Contact: George Manlove at (207) 581-3751
If farm equipment could talk, a 1944 John Deere tractor donated to the University of Maine and restored by students might have family stories to tell that would be suitable for a Currier & Ives lithograph.
Retired math teacher Worth Noyes of Orrington, age 100, bought the green and yellow, twin-piston tractor in 1951 to use on his 20-acre farm on the River Road. He taught his four children to drive it as soon as they could stay on the contoured metal seat.
“We started driving it when we were seven or eight,” recalls Melanie Noyes, who now is 45 and holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work from UMaine. “Mum would have a fit. I remember trying to get it started. That flywheel was pretty rugged.”
“Mum,” is 87-year-old Sarah Noyes, who says she was never quite comfortable on the machine, in spite of Worth’s attempts to get her on it now and then.
Five members of the Noyes family – Melanie, Worth, Sarah, son Michael Noyes, 52, and grandson Chris Noyes, 19 – were at the Page Farm and Home Museum on the UMaine campus Nov. 29 to see the restored tractor. It was a part of their family for 50 years before Worth donated it to UMaine, from which he received a forestry degree 76 years ago.
The family used the old John Deere to plow the farm for crops that included potatoes, assorted vegetables and, of course, green peas, which Worth planted early in the season on a high patch of ground so he could present fresh peas to his wife for the traditional Fourth of July salmon and peas meal.
Worth Noyes, who worked days as head of math program in the Bangor school system and taught math at Bangor High, didn’t farm all 20 acres, says son Michael. But his three gardens were “just big enough to keep me weeding all summer,” Michael recalls. Worth grew plenty more vegetables than the family needed. He donated the surplus to children’s homes and nursing homes in the area, Sarah says.
Worth’s old John Deere became a legendary gauge for locals monitoring the annual evolution of spring, as Worth would begin plowing the wet ground as early as possible, customarily getting it stuck in the mud for a few days before the ground dried enough to move the tractor forward to continue its work.
“Everyone used to say down there that it was a sign of spring” to see Worth’s tractor mired in mud, Sarah says. “The farm was under water in the spring but it was beautiful in the summer.”
Worth, who turns 101 in February, used the family tractor well into his 90s, until it broke down and he couldn’t find a replacement part. Finally, in 2001, he decided to donate it to the university. That’s when Kenneth “Ben” Dresser, a lecturer and laboratory coordinator in the Department of Forestry, recruited students to help begin the restoration of the Noyes’ John Deere in the Perkins Hall shop.
Over the next four years, three different students worked under Dresser’s supervision to fix up the 61-year-old tractor, repaint it and get it running again as part of their agricultural engineering capstone projects. It now sits in the Page Farm and Home Museum’s collection of antiques from early rural life in Maine.
“It looks twice as large as I thought it would be,” said a pleased Worth Noyes when he the restored tractor Nov. 30.
The Noyes family has been well invested in the University of Maine. Several family members in addition to Worth and Melanie Noyes graduated from UMaine. A second daughter, Mollie Noyes of Belfast has a BA in education from UMaine, and Sarah, who spent 28 years as the director of public health nursing for the city of Bangor, attended UMaine for a summer before enrolling at Boston University. Grandson Chris, who finished his freshman year studying financial economics at UMaine, interrupted his college education this fall to serve in the U.S. Marine Corp. He expects to ship out to Iraq in March. The Noyes family has a third daughter, Jennifer Noyes, who lives in Albuquerque, N.M.