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GALLERY: High schooler restores grandmother's 1957 tractor

When Owen Scheffler found out the 1957 John Deere 620 sitting in his grandparent’s machine shed for 15 years was his grandma’s first tractor purchase, he knew restoring it would be a great project.

The 1957 John Deere 620 sat in the shed of Owen’s grandmother for 15 years before. (Photo courtesy of Owen Scheffler)

After about nine months of making some cosmetic and electrical updates/modifications, the 2020 Kenyon-Wanamingo graduate’s first restoration project was officially completed (with the exception of minor cosmetic work) two days before his graduation party in early July.

“I still have to do a little touch up on paint, get dealer sticker stickers to replace the originals since I had to take them off to do the painting, but it has all the John Deere decals on it now,” Scheffler said.

After months of work making the needed cosmetic and electrical modifications, Owen Scheffler’s first restoration project is complete. Pictured is the finished project. (Photo courtesy of Owen Scheffler)

Scheffler first began working to restore the 620 last fall when school began. He was able to work on it during three periods each day in Kenyon-Wanamingo’s ag power, ag mechanics and individual study hour (in replacement of an art class) classes. Once the tractor was first brought into the school’s shop, Scheffler began diagnosing what he needed to do in order to fix it up. While a majority of the restoration needed was cosmetic, the installation of a new battery and a tune-up kit for electrical components was also required.

Scheffler says the tractor did start after he installed those major electrical components, noting before the tractor got in his hands, it was used very lightly after it was overhauled. He also had to coat the inside of the fuel tank with a liner to keep the fuel clean since the inside was so rusty.

“I converted the 6-volt system to a 12-volt system, so now it runs really well and is completely restored,” Scheffler added.

K-W ag teacher Chuck Larson explains his ag power and ag mechanics classes are two advanced mechanics classes in K-W’s vocational ag program. The advanced classes are limited to juniors and seniors and deal with the rebuilding of multiple cylinder engines, the application of that power and how it pulls everything together on a multi-cylinder basis. One important aspect of teaching the young men and women for Larson is teaching them how to work with their hands and learn by doing.

“It’s an absolutely fantastic way for these students to apply the learning they’ve got in the classroom…It’s always fun working on these old projects, because some things that come up are things students don’t see anymore in modern equipment,” said Larson of the students with an interest in restoration projects.

Scheffler began painting the tractor in a painting booth he built in February, and was able to paint for most of March. However, when COVID-19 hit and schools were instructed to close, Scheffler wasn’t able to continue painting for most of April and part of May. Luckily, once the Minnesota Department of Education relaxed a few of the rules to allow a student back into the building to finish working on large, hands-projects, Larson says Scheffler worked really hard to meet his desired goal to finish his project before his party.

“Owen is a very, mechanically-inclined young man, he works very well with his hands,” said Larson. “He has an absolutely fantastic work ethic, making it easy for me to let him bring in a large advanced project. I knew it was going to get done, and that he would work until it was done. He was bound and determined to have that thing finished.”

Owen Scheffler built a paint booth as part of his tractor’s restoration project for several ag classes this last school year. (Photo courtesy of Owen Scheffler)

Although the tractor stays parked in Scheffler’s garage most of the time, he says he takes it out for a spin down the road on occasion, and possibly plans on driving it in the Goodhue Lions Tractor Ride Aug. 16. Scheffler also planned on bringing his project to the Goodhue County Fair, and Minnesota State Fair, but due to the cancellation of the fair, he has decided to wait until next year so his project can be fully admired in-person.

A majority of the work completed involved cosmetic upgrades to make the tractor look new. Pictured is how the tractor looked before Owen Scheffler began the restoration project. (Photo courtesy of Owen Scheffler)

One tedious aspect of the project, Scheffler said, was getting all the grease off the tractor. He found using oven cleaner worked quite well to do so, although it also required a little more patience to keep working. Some of the most challenging tasks revolved around getting the dents and scratches out of the body of the tractor, more specifically on its nose since the tractor was once used as a corn picker. Due to the thin nature of the sheet metal, Scheffler said while he was able to get good results using body hammers, after a certain point, he had to use body filler to make up for the lost layers.

More specifically, he said he used a lot of body filler in the nose, since the metal was so damaged, it wasn’t able to be reversed as quickly as other areas. In situations where a hammer wouldn’t be suitable to get the dent out, due to the importance of what was behind the dent, Scheffler would have to drill a hole and pop the dent out that way, creating an extra step in the process since the hole then had to be welded shut and smoothly ground down. He also had to make sure surfaces were clean at all times — otherwise dirt particles could easily be worked into the metal.

Several dents and scratches were taken out throughout the process of Scheffler’s project. (Photo courtesy of Owen Scheffler)

“It requires a lot of skill to get the paint to go on smooth and bend the metal back into place. It took a long time. I spent more time on the cosmetic work,” Scheffler said.

Even though there may be a few imperfections still left on the body of the tractor, Scheffler defines them as an addition of character, therefore allowing more stories to be shared.

