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Pulling together

The Hodges make tractors a family affair
Story and photos by Glen Liford 5/1/2018


Dwayne Hodges shows off a story detailing his reception of the FFA American Farmer degree in 1955. Until a few years ago, Dwayne had never seen the article. But as his sister was cleaning out some of his mother’s things, she found the article and shared it with Dwayne. Favorite tractors and farm scenes are also featured on the wall of the lovely home he shares with wife Clara.
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It was in high school that Dwayne Hodges first became involved in FFA and found his life’s calling.

Dwayne attended Sevier County High School and was a student of vocational ag teacher W.S. Coe. It was under Mr. Coe’s tutelage that Dwayne developed a love of agriculture.

“That was my main subject,” says Dwayne, now an 82-year-old retired farmer and former director of Sevier Farmers Cooperative. “I liked to see how things grow. And I liked that lump of money you could make. My father-in-law T.A. Robertson, encouraged me, too. He said, ‘Son, when you get a little money, don’t drag it out. Put it up. A lump sum is what does you some good when you want to buy something.’”

Though Mr. Coe could be a strict disciplinarian, he and Dwayne hit it off well. And his supervision of Dwayne’s farm program led to Mr. Coe offering Dwayne career advice. During a farm visit, Mr. Coe said he had heard that the Co-op’s manager, McKinley Ballard, was looking for help and suggested Dwayne apply.

“He hired me, and I went to work on July 5, 1954,” says Dwayne. “The first day on the job, they sent me out with another man to deliver fertilizer. We put it into a barn loft, and it was about 95 degrees that day.”

A few months later, Dwayne married his high school sweetheart, Clara Robertson.

“We had been friends in high school,” says Dwayne. “But she thought I got to looking awful beautiful towards the last.”

Dwayne spent the next two-and-a-half years or so working at the Co-op, as he was starting his family. In October of 1955, with Clara expecting the couple’s first child, he traveled to Kansas City, Mo., where he received his American Farmer degree at the National FFA Convention.

“That’s really when I knew I wanted to be a farmer,” says Dwayne.

Within a few years, however, Dwayne began to get restless at the Co-op.

“I don’t know what he had in mind for me, but Mr. Ballard had me doing a lot of paperwork, and I got to where I didn’t know if that was the thing for me or not,” says Dwayne.

He asked his father-in-law what he should do, and his dad’s reply was: “Son, it’s your choice.”

His father-in-law helped him get hired at the ALCOA factory in Blount County, but after nine months, Dwayne was laid off. He soon secured another factory job at the American Enka plant in Morristown, but the position required him to work swing shifts, which took its toll on the young family.

“We lived in the house with my inlaws, and I helped on the farm when I wasn’t working,” says Dwayne, who by then had four children – daughters Darlene and Sandy and sons Ray and Lon. “Finally, Clara sat me down and said, ‘This isn’t working.’ So I quit to farm full time.”

On December 16, 1977, his dad passed away. And it was then that he and his brother, Lowell, decided to pool their money, machinery, and land and farm together. The Hodges raised beef cattle — mainly Holstein steers – and hay, and did some row cropping, growing wheat, soybeans, and corn on farms on both sides of the French Broad River in Kodak, and the farm owned by Clara’s parents in Sevierville. At their peak, the brothers were farming more than 800 acres. They farmed together for some 35 years or so, before retiring. A third brother, Ron, spent his career working with Tennessee Farmers Cooperative. Now, Dwayne’s grandson, Clint, serves as manager of Sevier Farmers Co-op.

In the late 1970s, the Co-op came calling on Dwayne again, and he agreed to become a director, eventually serving a total of 18 years. He was also on the board of the Soil Conservation Service for 19 years.

“I don’t know how I got so popular,” says Dwayne with a chuckle. “They felt like I could do it, I reckon.”

During his farming days, nothing pleased Dwayne more than driving his tractor.

“We never let a tractor sit still,” he says. “If it was sitting in a shed, it wasn’t making us anything. We would find somewhere to run a tractor — fixing somebody’s land or seeding a field.”

Dwayne and his two sons shared a fondness for the machines, but after a few pulls, the boys “got interested in girls” and the tractors fell by the wayside, he says.

So it came as no surprise to any of the family when 20 or 25 years ago, Dwayne again became interested in antique tractors and tractor pulls. He bought a bright red Farmall M, shined it up, and took it to a pull at the Sevierville Fairgrounds. He and Clint have different memories of the outcome — Clint says he placed first, while Dwayne thinks it was a third-place finish. Regardless, the bug had bitten him again, and he returned the following year with a more powerful Farmall Super M.

“It did well,” says Dwayne modestly. “But I like competition. I had to get up there with some of the bigger boys. I built a Farmall 400 to compete in the 12,000-to-13,000-pound class.”

In the meantime, Clara laid claim to the Super M, and the couple began attending events together, even pulling against each other a time or two. Dwayne won the first round, while Clara took top honors in the second round. They now have an attic full of trophies from their pulling exploits. And their grandchildren, including Clint and his brothers, Ty and Lane, enjoy taking in the pulls and shows with them. At one time, Dwayne had 16 of the vintage workhorses, but he’s down to 11 now, giving several away to his grandchildren, and last fall set one aside for Clint’s newborn son, Cade, who was Dwayne and Clara’s 13th great-grandchild.

Last year, Dwayne donated that first Farmall M to Sevier County High School FFA.

“I felt like I owed them,” says Dwayne. “FFA and Mr. Coe helped me so much when I was younger. And if they could help some boy or girl with the proceeds from that tractor, that was well and good.”

The restored tractor will be raffled off this summer to raise money for the program.

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