MOORESVILLE — It’s difficult to say what’s more amazing — Jim Karriker’s 8-foot-high tomato plant or his 1949 show tractor.
He relishes the chance to talk about either one, but plenty of folks out there grow Big Boy tomatoes.
Not many of you have a 1949 Allis-Chalmers “G” model tractor that’s been meticulously restored to best-in-show beauty.
“After I retired, I decided I was going to mess with tractors,” Karriker says.
Eye-catching with its bright orange paint and chrome hardware, the 1949 G looks like the skeleton of a tractor or some prehistoric animal whose claws are the cultivators that drop down from its belly.
This is not a powerful machine. The 9-horsepower, rear-engine tractor was meant for small farms and gardens.
The gas tank holds only 5 gallons of fuel.
Open to all the elements, the operator sits atop the big rear wheels.
An Allis-Chalmers factory in Gadsden, Ala., built 29,976 of these tractors from 1948 to 1955, at prices ranging from $700 to $970, depending on how they were equipped.
Karriker bought his G model from a guy on Goldfish Road near China Grove. The long-retired tractor was rusted and sitting in “a tumble-down shed,” he recalls.
Karriker put it on a trailer and brought it to his Rowan County home on Corriher Grange Road. The old tractor sat in one of his buildings for a year-and-a-half before he summoned up the resolve to take on the restoration.
The project took six months, day and night.
“I tore it all to pieces,” Karriker says. “... We had pieces everywhere.”
He refurbished parts and ordered others, reassembling things from memory.
“If you put a puzzle together very many times, you can just do it,” he says.
Karriker loves talking about every detail of the G tractor — the bullet tail light, 6-volt battery, radiator, muffler, steering wheel, flat-belt pulley, cultivator feet and tires.
The transmission buffalloed him for awhile, until he figured out there was a lower gear than first.
The tractor’s sheet metal, after it was sandblasted and primed, was in pretty good shape.
The only thing you wouldn’t have seen on the original G model in 1949 are the chrome accents he added.
A friend of Karriker’s — a body shop man — painted the tractor for him.
“It’s just something to piddle with,” Karriker says, “but I’ll tell you what, I’ve enjoyed it.”
People have offered considerable dollars for his 1949 G, but Karriker says this tractor — he has sold plenty of others in the past — is not for sale.
Best in show
In 2010 at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, Karriker’s G tractor won Best in Show for tractors from the 1930-49 era at the Got to Be NC Festival.
When he goes to shows, Karriker hauls the G model in a carpeted trailer.
“I’m just proud of my little tractor,” he says. “But a lot of people think I’m crazy.”
Karriker, 75, grew up in the house next to his on Corriher Grange Road, not far from the Grange itself. He and his wife, Frances, built their current home in 1958.
Except for a three-year hitch in the Army, Karriker has lived in this part of the world all his life. He worked many jobs over time, including stints in construction and with Carolina Tire, but most his years were spent with Cannon Mills and all the company names that followed. He retired from Plant No. 1 in Kannapolis in 2003.
As a kid working on his parents’ farm, Karriker says, he relied on two tractors and three mules for all the cultivating.
“Ain’t nobody can tell me about the rear-end of a mule,” he laughs.
But on a more serious note, he wishes more kids today had the opportunity he did of growing up in the country, where life was pretty much self-sustaining.
Karriker has a lot of connections in the tractor world thanks to past restorations, friends he has made at shows and people he has met through the Stumptown Tractor Club.
The Huntersville club has about 75 members who like to restore tractors, take them to antique equipment shows and do demonstrations. Members meet monthly and also host the three-day Killian Farm Antique Tractor & Engine Show in October.
Look for Karriker and his 1949 G at next month’s Farmers Day in China Grove. He’ll also be going to shows later this year in Alabama and Florida, besides the events he regularly attends in-state, which sometimes include tractor pulls and lawn mower pulls.
He has a modified John Deer lawn tractor with a wheelie bar for the lawn mower pulls.
Oh, and what about that tomato plant of Karriker’s?
He pokes his nose up and down the vine and pushes back on leaves so he can count all the green tomatoes just waiting to ripen.
“I counted about 26, I think,” Karriker reports.
He confides that he gives the plant a shot of Miracle-Gro every couple of days. He placed the plant on the side of his house where it filled the hole left by an old poplar.
“I just want to see how tall it will go,” Karriker says. “I never seen no tomato like it.”
A lot of people say the same about his tractor.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@ salisburypost.com.