Throughout the process of restoring the 620, Scheffler received help through browsing online forums, searching for photos similar to the model of his tractor, having conversations with his grandparents and uncles who’ve worked on the tractor before, obtaining a copy of the tractor’s maintenance manual and gaining knowledge from Larson and employees at NAPA.

Larson explains he would give Scheffler pointers along the way through knowledge he gained by working on antique tractors himself, and guiding Scheffler through any questions he had.

“He was very good at finding other solutions like if we couldn’t come up with an answer, he was very good about doing research online. It was really fun watching him work and come through with solutions,” said Larson of Scheffler.

Looking ahead, Scheffler plans to restore more tractors once he finishes college.

In order to properly paint the tractor, all of the outer exterior metal shields had to be removed. (Photo courtesy of Owen Scheffler)

“I enjoy the experience of making something new again, it’s a very good challenge to take on making something look like its new,” said Scheffler of his first restoration project.

As for his grandmother, she approved of the modifications and updates Scheffler made on the 620, adding it looked better than when she bought it.

Scheffler encourages others who are interested in restoration projects to take the plunge and get started, because its a “very good” way to keep everything going and keep the older model tractors around.

“It gives people a certain amount of respect. You also learn a lot and gain a lot, and can also learn what to do and what not to do. It’s a good challenge to take on,” Scheffler said.

Neighborhood watch programs discussed at KPD's community meeting

With crime and suspicious activity on the increase over the last several weeks, the Kenyon Police Department hosted a community meeting to discuss starting neighborhood watch groups in the area.

Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander led the meeting by informing interested participants in the program and how it can help keep each other safe.

“This was brought up to me because of some of the recent thefts we’ve been having, now the big thing the last couple of nights is egging again,” added Sjolander.

As of July 29, Sjolander reports KPD has had 87 calls for service, with five of those calls for theft and another five listed as suspicious activity. A majority of the items noted as stolen have been bicycles and tools. There are also some nuisances with those numbers, as human error can create some discrepancies with calls that could fall under several categories.

For example, Sjolander says someone might call in to report property damage after their car had been egged. However, after that individual washes their vehicle, they don’t note any damages worth any dollar amount, so the call would need to be put under the mischief category. The calls, Sjolander says, range from fraud, fire, business checks, domestic, welfare checkups or several others.

The National Neighboorhood Watch, a division of the National Sheriffs’ Association, defines a neighborhood watch program is a “group of people living in the same area who want to make their neighborhood safer by working together and in conjunction with local law enforcement to reduce crime and improve their quality of life.”

As a community, Sjolander said neighborhood watch programs can be started with each group choosing to be as large or small as participants desire.

Said Sjolander: “Basically, you can go door to door, send out mailers, use social media … get people on board and decide how you want to do it. Some people do it as ‘We’re going to highlight some stuff and get together once a month to talk about issues,’ or the police chief could also come down and help think of ways to make your house a harder target.”

As each group selects a point person (a block/team captain), Sjolander recommends that individual get in touch with the local police department and let them know who is leading it. The program itself, Sjolander describes is an easy setup, where those interested get together and state what block/street they want to cover. The plan each group sets up may not be the same as other groups, but Sjolander said that is fine, and each plan can be tweaked as they go.

“You decide how you want to do it, and we’ll help you do it. The main component is communication,” said Sjolander.

Participants can buy signs to put up in their yards to let others know there is a group in that area. The signs, Sjolander said, encourage participation in the group and can help deter criminal activity.

Sjolander believes the program could allow the community to help the department solve cases. It also gives the community an opportunity to get to know their neighbors in a good way.

“Nowadays these small towns really have a vibe to them of closeness, and this pandemic has really showed us how people want to be together in some way, size, shape or form,” said Sjolander.

If one of the group members is out of town, Sjolander described a scenario of how the situation would be handled in a neighborhood watch group. The point person, who has a list of all the people on the group’s list (call tree), and begins the call tree by calling the next person on the list, who then calls another and so on and so forth.

Sjolander also encouraged those in attendance to document their valuables by taking photos of them, and for firearms, include a photo of the serial number so the department can enter those numbers in if it happens to go missing. Above all, he urges the community to say something if they see something.

“Cameras are a good thing, neighborhood watch is a good thing, just to get some organization or who’s going to do what,” said Sjolander. “If we can work together to get some of this stuff cleaned up, I’m all for it, I really am. I want this to be community based, I want you to be proud of us. I like what we have here.”

The bottom line, Sjolander says, he is a “big” fan of the neighborhood watch, but warns others that the issues the community’s now experiencing won’t likely be resolved quickly.

Sjolander, who anticipated the recent thefts are likely the work of local teens, believes there’s more the community can do than punish the perpetrators. Sometimes, he says, its a back-and-forth effort with evaluations, but in some cases it’s working with the kid to get them on the right path. In some cases, Sjolander says all it takes is someone saying, ‘Here I’m going to show you how this works,’ and maybe a friendship is made or they can be taught a skill they can use to have a decent living, instead of stealing things.

