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Phil Adair grew up in a world of green — John Deere green — and he puts a lifetime of mechanic skills to use, with the help of three retired mechanic friends, to keep decades-old tractors, combines, and other equipment in top operating condition. "They're built solid, they're rugged, they do the job — and best of all, I have no equipment payments," he says.
THIS COMBINE is one of three 1960s models that Phil Adair uses in his Union County, Miss., soybean farming operation. He and three retired mechanic friends keep an array of older machinery in tip-top running condition.
Look around the hilltop where Phil Adair has his farm headquarters and you’ll see: A gaggle of John Deere combines, tractors, and other machines that were new 30 or more years ago. And disks. Sprayers. 18-wheeler rigs. And more. Much more.
“It’s my parts store,” laughs Adair.
Under a sprawling equipment shed nearby are three Model 95 John Deere combines that rolled off the assembly line sometime in the 1960s, an ancient 2-row John Deere cotton picker, and an assortment of other machines and implements that look as if they belonged in the pages of an antique farm equipment magazine.
Does any of it run, he is asked.
He smiles. “If it’s under the shed, it runs,” he says.
Even the cotton picker?
“Sure,” says Adair, who hasn’t planted any cotton “since the early ‘90s, when the worms ate me up,” and has no intention of ever growing it again. “The picker runs great. I could crank it up and use it today.”
Under another shed at the shuttered John Deere dealership in nearby New Albany, Miss., where his father worked for years, Adair parks his “newer” equipment, a couple of 1993 John Deere 4760 and 4960 tractors. There are also a couple of 4620s and a couple of 4020s from the 1970s — all in “tip-top shape,” all used in his soybean farming operation that’s spread over a dozen or so farms along a 15-mile line that runs mostly along King’s Creek bottom.
“These aren’t the latest and greatest,” he says. “But it’s amazing what they’ll do. They’re built solid, they’re rugged, they get the job done, and best of all, I have no equipment payments.”
He does admit to having a “pretty new” John Deere 6500 sprayer, “with GPS and all the electronics. But I also have a 600A sprayer that I use. There aren’t many of those left. It’s the only one I know of that’s diesel — it originally had a gasoline engine, but I put in a diesel engine out of a 350 crawler and it runs like a top.”
He has three Model 95 John Deere combines, all dating to the mid- to late 1960s; one has a 14-foot header, the others 15-foot.
“All were gas burners,” he says, “but I put diesel engines in them. They do the job, and I don’t have any problems with them. We go over them from top to bottom before the start of the season, and during the off season they’re all kept under sheds and out of the weather.”
Adair, who has an ag engineering degree from Mississippi State University and has 26 years of service with the USDA Soil Conservation Service, grew up in a world of green — John Deere green.
“My father, Dan Adair, worked many years traveling a John Deere territory,” he says. “But they wanted him to move to Elizabethtown, Ky., and he didn’t want to go. He took a shop foreman job at the Deere dealership here, owned by Tom Cornelius, and that’s where he spent the rest of his working career.
“So, I grew up in a John Deere world — and I loved it, loved watching him work on machinery, learning how things worked, seeing how he fixed them and made them run again. I learned so much from him.”