By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
Ray Flood received a birthday present recently that drew some tears.
It was a 1972 International Harvester 766 tractor. It was the same tractor his father, Kenneth Flood, was driving when it rolled over and killed him 40 years ago.
“I said I couldn’t believe it. It was amazing when they drove it into the shed,” said Ray, who turned 51 and was only 10 when he lost his Dad.
His family members confirmed he and his mother, Margie, were wiping away tears when the bright red and white tractor appeared during the birthday party 12 days ago.
The tractor was sold at auction soon after Kenneth’s death as his widow, Margie, sought to keep the Flood family farm north of Woodbury in Cumberland County. She remembered the auction took place on a bitterly cold day with a blizzard in the forecast, producing some bittersweet irony.
“I was getting calls from different states from people asking about the auction. I told them about the blizzard. I warned them not to risk someone’s life to come to the auction,” she recalled.
It was a hard choice to sell the tractor and other equipment but she had to make it. She had to think about the future of her eight young children at the time.
“After the death of my husband, I could not keep farming with a young family to raise. So I decided to sell the equipment to hold onto the land,” said Margie, who was raised in Green Creek before she met her future husband.
Selling that tractor was a lingering regret for Margie and her family, including Ray, because it was letting go of something tied directly to Kenneth. Margie tried to buy it about 18 years ago with the help of a Shelby County farm equipment dealership, but missed making an offer by one day.
That could have been the end of the story until Ray’s sons, Josh and Kenny, decided to do some detective work and track down the tractor so they could restore it and offer it to their father on his 50th birthday.
“I was a little bitty kid when the grown-ups were talking about that tractor. So we started asking around to see if it was still in the area of Stewardson and Strasburg,” Josh recalled.
A tip from an employee at the Ford McCormick dealership offered some clues on a past buyer. He had remembered when Margie had asked about buying the tractor years before. A network of friends also helped track down the most recent owner. Some complications delayed the purchase of the tractor.
“We intended to make it a present for when he turned 50, but it took longer,” Josh said with a grin.
The purchase was completed in August and as Josh put it, “that’s when the fun started.” The restoration effort started in earnest with the rule that their father must not know about it, even though as a grain farmer and carpenter he has a list of friends that could stretch down a corn row.
With the agreement they keep their lips sealed, Bernie Platz, a Sigel mechanic, and Jay Romack, a Neoga resident with painting skills, both helped with the restoration to make the IH 766 look brand new. The old tractor was stripped down twice during the effort.
Finally, it was time to spring the surprise on Ray during the birthday celebration on December 30 at the Flood farm.
“We parked it the night before in a neighbor’s shed. When everyone was gathered, I drove it through the shed doors,” Josh said.
Ray was speechless at first. Later, he remembered he probably had spoken to his sons of the regret over losing the tractor not once, but twice.
“He didn’t have a clue when it came in. And there were some tears, too,” said JoEllen Flood, Ray’s wife.
The tractor will be used sparingly by the Floods. Parade duty and tractor pulls are the best options for now. At the pulls it will be entered in memory of Kenneth Flood.
For Margie, the tractor offers a sentimental link to the man she first met at a church event at St. Rose Church in Montrose 60 years ago. It is the only piece of farm equipment remaining that was used by Kenneth when the couple was raising their eight children.
All grown now, they are Marilyn Hamilton, Charlotte Haslett, Judy McClure, Myra Oltman, Theresa Schackmann, Joyce Hemmen, Randy Flood and Ray. And for all the grandchildren, it’s a good reminder of Flood family heritage.
“It’s good it’s back here and will be here long after I’m gone,” Margie said.