Caleb Leightner restores a more than 90-year-old tractor from the ground up. Photo by Brenda Brinkley.
Photo by Brenda Brinkley

Teen restores a more than 90-year-old tractor from the ground up

SEYMOUR, MO. – With all the high-tech gadgets and gizmos available today, Caleb Leightner likes things a little older. 

Caleb, 18, appreciates old machinery and it has paid off for him.

Caleb lives with his parents, Danny and Carla Leightner, on a farm in Webster County near Seymour, Mo. He graduated Marshfield High School in 2023.

An FFA member all four years of high school, Caleb was the parliamentarian his junior year. As a senior, he served as president. 

“I was top 15 in the state of Missouri in agricultural mechanics my sophomore year,” Caleb said. It was the beginning of a project that would last through graduation. 

A gentleman donated a tractor to the Marshfield agriculture department, and Caleb gravitated toward the antique tractor. 

“His grandfather bought it brand new in 1931. That was the first tractor they’d ever owned,” Caleb explained. He guessed the donor to be in his 80s and he couldn’t do the restoration, so he donated it to the school. 

“It was either getting donated or getting scrapped. So he would rather see it get donated,” Caleb said of the Case Model CC. “It was Case’s first row crop tractor and it saved them from going bankrupt in the Great Depression.” 

A gentleman donated a tractor to the Marshfield agriculture department, and Caleb gravitated toward the antique tractor. Contributed Photo.
Contributed Photo

When the school got the tractor, Caleb said it was just some parts; a cast iron transmission that bolts to the engine, with two axles and what was left of some back wheels. 

“It wasn’t a tractor when we got it. It was just a pile of junk,” Caleb said.

In the beginning, it was a group project of the ag students.

“My junior year, everyone kind of helped a little bit in the beginning. Then it was me and one of my buddies,” he recalled. “Then senior year, schedules changed. I was the only one who was available to work on it. At the time, where I was working, I was allowed to stay after school until 5 or 6 o’clock. I came in at 6 in the morning and worked on it. Most of the work ended up happening my senior year.”

Why would a teenage boy devote so much time to such a project? 

“I like it. It’s a really good hobby, even though it stresses me out sometimes. In the end, it’s sitting in front of my house,” Caleb said.

While the worked on the tractor, he had no idea it would one day be his. It was originally to be auctioned off when it was finished and the proceeds would go “back to the tractor,” Caleb said. 

“The last few months of school, after I kind of had it running, because it was my senior project at that point so it would get done,” he recalled. “That was my motivation; don’t fail your senior project.”

Caleb told his instructor (Justin Cron) if he’d hold onto the tractor for a while after school was out he would “foot the bill for it and take it home,” 

Justin  said it wasn’t possible and continued to say the more than 90-year-old tractor would be auctioned off. 

“At the end of the year, we have a banquet for ag and give out awards. I was the last one to go on stage and that’s when he announced they wouldn’t be auctioning the tractor and that a $2,000 scholarship had been donated so I could take the tractor home. I was surprised,” Caleb said. It was the Rex Diehl Memorial Scholarship. 

Disappointment came before surprise, however.

“There was a shop award for having a good project and I didn’t get called for it. Then at the end it hit me, ‘Oh, I’m actually getting it. That’s why I didn’t get called up for a shop award because they’re giving me the tractor,’” Caleb explained.

The biggest challenge to restoring the tractor was finding parts and the fabrication work, Caleb said. Parts for a Case Model CC were almost non-existent. Contributed Photo.
Contributed Photo

This tractor is the first major restoration Caleb has undertaken. He has worked on others, but for other people and mostly repair work. He has been working on a pick-up truck since he was 12 years old. He said that’s where his interest in restoration began. 

“My great-grandparents never got rid of anything, including vehicles. So I would go find something to play with and keep me entertained,” Caleb said.

The biggest challenge to restoring the tractor was finding parts and the fabrication work, Caleb said. Parts for a Case Model CC were almost non-existent. 

“It was very hard to find original pieces,” Caleb said. “I found one. It was the valve cover. I ordered it from Wisconsin through Ebay. It was the only one to exist on the internet as far as I know. Other than it, everything else has been fabricated in the shop. Some of the transmission we made too.

“The only thing original to the wheels that were on it is that cast iron hub that holds it to the tractor. The spokes we CND’d (computerized numerical control machining). I measured them and cut them out. We didn’t have a good way to make sure it was balanced. So we would vise grip it to the rim and roll it across the shop floor with one eye closed. If you could see the hub pop up from behind the rim, you knew you had to bend some stuff. But it was straight.”

Caleb’s interest in old tractors is simple. 

“There’s not a lot of electronics on it. There’s no computer systems. It has four wires on it so the spark plugs can run the engine. Other than that, it’s all mechanical. There’s no switches. It’s great,” he said.

Caleb has shown his tractor at the Webster County, Laclede County, Ozark Empire and Missouri State fairs. He got ribbons at all of them. He won reserve grand champion at the Missouri State Fair.

The only request the gentleman made when he donated the tractor to the school was to see it finished. He wanted to see it go through the Marshfield Fourth of July Parade. Caleb called him a week before the parade and was told they couldn’t come. But Caleb and the Case CC proudly took part in the parade.

Caleb is now working at Webster County Tractor in Strafford, Mo. and attending classes at Ozarks Technical Community College for general education, but plans to study agriculture business and animal science. 


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