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Mattituck-Cutchogue students refurbish 70-year-old tractor

A shiny red and cream-colored tractor sits outside the main entrance of Mattituck High School. At night, the vehicle glows white with Christmas lights.

But it’s not new to the high school; the tractor has been on school grounds for 70 years.

Refurbishment of the district’s 1948 Ford Jubilee tractor started back in October with students from Mike Jablonski’s woodshop class. Last week, the spiffed up but nonfunctional tractor was placed outside the high school, facing Main Road.

The tractor was placed in storage by the grounds crew and maintenance crew leader Tom Kelly after it developed mechanical issues several years ago. The district later replaced it. Principal Shawn Petretti said the vintage tractor often came up in conversation within the district, and that’s when he suggested that the Board of Education donate it to the Class of 2015 to be refurbished.

“I had some boys that were going to refurbish it in that class, but they never got around to it,” Mr. Petretti said.

Earlier this academic year, the principal asked Mr. Jablonski if the 9th- to 12th-graders in his woodshop class would tackle the project. In turn, Mr. Jablonski said, he reached out to two former students — seniors Tyler Noorman and Greg Hauser — who jumped on it immediately. Soon after, senior James Kirchberger, a current woodshop student, also got involved.

“They wanted to do something new and different, so it was perfect,” Mr. Jablonski said.

The principal said the trio is the district’s “special woodshop team.” Working behind the high school woodshop studio, the students scraped the old paint from the tractor, then sanded, primed and repainted it.

“The wrapping process took a little bit,” James laughed. “That was painful … We had to take canvas and paper and just tape it all up, so when you paint it, you don’t paint over the wrong areas.”

Mr. Petretti said the tractor was used on school property to move equipment since its origin in 1948.

“The Jubilee tractors were mass-produced after World War II to accommodate all the soldiers coming home and the boom in farming,” Mr. Petretti said.

Mr. Petretti said he and Mr. Jablonski were unsure if the tractor should be repainted in school blue and yellow, but the students decided to maintain its red and cream colors for the historical significance.

The machine may remain in front of the school until Tractor Day – an end-of-the-year event dating back to 1996 during which students drive their families’ tractors onto campus.

Mr. Petretti said the tractor represents Mattituck’s heritage.

“Obviously, the kids in the school still relate to the farming industry,” he said. “That was the North Fork, that was Mattituck-Cutchogue, and obviously we still have some families that keep that tradition going and get excited about it.”

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Photo caption: The refurbished tractor has a new home on the front lawn of Mattituck High School. (Kate Nalepinski photo)