Walton County man sports collection "Deere" to his heart

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PONCE DE LEON, Fla. (WJHG) - Eight-five year-old retired cardiologist James Sheppard of Ponce de Leon believes he has the largest stockpile of its kind in the world, and the county wants it.

Eighty-five year-old James Sheppard of Ponce de Leon believes he has the largest collection of restored John Deere and Caterpillar vintage tractors in the world.

“I've restored, [for] an example, just about every John Deere tractor built from the Waterloo Boy [1918] to the end of the two cylinders in 1960,” said Sheppard.

More than 160 of them housed in eight different barns and sheds.

“Well it's a real point of gratification and satisfaction to take something that is 60, 70, 80 years-old and make it new again and make it do all the things it used to do and see the beauty and the magnificence of it and its functionality,” said Sheppard.

Sheppard began restoring old John Deere tractors 45 years ago.

“I collected these tractors 20, 30, 40 years ago when they were junk,” said Sheppard.

It's a love affair that dates back to when he was 11 years-old on a farm near Dothan, Alabama.

“The tractor was a magical thing and the John Deere was such a high quality machine," said Sheppard. "It was very durable and very practical, and so it worked very well for us.”

Sheppard says his dad traded in two mules for their first John Deere.

"And of course I fell in love with the tractor by because it was the single instrument that lifted us out of the pits of poverty,” said Sheppard.

From sharecroppers to owning the farm they worked on, Sheppard says the John Deere changed their lives.

“So finally in the depths of the depression, we were finally becoming prosperous,” said Sheppard.

And he pays homage to the familiar green workhorse that made it possible.

“But I never lost that passion for what the old John Deere tractors had done for my family and for myself,” said Sheppard.

His pride and joy though: A 1925 Best 60 Logging Cruiser.

“And that tractor turned out to be so good it made the new company that made Caterpillar Tractor Company famous,” said Sheppard.

He spent more than ten years restoring it. He says it's the only one in the world known to exist that still runs.

“Oh, it was a magnificent, the day I stuck the pry bar in the flywheel and pulled it over the second time and it started running,” said Sheppard.

And he can still hear it come back to life after a decades long slumber.

“And it's chuckalucka, chuckalucka, chuckalucka chuckalucka and to hear it run so beautifully, so perfectly, so balanced. It really did make my heart stand still,” said Sheppard.

Over the past four and a half decades, Sheppard says he's visited 42 states and Canada looking for old John Deere and Caterpillar tractors to restore, but says he found more than just farm equipment along the way, he unearthed life's true gift.

"I've made so many wonderful friends around the country that I think that was worth even more than the tractors,” said Sheppard.

Sheppard has signed a letter of intent to sell his tractors to Walton County. He says they'll stay together and never leave the area.

County leaders want to house them in a museum.

While no price has been agreed upon according to Sheppard, he says the collection is worth about $3.5 to $4.5 million dollars.