Pulling their weight

First Posted: 1/25/2014

SPENCERVILLE — The Spencerville FFA paid tribute to one of its own Saturday in the first Jeb Johnson Memorial Tractor Troubleshooting Contest.

“Jeb Johnson was in FFA and was really strong in this area,” said Dan Schmiesing, an adviser to the Spencerville chapter. “We got the idea to do this for a fundraiser where students get sponsors.”

Johnson, 24, died of a heart attack Sept. 7 and organizers felt it would be a fitting tribute to have FFA members, paired with adults, troubleshoot various tractors.

“Jeb was very active in tractor troubleshooting,” said Ron Schwartz, one of the organizers of the event. “He won districts and went to state twice. This was his specialty.”

This contest was modeled after the Agricultural and Industrial Diagnostics event in the FFA, where chapters compete with each other to inspect tractors with mechanical issues and repair them in the least amount of time.

“They have 15 minutes to find both problems and fix it,” Schmiesing said. “We cut the time down a bit because while they deal with eight teams, we have 22. The issues are actually harder, since some of the adults here are pretty good mechanics.”

A written test was given after the team went through all four stations. The top five teams received trophies at the end of the contest.

With each student being sponsored to participate, along with donations from area businesses, the FFA raised $4,000, which will be donated to the James Cancer Center in Columbus. The chapter has raised an additional $1,000 for the center through other events, and officials hope to raise even more.

“The kids also have an antique tractor they're going to restore and sell,” Schwartz said. “It gives them good experience breaking one down, painting it, putting it back together and making it run.”

Both the students and the adults participating in the contest gained a lot from the experience.

“I graduated in 1998, so it's been a while since I've done this, but when they asked me about it, I was willing to help,” Daniel Burnett said. “I've got a lot of strong roots in this organization. I want to help keep this going because I've got three kids who will be coming up down the road.”

“It's been a good learning experience, especially if I have any of these problems in the future,” student Grant Goecke said. “Every troubleshooting you do, you get a little better.”

The event also helped the students learn the importance of giving back to the community.

“It's going to a great cause,” Grant said. “Everyone was willing to help.”

“The biggest thing I'm after is trying to show these kids we've got to give back,” Schwartz said. “This isn't a one-sided world.”

Given the strong response from both the FFA members and the Spencerville community, Schwartz and the other organizers are hopeful that Saturday's event could be the beginning of a new tradition for the chapter.

“We're definitely thinking this could be an annual thing,” Schwartz said. “The response was just amazing.”

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