, the crew started finding things that pointed to history. “On both sides of the hood, at the steering column, a number 4 was painted. It wasn’t stencil-painted. It was painted with what looked like a paint brush and red paint,” Louwerens says.
On the sides of the console, sanding revealed the outlines of two matching decals. The detail was gone, but the outline was clear -- a circle with wings on each side."
Under the dash, they discovered the original service booklet.. “Every page had information about when the engine oil should be changed, how much air pressure was needed for the tires,” Louwerens says. “It was in perfect condition. Never removed, never used, absolutely original to the tractor. All I did to those little laminated cards was wipe them off. I put them back in the tractor. They’re in there, just like the day they were made.”
Then came the matter of what to do with the blemishes on the tractor. “It was full of dents and scratches,” Louwerens says. “I documented them but didn’t take any out. There’s history to every dent.” The team set about meticulously painting the tractor. Decals were placed with exact care. All signs of restoration were removed. After nearly 400 hours of work, Stella was ready.
By the project's end, everybody knew the tractor was important. “The day they came to pick up the tractor was quite the day,” Louwerens recalls. “There were photographers, camera crews, and news reporters. The president and dean of the college, John Deere corporate people, just everybody showed up. My students were kind of like, ‘What is going on?’ They were so excited!”
Then, the secret was announced. Stella was from a place called Graceland, and she was going home to the Elvis Presley Museum.
The tractor left along with a box holding every worthless part. But it also left with an addition not original to the tractor.
“The students and I signed a card with our names. It’s hidden somewhere under the hood,” Louwerens says. “We left that card for history.”
A Deere 4010 that once belonged to Elvis Presley gets a real makeover.