Is it possible that the world’s largest fully restored antique tractor collection resides in Walton County?
Walton County Commissioner Tony Anderson says, “Some say that Dr. James Sheppard’s vast collection is just that. It is an exciting opportunity for the County to work with state and federal agencies along with private sector entities to secure funding opportunities to keep this jewel in Walton County without utilizing and local taxes or funding.”
Sheppard grew up with his family as a Tenant farmer in Houston County, Alabama. At the age of 12 he finally convinced his father that he could no longer plow with mules, so his dad traded the mules for a small John Deere Tractor. That was in 1942, and Sheppard has said that owning that piece of equipment changed his life forever.
“This single instrument moved us out of the pits of poverty into prosperity and I think that’s the reason I have such a fondness for the old tractor. It really got us out of the desperate poverty we were farming in,” says Sheppard.
For the past 42 years, Sheppard has been traveling the country collecting pieces and parts to restore his antique farm equipment to its original glory. With an example of each model from 1918 to 1960, Sheppard said he has completed more than 150 full tractor restorations. His restorations included complete engine rebuilds, rebuilds of carburetors, water pumps and cosmetically taking them apart and restoring every piece of the tractor.
The 85-year-old cardiologist who has made Walton County his home for many years says, “I get the most joy out of showing my collection and talking to people about the machinery. It was a hobby that turned into a passion.”
The Doctor has had many offers from companies and individuals to buy or auction off his treasures, which have grown to a collection of approximately 300 fully restored John Deere and Caterpillar tractors. It is his desire that his collection stay together in Walton County in a museum for the county to show them, “that would be good for me,” said Sheppard.
Recognizing the cost of such a project, Dr. Sheppard has graciously agreed to significantly reduce the prices of the tractors and to work closely with Walton County staff and Commissioners to seek grants and other funding sources to not rely on local taxes or fees to fund the project.
At this time, the Walton County Board of Commissioners has only directed staff to pursue grants and obtain appraisals. Dr. Sheppard has agreed to continue to store the tractors and equipment on his family property until such time the County can procure funding for and obtain the collection and house them in a museum.
County staff and Commissioners are currently working with State and Federal Departments of Agriculture and other agencies in search of funding. Efforts are also moving forward to seek private funding, primarily from John Deere and Caterpillar, as neither has any other collection the magnitude of Dr. Sheppard’s. The County looks forward to working with each of the above to procure the needed funding to keep this treasure in Walton County. Reception for the idea has been greatly received by each of the agencies and companies the County has approached.
Commissioner Danny Glidewell says, “We fully expect to fund this project through federal and state grants and contributions from the private sector. It is not often that such an opportunity arises, and we believe as we move forward with presentation, documents and data, we will see these organizations desire to be a part of this great project.”
If grant and/or private funding is obtained, this rare opportunity could possibly grow into a unique tourist attraction and even greater agriculture and educational project.