Delo Tractor Restoration Competition: Level of Quality Makes Judging a Challenge

by on October 18, 2016 1 Comment


This month marks the 21st annual awards ceremony in the Delo Tractor Restoration Competition, and every year the performance of the contestants seems to get more and more impressive – making it that much more difficult for the judges to choose a winner.

“From the judges’ perspective, it’s very gratifying but also more of a challenge to grade projects because they have become so good,” says Dennis Rupert, who has been judging the competition since 2002. “There are very narrow differences that separate the top five or six projects. The documentation has become more sophisticated, the projects are more complicated, and the quality has become quite impressive.”

The competition is designed to give high school students an opportunity to restore aged tractors – real antiques in some cases – to working condition. And contestants are not judged solely on the quality of the restoration. They also have to document their projects and demonstrate good shop safety practices. They have to raise their own funding and manage their budgets. If they make the final round, they have to deliver a presentation and go through a rigorous question-and-answer session with the judges. The process would be daunting even for a professional mechanic, let alone a high school student.

“The young people in this program have gotten smarter,” Dennis notes. “Many of them return several times, and you see them mature as they go from 14 to 18 years old, developing their public speaking presence. Their knowledge of the projects is quite remarkable.”

A restoration project can take as much as two years, requiring enormous dedication and perseverance. Last year’s winner, Matt Mahler, had come in third in each of the three preceding years before taking home the grand prize. “It’s a lot of hard work,” Matt says. “You’ve really got to want to get out and restore a tractor to these extreme details. But at the end of the day, that’s what the contest is about –  just learning about something from the past and gaining knowledge to better yourself in the future.”

The contest is competitive, without question, but it’s a friendly competition. Contestants get to know each other, share ideas, support each other, and get their friends involved. As 2014 grand prize winner Cody Garrett puts it, “Everybody’s friendly, everybody restores tractors, and it’s just a big, great family.”

Many past participants have gone on to a variety of careers in the agriculture industry, from farming to diesel engineering, manufacturing and sales. The competition represents a promising talent pool for the future of the industry, preparing the next generation to take over for their parents and elders.

“It’s very rewarding to see these kids stay at it,” Dennis Rupert says. “It’s a lot of inspiration to all of us. America is going to be OK if this is the future generation.”

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  1.' Scott Huston says:

    Having worked this event the past three years, I have the utmost respect for the contestants and the judges. The level of knowledge and presentation is simply outstanding! Congrats to this year’s finalists!


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