Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Suttons Tractor King

Jean Thibault the tractor king of the townships

By Manfried Helmuth Starhemberg
The above gentleman might look like your grumpy old grandfather who just caught you smoking in the back of the barn, but he is possibly the kindest and most enjoyable person I have met since Nancy and I moved to Sutton some 11 years ago. He is Jean Thibault (73), the king of tractors and owner of dozens of them. A graduate master mechanic of some five decades, Jean built himself a house and large garage just outside of Sutton in 1964 and started to collect and restore tractors. Now this place is just a very nice old man's personal museum. "I restored every one myself, from head gaskets to valves, rings and bearings. Every one of them is in perfect operational order". Well, I looked at at a 1940's Massey Ferguson and Jean just leaned over and turned the key. The big monster coughed once and then roared into life. And the same happened with the twelve others on display in the driveway. Every single tractor lives! "Every tractor could go back in the field today and do a good day's work" chuckles Jean. "They were made to last, from my 1936 iron wheeled monster to the young ones built in the '40's"

 Jean has the incredible enthusiasm of a fanatic. The tractors are not for sale,they represent a lifetime of enjoyment of things mechanical. There is magic in the place, when I walk from machine to machine and the generous racounteur tells about where they had lived and worked. "This one comes from Dunkin and worked for 40 years, this old blue thing I got from Mansonville". Every tractor on display has operated more than a normal machine's expected lifetime to till and plow, mow, irrigate and hay. Those machines are living, breathing, lovingly restored pieces of industry that have made farming in Quebec possible and profitable. The hundreds of hours that Mr. Thibault spent on saving them shall stand as a great  testimony to the farmers who probably had to mortgage their houses to afford the machines to work their land.

In the back yard there are tractors yet to be repaired. Jean is full of enthusiasm about them. There is an old Ford, an Allis Chambers, there are wrecks no sane person would look at, but  for this indomitable mechanic they are just :"the next job to be done"
"Every tractor I own has it's own original service manual, from the 1936 to the 1950's" explains Jean, and he proudly displayed the hundreds of books he posesses. There are the most intricate drawings of transmissions of tractors built when Hoover was president of the United States, there are manuals and parts lists of units that were used in World War II and if you want to see them in action, they all are ready to go to the front agaion because Jean has kept them in that impeccable condition.

So, what does my new friend Jean do for relaxation? "Well, I have a collection of about 50 trains in the back of the shop". I followed him there and there is an area of probaly 20 meters by 16 meters of train layouts with German Merklin locomotives by the dozens, rare Lionels, hundreds of cars, yards of track and track infrastructrure.
And the beauty of all this can be found in this picture: This is a tractor that nobody in his sound mind would ever bother to look at but Jean can just see it next to his priceless antiques in his front yard as soon as he gets to it:

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