Jim Matzenbacher has spent the better part of his life around tractors.
His passion started with tractor pulls, but eventually it broadened to building tractors, including for other people.
“I’ve been tractor pulling since I was 13 and I’m 63, so I’ve been tractor pulling for 50 years,” the Fults man said. “Me and my dad started it. We pretty much did all of our stuff on our own. But as far as building tractors for other people, I’ve been doing that for probably about 15 years now.”
As he has gone to tractor pulls on his custom-built tractors and performed well, and consequently got requests to make tractors for others, Matzenbacher has become a nationally respected figure.
Several of his tractors have even won point championships.
“All the tractors that I’ve built, people like them,” Matzenbacher said. “They have a clean look and they’re done right. And I think that’s where it comes from. That’s where you get the respect from.”
That reputation afforded Matzenbacher the opportunity to build an Unstyled John Deere Model G that will be raffled off to benefit St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital.
This marks the fifth year the raffle, called the Tunica Raffle Tractor, has been held. The event is an offshoot of the group Midwest Hellion Tractor Pullers.
Each year, it has raised as much as $90,000 from raffle ticket sales for St. Jude’s.
This year, however, it is looking to raise more because it is raffling off two pulling tractors in a battle of the brands raffle, with fans of each brand competing to see which side raises more money.
One tractor is a Farmall M pulling tractor donated by Robert Niethammer of Saline, Mich. The other is the John Deere Matzenbacher is building, which was donated by Pat and Ken Bollinger.
Matzenbacher took that tractor as a starting point, stripped it down and rebuilt it as the Unstyled Model G.
“I just felt it would be an honor to do it,” Matzenbacher said of why he took the job. “They could have asked a number of different builders throughout the country, but they asked me. We just put forth the effort to do it and make sure it’s done right. That’s the whole deal.”
He also wanted to build the tractor since it was for a good cause.
“If you see these kids in St. Jude’s Hospital, they can’t help where they’re at,” he said. “They didn’t ask for what they got. It’s all about the kids. That’s all I’m thinking about.”
Matzenbacher and his nephew, Chad Esker, have been working on the tractor since January of last year, donating all their time.
The tractor they are making is a reproduction of one built from 1938-1942.
“It has nostalgic value in that respect,” Matzenbacher noted. “It’s considered an antique.”
While Matzenbacher and Esker have been assembling the tractor, they have obtained parts from some of the best in the country to build the machine.
“It’s not just me,” Matzenbacher said. “This whole deal with the St. Jude is all about the pullers and puller families and people that throw in a little here or a little there to make this happen.”
More than 20 individuals and businesses have donated parts and funds to the project, which is organized by Bryan Lively, Pete Petznick and Jeff Gravert.
The tractor is almost finished, as Matzenbacher is waiting for some parts to come in and painting to be done.
He estimates the tractor should be completed this summer.
The raffle will take place Dec. 7 in Tunica, Miss.
Raffle tickets cost $20 apiece or $100 for six, $200 for 45 or $1,000 for 100. The winners of the raffle each get one of the tractors.
Matzenbacher encouraged individuals to purchase tickets.
“If anything, just buy tickets to help out St. Jude’s, whether you want the tractor or not,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Go to tunicaraffletractor.blogspot.com and click on the 2019 raffle link to purchase tickets.
Monroe County residents will be able to see Matzenbacher’s tractor sooner, as it is scheduled to appear at the Waterloo Optimists Club’s annual tractor pull on June 29.