DOERUN — Although he’s never lived more than a few miles from the city of Doerun, James Fillyaw sports the green and yellow associated with a famous Midwestern team.
No, not that team. Fillyaw, a retired farmer, is passionate about the tractors made by the John Deere company headquartered in Moline, Illinois. Especially the really old ones.
He’s traveled to the company’s headquarters to soak up the history and traveled as far as Louisiana to buy a tractor to restore.
After driving a model manufactured by another company around his backyard for a photo he asked: “Don’t you want to get one of those?” as he motioned toward a barn where his favorite John Deeres are kept in two long rows.
Other space is dedicated to a huge area where several tractors are in various stages of restoration — from bare frames and engines torn apart to be rebuilt to those that are in the final stages of repair. There is even a painting room. Don’t ask Fillyaw how many gallons of John Deere-green paint he’s bought over the years because he has no idea.
But it’s not just the big machines he has stashed away over the years. There are collectible miniatures, pedal tractors and even little ones with strings for hanging as ornaments on a Christmas tree.
When Albany Area Vocational Technical School opened, Fillyaw got the first certificate — in automotive mechanics — he said. His father told him to get an education because, if he didn’t leave after high school, he would never get around to it.
Fillyaw said he “got by” in high school, but at the technical school his talents in welding and fixing things, which he learned on the farm made him shine. However, working on cars was not his calling.
“I didn’t want to work on nobody’s car,” he said. “The thing I like about farming is you didn’t do the same thing every day. You did different things different times of the year.”
He also often was on the plow after midnight while in high school, helping with his father’s operation. On Saturdays, he drove a tractor for a neighbor, earning “money for courting” Ceby, the longtime Mrs. Fillyaw.
In his retirement hobby of restoring the antique machines, he has bought tractors at auctions or from individuals.
“One time I traded three cows and three calves for a tractor,” he said.
Sometimes he buys two, or even three, of the same old model to make one good machine.
“That’s cheaper than buying parts,” he said.