Added Sjolander: “Maybe that’s where our future leaders come from, someone taking that time and this is where a neighborhood watch can be great for that. There’s so much knowledge and ability, and I tell everybody this, we have more successful people in this town than I think you’d ever think of anywhere else. We’ve also got some of the kindest people ever.”

Although the Field of Flags will not be held in person this year, the Kenyon Veterans Color Guard has decided to host a virtual option. (Leader file photo)

Wanamingo’s Sam Roosen fired a complete game in a 7-4 victory Saturday against Lake City, in addition to racking up four hits and three RBIs. (File photo)

Minnesota schools get some flexibility on back-to-school


Minnesota state officials on Thursday unveiled a plan to reopen schools this fall that gives districts some flexibility to toggle between in-person and online learning, but reserves the right for the state to step in if the coronavirus gets out of control.

Locally, guidelines recommend school districts in Goodhue County to implement in-person learning for all students, as opposed to instructing in-person learning for elementary students and hybrid for secondary students as seen in many of the surrounding counties. A county would need to report fewer than 9 cases of COVID-19 per 10,000 residents over a 14-day period in order for schools in that county to reopen with in-person classes.

In a post on Kenyon-Wanamingo School District’s website, Superintendent Bryan Boysen indicated staff are working diligently in formulating a plan for reopening.

“After listening to state leaders and reading the Minnesota Safe Learning Plan, we will put together a comprehensive plan in collaboration with Minnesota Department of Health,” Boysen wrote in the update. “As a parent myself I understand that it is unsettling not knowing yet what the plan will be.”

Boysen encouraged community members to continue to monitor the district website and Twitter account for further updates.

Added Boysen, “I thank you in advance for your patience and understanding during this unprecedented time.”

School districts are expected to use the two-week infection rate data from the Minnesota Department of Health to assess the risk of COVID-19 in schools. Based on how prevalent COVID-19 is in their areas, districts may choose to pursue in-person, distance learning or a hybrid of both. The current classification is based on county-level case rates per 10,000 residents as of July 30. These guidelines are subject to change.

Gov. Tim Walz acknowledged the importance of schools and the value of in-person learning, but said the state’s top priority is safety. Districts will work with the state Health and Education departments to determine whether to use in-person instruction, online learning or a hybrid model, and will have the ability to become more or less restrictive depending on the virus.

The plan requires both public schools and charter schools to allow students and teachers to choose remote learning no matter what model the district chooses.

Republicans and some school officials had pressed Walz to leave reopening plans up to individual districts, arguing that local administrators know best how to protect students.

State Rep. Steve Drazkowski, who represents District 21B (Goodhue, Wabasha, Winona and Dodge counties) said, “This is an absolute disgrace. The governor’s plan allows for some students in Minnesota to receive quality, in-person instruction while other students are stuck in front of a computer screen. This plan does not benefit our kids. Instead, this plan creates education disparities across the state.”

Under the governor’s plan, if a county has more than 50 cases of COVID-19 per 10,000 residents, then all schools in that county will be prohibited from offering any in-person classes. Instead, those schools will only offer online distance learning.

“Once again, Gov. Walz failed to get input from the people of Minnesota,” Drazkowski said. “The citizens of our state elected the Minnesota Legislature to represent their interests in state government. However, the governor has circumvented the interests of the people by totally ignoring state legislators. The lack of unity and absence of collaboration is why Minnesota schools are receiving these ridiculous mandates.”

Additionally, educators and students at schools that will be allowed to offer in-person classes will be required to wear masks.

“The schools of Wabasha, Mazeppa, and St. Charles should not be subject to the convoluted decision making of the governor,” Drazkowski said. “Every school district has local, elected leaders that should be making these decisions. The governor’s decision to insert himself into the educational choices of our children represents authoritarian leadership. The longer we allow Gov. Walz to unilaterally make decisions for the entire state without any checks and balances, the more we lose our liberties and freedoms.”

The guidance comes as coronavirus cases have been moving upward in some parts of the state. Minnesota reported 745 new cases on Thursday — slightly higher than the seven-day average — and five new deaths. State officials have warned of rising hospitalizations, but that number dipped slightly in Thursday’s data.

State health and education officials last month asked school districts to prepare for three scenarios: in-person learning for all students, distance learning as in the spring, or a hybrid learning scenario with social distancing and capacity limits.

President Donald Trump has pressed schools nationwide to open for in-person learning, and as many teachers have expressed fears of doing so. Education Minnesota, the state teachers’ union, last week released a survey with just one in five teachers supporting in-person learning.

Administrators for Minneapolis Public Schools, one of the largest districts in the state, said Tuesday they plan to start the school year Sept. 8 with distance learning. Their plan would require remote learning as the primary method of instruction, though buildings would remain open for tutoring, technology and mental health support for students and families.

Walz ordered Minnesota public and charter schools to close and switch to distance learning in mid-March as COVID-19 cases began to appear in the state, affecting nearly 900,000 students and their families. As the number of coronavirus cases in Minnesota grew, the governor extended the closure through the school year and prohibited large-scale high school and college graduation ceremonies.