Blind World Magazine

Patience and experience help blind man work.

Special to the Traveler,
Arkansas City Traveler - Arkansas City,KS,USA.
Friday, April 28, 2006.

He walks to the wall where tools are hanging and selects the correct wrench. His hands slowly move over a casting, seeking the nuts that fasten it.

Fingers check for rust pits on the sheet metal of a styled model "B." Next they feel for the oil and grime that might indicate a leaky seal.

These actions might seem common for anyone restoring old John Deere tractors. But what's uncommon is the fact Bob Sherrard is blind, the victim of a degenerative genetic disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa.

For most of his life, Sherrard functioned almost normally as his vision slowly deteriorated. He farmed, operated a construction company, fished and drove a vehicle until 1985. Because unprotected exposure to sunlight accelerates the disease, he has worn dark glasses with side protectors for over 20 years.

Today, at age 74, the only thing he can see is the fluorescent lights illuminating his shop.

The shop, located in a 75-year-old stone barn south of Winfield, is so neat and clean it would put most restorers to shame.

A blind mechanic can't have tools and old parts lying around to trip over. As nuts, bolts and small parts are removed, they're placed in cans, shallow cardboard boxes like the ones holding a case of pop, and Bob's pockets.

Lines are painted around each tool hanging on the wall over his work bench, not for Bob, but so his grandsons know where to put them back. When he uses tools and sets them aside for a moment, he must remember their location. Memory and feel compensate for the lack of sight -- fingertips replace eyes. But those trusted fingers are starting to wear out and lose sensitivity

In recent years, Bob has overhauled a John Deere "H" and an International Harvester "F12." When asked "How can you figure out what needs to be done to a tractor?" he responds, "I know how things are supposed to be."

He adds, "I used to be a fast worker, but I've learned patience." He's not even afraid to take a carburetor apart. For him, the most difficult part of an overhaul is replacing the gaskets. He gets his trusted son-in-law, Alan Brennan, to assist with them and with other tasks requiring vision, such as reading manuals and transporting their latest acquisition to the shop.

Bob is quick to state, "I don't ask him to do anything I can do."

But when the steel ball from the steering wheel positioner on his "M" fell out and rolled across the concrete floor, finding it was up to Alan.

One of the things Alan really admires about Bob is how he can hear whether an engine is running like it should. Some restorers are happy just to get a tractor running. Bob is more particular than that.

On his early restorations, Bob was assisted by Francis Glenn, a retired mechanic and friend of mine, who marveled at what Bob was able to accomplish. With Francis's declining health and eventual death, Bob became more self-reliant.

When a tractor is nearing completion, Bob does the preparation work (filling and sanding) and turns the painting over to a helper, Danny Youngers.

Bob's grandsons, Andy and Mike, who are handy with a spray can, do the smaller paint jobs.

Bob and Alan belong to the Kansas & Oklahoma Steam and Gas Engine Club and have taken part in its annual show at the fairgrounds in Winfield, Bob's home town.

Two or three of his remodeled tractors will appear in the Kanza Parade in Winfield May 6.

But most of Bob's rebuilt tractors are in good running condition.

Bob grew up on a farm, like many restorers, and learned a lot helping his father, Ellis. He drove a team made up of a horse and a mule -- the source of much frustration and some good stories -- but preferred their 1927 John Deere "D." The Sherrards used it to plow wheat fields. There weren't any hydraulics to lift the plow so they went round and round rather than back and forth.

In 1945 Ellis started doing construction work -- lathe and plaster and, later, masonry with stone and cement block. Bob helped his dad with this just as he did with the farm work.

Bill Drennan, who operated D & D Farm Equipment, the local John Deere dealership, until his recent retirement, has been a friend of Bob's for decades.

Not only did Bill sell him tractors, equipment and parts, but he hired Sherrard Builders to erect several Behlen buildings and his present home. He found Bob to be honest, fair, decisive and easy to work with.

Like most restorers Bob didn't stop after finishing his first tractor. Recently, he acquired a 1928 John Deere model "D" -- like the one he drove when he was growing up.

One of his newer John Deere tractors -- still in use -- is on the verge of becoming an antique. It's a 1020 loader tractor with a three-cylinder engine that came off the assembly line in 1972.

Bob Sherrard isn't a John Deere purist. He's been known to "mix colors." Some of his restorations aren't even tractors. His non-green projects include a 1936 International Harvester "F12," a 1945 Allis-Chalmers "C," a 1945 Dodge half-ton pickup, a 1941 Chevrolet two-door sedan, a 1948 Studebaker two-ton truck with 10-foot box and lift, and a 1958 International half-ton pickup.

Most Sunday mornings, one can find Bob, his wife, and daughters, Diana and Cathe, along with their families, at First Presbyterian Church.

They're usually seated in pews the church's farmers have traditionally claimed and call the "north 40." Since Bob's church attendance is far more regular now than when I was his pastor, I can only assume the restoration of old John Deeres has had a positive affect on his spiritual life.

Much courage, determination and perseverance are required to develop touch, hearing and memory in order to compensate for the loss of sight.

Often I've told him, "With your energetic ability and my eyesight, we could make one good man out of the two of us."

He just laughs and confesses he's not done restoring John Deeres. "I'm looking for another one to play with."

Editor's note: Eugene Blake, Winfield, is a retired Presbyterian pastor.

End of article.

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