OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Sparks flew from the disc of a hand-held angle grinder as a member of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Tractor Restoration Club adjusted the fit of a 1946 John Deere tractor's grill.

The club's shop, on UNL's East Campus, buzzed with the noise of work.

The tractor club started out small in 2005 and has grown over the years.

"We started with two students and we've had at best 20, which is kind of tight with that many people in that little shop, but we make it work," said club adviser Doug Koozer.

The club's appeal extends beyond agriculture majors. A couple of future engineers and a few studying the health sciences round out its numbers.

Aside from occasional ribbing from friends, students like Tara Maulsby of Omaha, who is studying community health and wellness at UNL, find the work of restoring tractors to be fun, though it's a bit greasy.

"I love puzzles. And so if I take apart a tractor or take apart a piece of it ... I get to redo it, I get to fix it up, I get to paint it and put it all back together," Maulsby told the Omaha World-Herald .

"I'm also in a sorority, and so they sometimes make fun of me," she added. "They're like 'You're like an ag kid.' I'm like, not really. I just like to work with my hands and getting dirty and stuff."

Complex modern tractors require trained mechanics, but with vintage equipment even a hobbyist can get one running, the students said.

"It's agrarian. It's simple. Everything is right where you need it to be," said club President Joshua Bauer of Lincoln, who is studying biological systems engineering.

"There's no computer chips, no microchips, none of that. It's, 'Do you have gas? Do you have spark? Are pistons free? And here we go.' "

Their work space is next door to Lincoln's Lester F. Larsen Tractor Test and Power Museum, which is the original home of the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory, the first tractor test facility in the world, museum manager Julie Thomson said.

The club has helped restore some of the museum's machines. Tractors that still run include a Farmall F-12, a Coop E3 and a John Deere H.

The group recently restored a 1945 Allis Chalmers Model C for the Homestead National Monument's Heritage Center in Beatrice. The club's current project is a 1946 John Deere Model 69 Prototype M.

The partnership among the club, the museum and donors is essential to the museum's success, Thomson said. Some of the tractors are donated, and the museum depends on the club to restore them.

"Our exhibits would look much different without the great work they put into the tractors we display," Thomson said.

The club also promotes the tractors in the UNL homecoming parade and other student events like fall hayrack rides, she said.

It's not all parades. Sometimes the group works late to get the tractors ready.

The club meets on Thursday evenings, and the work often pushes well into the night. The yard light casts a greenish glow over the metal shop. And the clinking and clanking of tools can be heard through its walls. During long nights in the shop, students form friendships.

"We feel more like a family than a club. I mean none of us really have the same background, but we all have the same passion for tractors and just learning all about them," said Trisha Hruska of David City, who is taking pre-nursing classes at UNL.

Koozer said if the younger generation can't get hooked on old tractors, the work of restoration could be lost.

"We just as well throw it all away in the iron pile now, and stop wasting our time. But, we are doing it here. We're doing it 10 kids at a time. And in 10 years, we've changed a lot of lives that way."

Students like Maulsby represent Koozer's hope.

Her grandfather and her father grew up on farms, but her Omaha childhood didn't afford her the same agricultural opportunities that they had. But the club has helped bring her a little closer to her family and their history. Her dad told her he had used one of the tractors she was fixing up.

She said he told her, " 'I totally worked on that, I know what you're talking about.' It was kind of a bonding experience for us."

As another Thursday evening became a Thursday night, the students, in blue jeans and sweatshirts, walked out the shop's door and started up their cars and pickups to go finish their homework or to study. Koozer locked up the shop. They'll soon be back to pick up the work of restoring history.


Information from: Omaha World-Herald,