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Elvis Presley’s John Deere 4010

Only instructor Shane Louwerens knew the truth about the tractor in the shop at Mississippi Northwest Community College in February 2009. If he’d told the four students tackling the refurbishing job on the 1963 John Deere 4010, they wouldn’t have believed him anyway.

The tired old tractor definitely needed help. It was greasy, rusty, dented up pretty good, and in need of a major overhaul. 

Louwerens is the sophomore instructor in the John Deere Ag Tech Program at the community college in Senatobia, Mississippi. Under supervision, second-year students work hands-on with broken equipment, learning to deal with the variety of problems they will see as John Deere service technicians.

This time, the project would be a very special learning experience. Louwerens had the background for the job. He had worked at a machinery dealership and was a meticulous record keeper before coming to the college in 2000.

Keep Every Part

Louwerens told his students to save all the broken pieces, repair everything possible, and replace little. They had 30 days to make the tractor look like it had just come off the factory line. 

Each student kept a daily journal. Louwerens also kept a journal and photographed each step of the restoration. 

“None of the students knew; none of the faculty knew. I told my dean and the college president,” Louwerens recalls. “I didn’t even tell my parents.”

Every project in the program gets a name. Louwerens called this one Stella. That didn’t help much. “They didn’t understand why I had to have every single part that was on the tractor. If it was rusted and replaced, I put it in a box that got labeled as to where those pieces came from,” he recalls. “They didn’t understand they couldn’t just throw this stuff away. And I couldn’t tell them. So they knew something special was going on.”

In the first week of the project, the tractor was disassembled, but the engine and differential remained intact. “Every other component – the dashboard, the seat assembly, the front-end loader, the fenders – that could be removed came off,” he says.

Elvis' 4010

Tackling The Loader

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,” he 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.

Service Manual Pristine

The best discovery was under the dash, behind a small door. The compartment held a service booklet with plastic pages. “Every page had information about when the engine oil should be changed, how much air pressure was needed for the tires,” Louwerens describes. “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.”

Louwerens did tell his curious students that Stella only had to look showroom perfect, as she’d never run again. Work on her engine, transmission, and differential was finished, so if ever needed, the components can move again. The students repaired the wiring harness, rebuilt lift cylinders, patched leaky couplers, and even rethreaded bolts. 

In the process, the team discovered that the 46A decals on either side of the front-end loader were misplaced. A digital micrometer revealed they were in slightly different locations and one was crooked. New decals (one of the few things replaced) were perfectly placed and aligned.

Deere & Company was pressed into service to find a much-needed rear light housing. No housing was found. So the team settled on keeping the original, making a repair on the inside of the housing, and using plastic filler.

And then came the matter of what to do with the dents. “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.

Unveiling The Truth

By this time, word had spread around the college, and 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.”

Read more about John Deere's history in Deere's Corn Borer D. 

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