Farmer’s Tractors to Go Away, but His Stories Never End

8/3/2013 7:00 AM
By Dick Wanner Reporter

GREENCASTLE, Pa. — Tom Shook is 84, has had a couple of interesting careers, bought and sold a few acres and a lot of tractors, and now he’s decided it’s time to slow down a bit.

Which is why, on Saturday, Aug. 24, he’ll be holding a sale at his farm of some 30 antique tractors, farm implements and parts.

One of the most interesting tractors to be sold by auctioneer A. Jack Downin is a 1938 Farmall Model F14 that has never left the farm since it was bought new by Shook’s grandfather, Grant Shook.

Shook’s dad, Harold, had to convince his granddad that the farm needed a tractor, not because it could work faster than the horses that were there at the time, but because a tractor could go slower in the field.

“We had wheat that was laying flat from a storm,” Shook said over iced tea in a spacious ground-level room in the modern house that he and his wife, Helen, moved into a few years ago.

The horses could pull the binder through the downed wheat, but “they only had one speed and that was too fast. Dad convinced Granddad that if we could hook a tractor to the binder and run it real slow we could harvest that wheat.

“And he was right. We never used horses and the binder after that.”

Not that they got rid of the horses. They were still useful for, among other things, pulling wagons into the barn.

“My grandfather wouldn’t allow the tractor in the barn. That thing runs on gasoline,’ he said. There might be a spark.’ So we had to unhook the wagons coming in from the field and pull them into the barn with the horses,” Shook said.

“And that’s the way we did it. Except when Grandpa wasn’t looking.”

The F14 worked well enough that in 1940, Shook’s dad bought another Farmall, a new Model H, which also is still on the farm. At the time, Tom’s dad was a substitute mail carrier in Greencastle, and he was out delivering mail the day the Model H was delivered and backed into a shed.

“It came with a tool kit,” Shook said. “I was 11 years old. By the time dad was done with his mail route, I had the magneto off it, and the spark plugs out, and a couple other pieces loosened up. He couldn’t put it back together and had to call the service guy for help.

“In all my years, that’s the only time that my dad used physical correction’ on me.”

Spend any time at all with Tom Shook, and you’ll hear lots of stories about a life filled with a rich variety of experiences you might not expect of a man who has spent eight-and-a-half decades either on the farm that’s been in his family since 1890, when his grandmother’s uncle, J. B. Crowel bought it, or a mile down the road in that new brick home.

There are stories, for example, about his academic career, which lasted a year longer than he thought it should have. His mother, father, grandmother — they all made him go to school.

“I kind of liked grade school,” he said, “and I did well. But high school in Greencastle was a whole different thing. I had never seen the inside of a gym, and I didn’t even know what a pushup was. The city kids from Greencastle know all about that stuff.”

Shook — whose family wanted him to be a minister or a lawyer or anything but a farmer —decided he would go to school and just get it over with. Later in life, he decided that his grandmother, mother and father had been right.

As a freshman at Greencastle High, he talked to the principal, Mr. Grove, about what he would have to do to graduate.

“He told me I’d need 18 credits — 16 book credits and two others — to graduate,” Shook said. “So I figured if I took six things a year and went to gym class, and I played soccer, I’d be out of there.”

So he signed up for six classes a year.

“I liked the math and history, but to this day have trouble with nouns, pronouns and verbs. If it didn’t have anything to do with a magneto, or a cutout on a generator, or whatever, I wasn’t much interested.”

Nevertheless, Shook collected his 16 book and two other credits, and at the end of his junior year told Mr. Grove that he was done with school, that he would see him around and that Mr. Grove could just send his diploma to his mother, because Susan Shook had more interest in the sheepskin than he did.

And Mr. Grove said, “I’m sorry to tell you this, Tom, but you need four years of English and four years of history to graduate from high school in Pennsylvania.”

To which Shook replied, “You mean I gotta come back?”

