Antique cotton picker brought back to life

Tuesday, January 5, 2016
Diane Armstrong Jackson on a 1951 M Farmall tractor with a M-12 high drum cotton picker. The equipment was purchased by her dad, Charles F. Armstrong of Dell, in 1951. Rick Cohn of Monette repaired the picker and has it running. (photo provided)

Rick Cohn of Monette enjoys restoring and collecting antique tractors. Most of his tractors are John Deere green but his latest find is red. The 1951 M Farmall tractor with a M-12 high drum cotton picker, his newest project, is up and running for the first time in over 40 years.

The cotton picker belonged to the family of Diane Armstrong Jackson of Dell. It had been in her family for as long as she can remember.

Her dad, the late Charles S. Armstrong, was a farmer in the Dell area. He farmed until he was 76 years old when he turned the farming operation over to his son, Charlie Armstrong. Mr. Armstrong died in 2012.

The cotton picker was bought by Mr. Armstrong in the 1950s and Jackson grew up riding on it and can remember her dad letting her get into the basket when she was very young. She was small enough to stand up in the basket. She talked to her brother about the picker and the best he could remember the last year it was used to harvest was 1973.

"My brother said he drove it to the shed in 1973 and parked it," Jackson said. "My dad got a two-row picker the next year, then another two row picker and the one row picker was not moved until we decided to let Rick Cohn see what he could do with it."

Jackson stopped by Cohn's business in Monette and they started talking tractors. She told him about the M Farmall tractor and cotton picker and how she did not want it to go for scrap.

It took her a couple of months to decide to part with the picker. When she made up her mind she called Cohn and told him to come and get it.

Cohn said it was a job getting the equipment from Dell to Monette. He aired up the back tires, put the front tire back on and pulled it home on a dolly-type trailer.

"It took three hours to go 20 miles," he said.

Once he got the tractor home, it took him only seven days to get it running.

Many of his antique tractors are one-family owned. He can trace most of his tractors back to their original owners. Many times families have let him purchase the tractors with the agreement he will not resell them.

"Some of the former owners come out just to see the tractors from time to time," Cohn said. "They are very pleased when they see their tractors when I am finished with them."

Cohn said anyone can go to an auction and buy tractors.

"A tractor becomes special when you are handling a family heirloom," he said.

Cohn does the research on his tractors. He knows the history behind them. Many of the owners come to him because they know his concern for preserving the history of the tractors and the area.

He is not sure if he plans to paint the Farmall or leave it as is.

"You can buy new paint but you can't change nature," he said.

Cohn said the Farmall and cotton picker are rare for two reasons.

"The high drum picker is rare for the time and the axle on the tractor is also for a high crop," Cohn said. "Also, it has an aluminum cast head which was only used for two or three years. Another great feature of the tractor is it has five forward gears."

Cohn put a picture of the tractor on "Yesterday's Tractor" and a gentleman saw it and contacted him.

"He had the information books on that particular tractor and cotton picker and sent them to me," Cohn said. "He called it a donation to the history of that cotton picker. Life has been good to me with my collectibles."

Cohn gives credit to several knowledgeable men who have influenced him in the restoration of his tractors including Fred Mangrum of Monette; Jr. Wallace of Lake City; Tom Weawer of Jonesboro; Donald Routon of Paragould; Jimmy Jameson of Hornersville; Jimmy Hicks of Manila; and G.F. Stewart of Monette.

"I am sure there are others," Cohn said. "I didn't do all of this by myself."

A friend of Cohn's, Billy Ray Tilley of Monette, gave him some good pointers during the repairs of the antique tractor and cotton picker. Mr. Tilley is 82 and retired from International Harvester.

When Mrs. Jackson decided to let the tractor and picker go, she asked Cohn to give it life.

He managed to do so in seven days. He called Jackson and told her to come by and drive the cotton picker. She took him up on the offer and it was an emotional moment for her.

Cohn is confident it would pick cotton.

Cohn has a few green tractors but is happy to add the red equipment to his collection.

Jackson, a retired nurse, said she is happy to have found a home for the cotton picker that had been in her family for so many years.

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