Our Cars: Tabetha Hammer’s 1935 John Deere tractor
It wouldn’t be completely true to say that a drought brought Tabetha (Salsbury) Hammer to Hagerty, but it certainly had something to with it. Tabetha, the youngest of three children, grew up on a small family farm in Pueblo, Colo., and she and her siblings helped their father keep the machinery in working order. Then a drought hit and the Salsburys quit farming. But their love of tractors continued. “Before I knew it, we had over 200 tractors ‘growing’ in the fields where there were once crops,” Tabetha said.
The Salsbury kids began to take on their own projects, which led to their participation in the Chevron Delo Tractor Restoration Competition through Future Farmers of America (FFA). Tabetha restored her 1935 John Deere Model “B” for the contest and discovered she had a real passion for it. That interest grew to include collector cars, she enrolled in the automotive program at McPherson (Kan.) College, and that experience led her to Hagerty. “Never in my life did I think I would be working for a classic car insurance company,” Tabetha said. “In fact, in high school, before learning about McPherson College and the career opportunities in the collector vehicle world, I was planning to attend West Texas A&M on an ROTC scholarship and study Agricultural Education.”
Now, as Hagerty’s Advocacy Communications Manager, she helps grow kids’ interest in the collector car hobby.
Name: Tabetha Hammer
Position at Hagerty: Advocacy Communications Manager
Years at Hagerty: 5½
Vehicle: 1935 John Deere Model “B”
Why did you choose a 1935 John Deere B? My grandfather found it in the San Luis Valley, Colo., on a farm that was still fully operated by its 80-year old owner. The tractor had been in that family since new, when the farmer’s father first purchased it. This generation of tractor is referred to as “un-styled” and would have originally come with steel wheels on it. We converted it to rubber wheels to run through the fields but still retained the original steel wheels and many other original parts given to me. After I restored it, there was no better feeling than taking it back to that farm and seeing the 80-year old farmer drive it around the barn and come back grinning from ear-to-ear. It was like he was an 8-year old boy again!
Repairs and Modifications: The B is fully restored – every nut, bolt, gear and shaft was taken apart, cleaned, repaired, painted and reassembled by me. I have over 300 hours into the restoration of this tractor – done within the summer months between my freshman and sophomore years in high school. I rebuilt the engine, including honing the cylinders and lapping the valves. The transmission, rear end and carburetor were completely disassembled – literally every single piece was taken apart. Nothing was modified, just restored back to stock condition, as it would have been from the factory.
Hobby activities: I’m a member of the Board of Directors for the Antique Automobile Club of America, member of the Northwestern Michigan Region AACA, have judged at the Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance and other events, serve as a committee member of the Mott Children’s Hospital’s “Caden’s Car Show/Full Throttle Event” and enjoy going to car shows, drag, dirt track and road course races, facilitating youth and education programs and – when time allows – occasionally assisting my husband, Adam, in our automotive restoration shop, Hammer & Dolly Auto Restorations, LLC.
Favorite Drive: Any and all, especially when I’m behind the wheel.
Best and Worst Moments: There are too many great moments to mention them all, but some of the most memorable have to do with the Delo competition. I entered it three years, each time with a tractor that I fully restored. In 2003, I was named the national Grand Champion for my restoration of the Model B, and I was the first female to win in the 8-year history of the contest. The following year, I won again with a 1928 John Deere Model D – becoming the first person to win back-to-back titles.
Through the competition I participated in some media and promotional activities with Delo, one of which was the Chevron Global Lubricant Summit show in San Antonio. I displayed my John Deere B in the grand ballroom of the Marriott on the Riverwalk – something pretty cool for just a simple “farm girl.” At the time, legendary racecar driver Mario Andretti was a spokesperson for Texaco (a Chevron brand) and was at the Summit, too, and he was signing autographs right next to me and my tractor. Shortly after I got there, he walked over, climbed atop the tractor and enjoyed the view from the high seat. When he climbed down, he grabbed a Sharpie and left a congratulatory note with his signature on the tractor frame – a moment I’ll never forget. But it was what he said to me that day that I really cherish. It’s the best piece of advice I’ve received and words that I live by. He said, “Meet as many people as you can and travel to as many places and see as much as possible, because the more you do, the more you will understand the world we live in and can connect to people.” Those words were pretty impactful for a 15-year-old, and they’ve stuck with me and resonated more as I’ve furthered my education and career. I can say with 100 percent certainty that I would not be doing what I am today if it weren’t for everything that came out of restoring my 1935 John Deere.
I enjoy outdoor activities, shooting sports, photography, anything relating to cars, tractors, trucks…anything on wheels!
My biggest passion in life is to provide young people the opportunity to experience collector vehicles – simply because I know first-hand how much of a life-changing impact it can make for someone!
The story with Mario Andretti and my tractor is certainly at the top! Being driven down the aisle for my wedding in an all-original 1925 Packard sport phaeton, driving a 1930’s era Lincoln… the first time driving a right-hand drive Mini…. participating in the Great Race…. too many to count! Another great moment was seeing my Grandpa drive his Ford Model A after completing the restoration of it – something I feel I helped inspire, as he was motivated to start working on it (for the first time I can remember) after I started going to McPherson College and was ‘talking cars’ with him!
Worst moments… I honestly don’t know that I can come up with a ‘worst’ moment… Maybe the day my ‘#1 favorite’ classic car (ex-Clark Gable, 1932 Packard twin-six convertible coupe) was sold from the collection of the person who most recently restored it (a friend/mentor of mine) after he passed….