I’m afraid so, Mr. Grove replied, “afraid” being perhaps a little too appropriate with 6 feet, 2 inches and 200 pounds of agitated farm-hardened teenage muscle standing before him.

“Now I liked that man, and I respected him, but I argued with him,” Shook said, “and I said he should have told me that three years ago. But I went back.”

Not only did he go back, but 10 years later served the first of his 18 years on the Greencastle School Board.

So, it was 1949, he was fresh out of high school and he became a full-time dairy farmer on the Shook family farm.

There is, of course, a story about how it became the Shook family farm. When J.B. Crowel’s wife became ill, Shook’s grandmother, Sarah, who was 14 at the time, moved in with the Crowels to take care of the ailing woman. The Crowels were childless, and their niece eventually inherited the farm.

She married Grant Shook and they had nine children, one of whom, their youngest, was Tom Shook’s father.

Grant Shook died in 1942, when Tom was just 12 but already determined to be a farmer. By that time, Tom’s father, Harold, had quit farming to become a full-time milk inspector for a few years before taking a job at the nearby Letterkenny Army Depot.

His widowed grandmother kept the property, which was farmed by tenants, but young Tom was always helping out.

When Sarah Shook died in 1952, her will stated that the farm should be offered for sale to each of her children, in order of their ages, at the appraised value. And if none of the children wanted it, it should be offered to Tom. None of the children wanted it.

“I went into the First National Bank of Greencastle,” Shook said. “John Walker was the cashier. There were two tellers and they both went to our church, but John Walker didn’t.

“I told John I’d like to talk to him. We went back to an office and I told him I needed $16,500 to buy the farm out there. He dang near fell off the chair laughing,” Shook said. “I said my aunts and uncles want to sell it to settle the estate, and I’ve got some cows and a couple of pieces of machinery.”

Walker stopped laughing long enough to tell him, “No.”

Not long after, Shook was helping a local stock dealer with some chores.

“We dehorned two cows and castrated a bull that day,” Shook said, “and he asked me what’s going to happen to the farm. I told him about my conversation with John Walker, and he said, Never mind about that.’ ”

The stock dealer loaned the $16,500 to Shook, wrote out a note, put it in a corner of his desk drawer and told his young helper to pay him back when he could.

Shook had the note paid off in eight years, then bought another couple of hundred acres here, 78 acres there, and ended up with 630 acres of Franklin County farmland.

A few years back, he sold 30 of those acres to neighbors, two brothers, who rent most of his ground now to grow feed for their 500 head of dairy cows. Shook sold out of the dairy business when he had his first heart attack in 1977.

From 1964 until 1983, he owned an IH dealership, selling both ag and industrial equipment. As a dealer, Shook was a pioneer in the leasing business, where his fondness for math, he said, gave him a definite edge over his competitors.

He started the leasing business after a visit to a Philadelphia banker whose seventh-floor office had a big desk, a conference table, a fountain and a dumbwaiter.

Shook and the banker talked for a while, pored over some paperwork, and the banker asked Shook if he liked prime rib.


And a baked potato?


Five minutes later, the dumbwaiter arrived with their lunch. And after lunch, Shook stepped into the elevator with a line of credit more than generous enough to finance his pioneering leasing business.

His problems with bankers were a long ago memory.

His leasing program was popular with local customers. There was a popular tractor selling, at the time, for $6,900. Shook leased it for a year to customers at $400 a month.

At the end of the lease, a customer could either pay off the difference between the full $6,900 purchase price and the $4,800 in leasing payments, or turn the tractor back to the dealership.

Only one tractor was ever returned, and he sold the used machine the next day.

Shook has many other stories he tells — hunting bear in Quebec, his time as a school bus driver, the annual minstrel show, his bypass surgery and more.

He’ll be at his sale on Saturday, Aug. 24, beginning at 8:55 a.m. on Grant Shook Road just off Route 16 in Greencastle.

He’s easy to spot, still a big guy, and if you get him going he might share a story or two with you.

Dick Wanner can be reached at rwanner.eph<\@> or by phone at 717-419-4703.

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