Finally, he chose the one he hoped contained what he most desired.
As he tore into the gift, and as the paper flew off in shreds, his eyes widened in awe of the toy tractor within: one he’d been wanting for a long time.
For the rest of that morning, he imagined riding that tractor. He pulled all kinds of implements not yet invented. He traversed all kinds of impossible terrain. He plowed the fields and parked the tractor for first maintenance.
Then, he felt hungry, so he took a break and went to get something to eat.
His sister saw an opportunity, so where her brother left off, she continued to work that tractor into the afternoon.
A certain mystique about the powerful and marvelous machine – a tractor – may have been born when we were children because most of us had a toy tractor or at least were in the proximity of one.
As we became adults, some of us acquired small scale replicas of tractors (now called a collectable, not a toy).
And a select few of us went further.
Woodsboro businessman Mike Lokey has been restoring full-scale tractors for 44 years – 20 years in Ingleside and 24 years in Woodsboro.
The 80-year-old Lokey said he’s not sure why he has spent so much time on tractors.
“I don’t know what it is. I always enjoyed doing it,” he said.
He said in addition to restoring tractors, he sold tractor parts.
Before restoring tractors and selling parts, he served in the U.S. Air Force from 1953 to 1973. And he worked for a few years at the Pentagon with the Defence Intelligence Agency.
Lokey said he was born in Sebastian, but his father moved to Oklahoma soon after that. Then they moved to Corpus Christi where he graduated from Miller HIgh School in 1952.
But now after years of restoring tractors, his passion, he’s decided to retire.
“It’s been about a year-and-a-half. I started getting rid of junk we had,” he said.
“You gotta quit sometime,” he said.
Slowly but surely, he said he’d clear off his property and sell it at 1000 Wood Ave. But the going has been slow.
“My wife has been trying to get me to retire for awhile,” he said.
He has about two-and-a-half acres he plans to plant a garden and fruit trees on. And he lives by Mission River and has a dock he can fish off of. Still, the tractor business remains.
And his friends tell him he doesn’t want to quit, that he loves tractors too much.
He’s worked on tractors as old as a 1939 Ford. Other models include John Deere, Ford Ferguson and International.
“I bought my first tractor in 1973 from the Piehl International Dealership for $900,” Lokey said.
“I fixed it up a little bit and people kept stopping by,” he said. “I got an offer twice what I paid for it, so I sold it.”
And that was the start of something. Lokey then bought two more tractors.
“One thing led to another, and the first thing I knew I had 40 of them,” he said.
Lokey said he’s had some great help the past five to six years.
“He was never late, and he never missed school,” Lokey said of James Valderama.
Valderama, now 24, said his current job is mechanic for Flint Hills.
Pointing at Lokey, Valderama said “He taught me how to work on tractors. He taught me everything.”
Lokey said Valerama turned out to be a good welder and mechanic.
“We worked together on it,” Lokey said.
“It wasn’t just strictly business. We always had fun,” Lokey added.
Lokey credited Valderama with restoring about 100 tractors.
The time to restore an old tractor depends on what shape it’s in at the outset, but Lokey said on average it takes about two to three weeks.
Such is the case with the 1952 Ford tractor he restored for Charles Cromwell. Cromwell’s tractor was in really poor shape until Lokey took on its restoration.
So Lokey appreciated the good help he got from Valderama in recent years.
“He wasn’t just my boss. He was a father figure for me,” Valderama said.
Lokey agreed that Valderama was like a son to him. Between Lokey and his wife Vernell, they have five kids of their own, but this additonal “son” was welcome to Lokey.
“There’s not too many of us left who still like to work on those old ones,” Lokey said.
And that may be why his tractor business is so slow in going away, not that anybody wants it to close.
“I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been a good life for it.”