Walton may spend $3.5M on 300 vintage tractors
PONCE DE LEON — In an effort to boost the spirit of agriculture in Walton County, officials are seeking hope to buy 300 restored antique tractors from a local man.
Their current plan, if funding becomes available, is to eventually build and house the tractors in a museum, which will double as a trade school. There, students will earn industry certificates, as well as CDL licenses, county administrator Dede Hinote said. A garden will also be planted to locally source crops.
“It’s hugely important to preserve the culture and the history of these tractors and our farming industry,” Hinote said. “Our livelihood (in North Walton) is from the farmers, and if we didn’t have them, we’d be hurting for sure.”
The tractors, divided between John Deer and Caterpillar, range in age dating back to the first models of each brand, she added.
They currently sit in eight barns and are owned by Ponce de Leon’s James Sheppard, who Hinote said is a retired doctor who has spent years restoring the tractors himself.
“They’re phenomenal to look at,” she said. “He wanted to keep the tractors together and keep them in Walton County, and of course we’re interested in these tractors, his legacy and what he’s done.”
According to estimates, the tractors are worth about $4.5 million. However, Sheppard has agreed to sell them to the county for $3.5 million.
Walton is currently looking into grants from sources including the Florida Department of Agriculture and Cultural Affairs, Hinote added.
“This thing could get as big as we want it to, but first I’ve got to get funding to purchase the tractors,” she said.
Hinote, who said that the county is still looking for an area to potentially put the building, added that Sheppard planned to sign a letter of intent with the county Monday afternoon.
“This school would help our future farmers of America,” she said. “He’s worked his whole life to restore theses tractors, and it’s important, I believe, to preserve them, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”