There exists a seemingly unbreakable bond between men who earn their living sowing seeds in the soil and the tractors they use to do it — especially when that tractor is a green and yellow. For Finger, Tenn., farmer Wayne Clayton, that special bond is with his 1968 John Deere 4020.
“I wanted that darn tractor so bad when I first saw it at the dealership, sometimes I’d go up there and just sit on it,” recalls Clayton, who along with his wife, Sandra, and their family, farm, own Clayton Farm Equipment, and Clayton Auctions in McNairy County.
By the third grade, Clayton told his parents he wanted to be a farmer. They told him he would starve to death farming and he admits there were times he almost did. When he started the tenth grade, he bought a little Massey tractor. His father had to sign the note for him to get it.
A man of faith, Clayton is also a shrewd businessman who long ago realized the importance of business diversity, and started the farm equipment company which has been economically-invaluable through the years.
“When crops were lean and/or commodity prices were low, selling equipment helped keep us in the black. It’s also kept us aware of equipment values,” says Clayton’s oldest son, Jamey, a licensed auctioneer and the driving force behind Clayton Auctions.
They started the auction company in 2008, and hold two huge events each year replete with online bidding, which one time accounted for half of the overall sales. Dealers across three states come to bid on everything from hay bailers to some of the largest grain equipment imaginable. Jamey and his brother Kyle recently shipped a four-wheel drive tractor to a buyer in Peru.
“People show up for auctions. We auction equipment from farmers who are selling out, retiring or just making operational changes,” adds Jamey, who was behind having the 4020’s engine rebuilt and every worn-out part on it completely renovated.
All in the Farming Family
The Claytons epitomize the ideal farming family. Sandra has nursed more than one baby while driving a combine and Jamey has taken more than a few naps behind the combine seat as a baby.
Sandra has driven grain carts, and even a water truck one time that she thought was securely latched, only to look in the rearview mirror to see it barreling back down the hill, eventually taking out the two side doors of the shop. Although she let those duties go long ago, make no doubt she still plays a vital role in the operation.
“My daughter, Stacey and daughter-in-law, Alisha, help me keep the books, and I still make sure everyone gets fed,” says Sandra, Wayne’s wife of almost 50 years. She clearly remembers the tough times when, as she recalled, “…there were days I had to make three meals out of one chicken!”
The couple met while attending Selmer High School. They dated on and off for two years before tying the knot on March 16, 1968, and never looked back. At 18 and 16 years of age, they had $40 to their name, and wouldn’t have had that had it not been for legendary McNairy County Sheriff Buford Pusser getting Wayne out of a reckless driving charge.
The week after they married, they purchased the John Deere 4020. Wayne called it a package deal and has always said with tongue in cheek, “If that tractor goes, you go!” The family laughs about it still today.
“She told me she was going to marry me when we first met. I didn’t believe her until she dated two other suitors to make me jealous. I got serious about her after that,” adds Clayton.
The ole 4020 has been good to the family. It has pulled plows and planters across their various creek bottom land farms for decades. Today, they row crop 6,000 acres across five counties and their average field is only 25 acres. One 45-acre farm has 17 different fields.
Clayton won the National Corn Growers Association’s high yield contest in 1981 on a 20-acre section of land beside a creek. While the entire region was experiencing a prolonged drought, Clayton’s field had access to plenty of water from the creek thanks to beavers and their concentrically-built dam.
“We farm a wide variety of soils, and while we don’t set yield records every year, they’re very consistent,” says Clayton with a thankful nod to the good Lord above.
He attributes his 30 percent increase in yields this year to timely rains and improved soybean varieties and hybrids.
Clayton has one pivot and vows never to buy another. He believes in tiling ground, and that investment continues to pay dividends. Soybeans he grew this year on rented land without tile drowned from poor drainage.
“My field behind this shop, which is tiled, is just across the road from that rented field with poor drainage, and I made 75 more bushels an acre on my field this year. Plants can’t get oxygen when soil gets too wet. The plant’s ability to grow just stagnates,” Clayton says adamantly.
A Rebuilt Tractor and Heart
In 2013, doctors found a hole in Clayton’s heart the size of a golf ball and five blocked arteries. He entered the hospital in August after his daughter Kelly passed away from heart failure in May. Doctors gave him little chance to survive. While in a coma for five weeks, he had an allergic reaction to the blood thinner Heparin. A blood clot developed in his leg and the family made the difficult and painful decision to have it amputated.
“I lived out of a suitcase for most of that year. They overhauled every part of his heart, so he may never wear out,” says Sandra, cutting a wry smile at the man who still holds her heart in his hands.
Over a year ago, Jamey had an idea to secretly have the old 4020 renovated. The labor of love took 10 months to complete. Jamey had a guise set up with the local sheriff if Wayne had realized the tractor was missing during that time.
“I was just going to tell daddy to call the sheriff and report it stolen,” explains Jamey, who alerted the sheriff beforehand of his time-intensive plan.
Along with Kyle, they picked up the tractor on a Saturday afternoon and put it in the back corner of their shop. After church the next day, a family catfish meal was planned. When Wayne walked into the shop, Jamey’s great niece handed Clayton a small gift bag.
“We took the old broken tachometer from the tractor and put it in the bag. It read 7,600 hours, but it had stopped worried a few years back. I’ll bet that tractor had 9,000-plus hours on it,” guesses Jamey.
When Wayne Clayton’s eyes fell on the tractor, he was overcome with emotion — as were many of the family members. The hands of time had been hard on both Clayton’s heart and the tractor, but with hope, prayers, hard work, good doctors, and an excellent mechanic, both were restored and given new life — life that continues to provide enjoyment to everyone around them.