Tractor takes Butler County milkman to his final resting place

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Earl E. Webb’s John Deere 4440 took him from the funeral home to Muddy Creek Cemetery in Butler County on June 18. Webb, 87, was a lifelong dairy farmer. (photo sent)

Earl R. Webb remembers the day he and his father bought the John Deere 4440. It was May 27, 1995 at a farm auction in Paris, Ohio. The tractor was the first item listed in the auction announcement in the Farm and dairy.

“Clean John Deere 4400 tractor, comfortable cab, two remote controls, 20 radial BR38/23 degrees, 1755 hours.”

Earl R. Webb’s father, Earl E. Webb, knew what his price was. He was willing to pay up to $24,000 for the tractor. His son did the bidding for him. Earl struggled to hear about his years working in the factory.

Another bidder pushed the price just above its pre-determined limit. It was then that Earl nudged his son. “It would be a shame to come home without that tractor for $500,” Earl R. recalled, telling his father. Earl R. raised his hand again. The other bidder remained motionless. The tractor was theirs for $25,000.

This tractor is the one that took Earl E. “Bud” Webb on his final drive to Muddy Creek Cemetery in Butler County, Pennsylvania on June 18. He died on June 15 at age 87 after a brief illness.

At their uncle’s suggestion, Earl’s sons carried his casket from the William F. Young Funeral Home in West Sunbury onto a platform in the back of his John Deere 4440. The boys washed off the dirt, but didn’t pressure wash and wax it.

“He looks exactly like he did the last time he saw him,” Earl R. said.

They took a route past the Clay Township farm toward the cemetery.

“It’s the last thing we can do for him,” Earl R. said.

The 4440 was more than a tractor. It was an investment in his family business and in the future of his farm. It also represented all the progress he had made as a farmer.

county was born September 1, 1934 to the late Earl D. and Laura Webb. His obituary states that he had been “a dairy farmer since the age of 2”. His sons said he grew up planting corn with horse-drawn equipment. The last horses on the farm were killed in a barn fire in 1971, Earl R.

He was a tall guy, 5-foot-11 and three-quarters tall and over 200 pounds, “all the shoulders up and not enough down to hold up his pants,” said Earl R., of his father.

He married Norma J. Glover on May 28, 1959. She survives him, as are his two sons, Earl R. and Jay, four daughters, Erla, Paula, Tammy and Kathy, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. children. Earl R. said his father instilled a strong work ethic in all of his children.

“All of us here have had the chance to drive a tractor, even my sisters. My father used to send us to grow maize,” he said.

Earl worked for Pullman Standard, a factory that made railcars, until the Butler factory closed in 1981. He had worked there for 27 years, earning him enough time to technically retire at 47 years old.

Besides being a farmer and a family man, Earl was an avid hunter. He had up to 13 weeks of paid vacation while working at the factory. He used it to go elk hunting in Montana and moose hunting in Canada, Earl R. said.

All the while, he was milking Holsteins on the family farm. That’s what he fell back on after Pullman closed.

A messy farming transition left him running the dairy farm on land owned by others, until he was finally able to buy the entire acreage in 2000 after his mother passed away. He was in his sixties when he took out a loan to buy out his sisters’ share of the farm.

That’s why he bought tractors, his son, says Jay. They knew the realities of running a dairy farm. If they were to go bankrupt, they might not have land, but at least they would have equipment to sell, he recalls saying his father said so.

There’s a lot of green paint on the farm now, but 4440 is special, his sons said.

“For someone in those days, it was the holy grail of tractors,” Jay said. “The 4440 power shift was the ultimate small farm tractor.”

They also have two 4240s, a 4020 and a 6030, as well as all the old red Farmalls that replaced the original horses, Earl R. said.

They milk about 60 cows now. Earl passed the farm on to his two sons in 2012 after a battle with cancer. He didn’t want his children fighting over the farm or access to the land like him.

The boys built a new barn with money from a gas lease and built a new house for their parents. This is where Earl spent his last years. He quit farming about five years ago, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. But he would still make regular trips to the barn to check things out. Once a farmer, always a farmer.

“He was always asking, ‘Fresh cows?’ or if the vet was just there, ‘How did the pregnancy check go?’ Said Jay.

Earl R. thought about what his father would say when they got up on Sunday morning, the day after their father’s funeral, to find the barn flooded from a broken water main. Not exactly how they wanted to start the day, cleaning out a sodden barn.

“The only way to do that is to ‘go out there and do it,'” he said. And so they got into it.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be reached at 800-837-3419 or [email protected])

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