What is in this article?:
- Phil Adair and mechanic friends keep older machines humming on his Mississippi farm
- A love for all things Deere
- Helps reduce operating costs
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.
A love for all things Deere
The Deere dealership is long closed and his father died in 2005, but Adair has an abiding love for all things Deere, and for fixing things and making things.
With the help of three mechanics long retired from the dealership — James Medlin, Bill Medlin, and Bobby Mason, “all super mechanics; I couldn’t do all I do without them” — he farms with an array of machinery that would otherwise long ago have been mothballed, in the process holding equipment and maintenance costs to a bare minimum.
“Even while I was in school, I worked at the dealership and on Mr. Cornelius’ farm,” Adair says. “I couldn’t have had better training than I got from my father and these men. They were among the best John Deere mechanics to ever pick up a wrench.”
A friend and colleague, Benny Sappington, construction inspector at the Tupelo, Miss., USDA NRCS office, says Adair is “top-notch when it comes to anything related to equipment. Even when he was at Mississippi State, they’d call him to come back home to the dealership and help with problems. He was a master at removing frozen bearings and broken off bolts. He just had a lot of patience when it came to analyzing what’s wrong and what’s needed to make something work.
“He could probably earn six figures just trading equipment and finding stuff for people — his grandfather was a trader, and Phil has that knack, too. He’ll go out and buy these old machines for a few hundred dollars, and it’s better than having a parts warehouse. If they need something they don’t have, he’ll make it; he has a fully-equipped shop, with a precision lathe and milling equipment.”
An example is Adair’s planter.
“I wanted a planter that could cover more ground than the 6-row models I had,” he says. “But I didn’t want to pay $150,000 or more to buy a new one. So, we built a 20-row, narrow row planter from two 6-row, narrow row planters and a John Deere 530 implement carrier. It will fold for easy movement between fields. I’ve got about $10,000 in it, and it does a great job.”
He did spring for a $4,500 planter monitor. “I can’t adjust the seeding rate from the tractor cab, as I could with a new, expensive planter,” he says. “I have to get down off the tractor and spend 10 minutes or so change the seeding rate — but I figure I can make a lot of 10-minute changes for what a new planter would cost.”
When he needed a way to transport additional water to the field for chemical mixing and other uses, he bought an old Chevrolet truck for $600 that had been retired from a volunteer fire department, reworked it, and mounted a 1,600 gallon stainless steel tank from an old fertilizer applicator truck.
“It may not win any beauty contests,” Adair says, “but it serves the purpose, and the cost was minimal.”
His venture into farm equipment acquisition began just after he finished high school. “A neighbor had a Ford tractor that had been sitting under a shed for years and was badly weathered. She wanted to sell it, and I had some money that I’d saved from working summers at the dealership and on the farm.
“I bought the tractor, and Dad and I cleaned it up, painted it, and got it to running like new. We’d parked it out in the front yard one day and a guy driving by stopped and wanted to buy it. I made him a price I figured he wouldn’t take — and he took me up on it.
“With that money I bought a John Deere 3010, a disk, a do-all, and a cultivator. That’s how I got started buying equipment. When I’d get some money saved, I’d buy something else.”