This man’s tractor-restoring hobby has become his wife’s legacy

Don Emmons restores antique tractors.

"I hate to see any of them go to the junk yard," Emmons said. "If you can save them, save them."

For years, he has bought old tractors for cheap, replaced the vintage parts, sandblasted the metal plating, repainted the frame and sold the finished product at auctions. However, his most recent project has a special purpose - helping to find a cure for Alzheimer's.

His mission started after his wife, Loretta, was diagnosed with the memory-robbing disease a few years ago.

"We had been married for 58 years," Emmons said. "About three or four years ago, Alzheimers got to her pretty bad," he said

Emmons cared for his wife as her health gradually declined over the past few years. This meant stopping his work with tractors to be with her nearly all the time. After a variety of complications and several trips to the hospital, she passed away on Christmas Eve, 2017.

"It was hard. I miss the old gal. I miss her really bad," Emmons said.

It was the following month when the idea struck him.

"I was just laying there, didn't have nothing to do, and I just thought, 'I'll just take a ratty old tractor and see how good I can make it,'" he said. "I'll make it the best looking tractor I got just for her and donate it to Alzheimer's."

He started working on an old Allis-Chalmers WD45 in January, spending some time each day turning the old machine into something shiny and like-new. Now, it's nearly finished.

"I think it came out good," Emmons said. "I hope it sells good."

Emmons will put the tractor up for auction through The Mecum Auction Company, which has a branch in Davenport.

The company organizes an auction twice a year called Gone Farmin'. Paul Demchenko, the consignment manager for the Davenport branch, said people come from all over the United States, Canada, Australia and more.

"We get about 5,000 people at our event," Demchenko said. "Everyone comes to the Quad Cities to sell their tractors."

He said the company, which is family owned and operated, believes in giving back. With Emmons' tractor, the profits will go directly to Davenport Alzheimer's Association.

"The person who purchases it will write the check directly to the charity," Demchenko said. "We don't touch the money at all. We waive all our fees."

The Alzheimer's Association was founded in Illinois in 1980. The non-profit organization provides help for people affected by Alzheimer's and also works to fund research on the disease.

Emmons hopes that he can play his part.

"I'm kind of hoping it's the little bit that kicks the butt on the Alzheimer's stuff," Emmons said.

As he finishes this project, he said he's thankful for the people who helped him along the way.

"I don't want to mention any names because if I do, I'll forget somebody," he said. "I just appreciate everything everybody offered and did for us on it."

The tractor will be sold at the 2018 Gone Farmin' Iowa Premiere, November 8-10.