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Tough without him

Family members honor their beloved father and grandfather, the late H.A. Threet, through favorite stories and cherished memories
By Sarah Geyer 8/29/2018


H.A. Threet was well-known for his backwards-turned John Deere cap and his fierce competitive nature during the tractor pulling event held each year as part of the annual Crossroads of Dixie Antique Tractor Show in Lawrenceburg. He stopped competing in the event a few years ago, at the age of 83.
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In the latter part of July, travelers on Lawrenceburg’s Highway 43 had nearly a week to admire the beautifully restored antique tractor parked at the entrance of Threet Farms.

Adorned with a large, white satin bow, the John Deere 4020 served as the family’s solemn tribute to the farm’s 86-year-old patriarch, H.A. Threet, who passed away unexpectedly on July 12, 2018.

H.A. grew up on creek-bottom farmland along the Natchez Trace in Alabama, land the Threets — an English surname that means “thrashers of wheat” — had farmed since the Civil War. He grew up watching floodwaters ruin many of the family’s crops. He knew he didn’t want to face those same challenges as a full-time farmer, so in 1952, H.A., his father, Homer, and his uncle, Jimmy, decided to move their families about 40 miles north and to higher ground. Each family settled on farms in Lawrence County, Tenn.

H.A. raised row crops, mostly cotton, and ran a dairy operation with his wife, Carolyn, and the couple’s children: daughters, Susan and Sandy, who are both married and live nearby, and son, Stan. He embraced the Threets’ agricultural legacy and farmed full-time alongside his father for more than 40 years; although the 61-year-old admits there’s not a time he can recall when he wasn’t “attached to Daddy’s leg while he was working.”

Stan followed his father’s example as a family man, too, raising three children with his wife, Tinker, on Threet farmland. Son Ben, 22, recently embraced the family profession, too, farming full-time with his father and his grandfather.

Today, Threet Farms includes 1,400 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat and 200 acres rotated between hayfields and pastures for an 80-head cattle herd.

Stan’s daughter Hollie, 25, who divides her time between helping with the family business and teaching agriculture and serving as FFA advisor at the local high school, is in the process of renovating her late Uncle Jimmy’s home. Her older sister Darcy, 28, is a realtor who lives with her family in Nashville. Darcy often visits the family farm with her 7-year-old daughter, Aubrey Marie, who Aunt Hollie says already has the “farming bug.”

The Threet farming tradition doesn’t just include Stan. Both his sisters live on the farm with their families, and Sandy’s husband and son farm full-time.

“It’s a family operation and takes all of us to make it work,” says Hollie. “Papaw was really proud of that.”

H.A.’s favorite part of farming was his cattle, says Hollie, adding she’s inherited her grandfather’s affection for cows.

“He said there was nothing prettier than black-and-white cows in a green pasture. When we decided to get out of the dairy business [in 2005], he said, ‘Well, I guess I got to go get some black ones now.’”

When H.A. and Stan, long-time members of Lawrence Farmers Cooperative, decided to purchase a 1952 John Deere at a 1988 farm show, their mutual love of farming quickly morphed into a second shared passion — antique tractors. By 2018, the pair had amassed an impressive collection of 50-plus tractors, with 40 fully restored and the rest in various stages of repair.

“I reckon we never saw an old tractor we didn’t like,” says Stan. “We’ve got red ones and orange ones, an Oliver or two. We even had a couple of little Fords, but we sold them.”

The oldest tractor in the collection, a 1947 WC Allis Chalmers, is a nod to H.A.’s childhood.

Even with a variety of makes and models in their collection, they obviously have a favorite — the John Deere 4020. The Threets own eight of them, a tractor type the company stopped producing in 1972.

“That’s what I grew up with, so I’m sentimental about them,” explains Stan. “Dad just loved them, especially a 4020 with a roll bar canopy on it. You couldn’t hardly scald Daddy off of that.”

Stan says he and H.A. enjoyed displaying their restored beauties at antique tractor shows over the years, adding that many of the events no longer exist. However, one farm show remains a mainstay of the region after more than 20 years, and faithful attendees have H.A. to thank for the annual Lawrenceburg event; he donated a large portion of the venue rental fee for the city’s inaugural Crossroads of Dixie Antique Tractor Show, which featured 300 antique tractors. Last year, the 21st Crossroads of Dixie showcased more than 900 tractors. The show also includes a widely popular tractor-pulling contest, and many of the antique models are used to compete.

Every year, H.A. has been a fixture at the Crossroads show, positioning himself at the event’s front gate and greeting everyone as they enter.

“A lot of people tell me,” says Ben, “that the reason they come to the show each year is to say ‘hi’ to Pops and shake his hand.”

However, it was H.A.’s competitive fashion statement — a John Deere cap worn backwards — that gained him devoted fans.

“It all started because PaPaw and Daddy competed in the same class,” says Hollie. “He didn’t want to lose to Daddy, so he got his tractor all ‘souped up.’ The first time he drove it down the track, his hat flew off, and he ran over it with the sled. After that, he’d turn his cap around backwards so it wouldn’t fly off when he competed. It wasn’t long before people in the stands were turning their hats around, too, especially the little kids, when it came his turn to pull. Even the announcer would say something like, ‘The hat’s turned around, folks; things are about to get serious.’ He loved that tractor-pulling contest and just stopped competing in it a few years ago.”

For this year’s event, the Threets say they plan to take 30 tractors from their collection to the show. The family only owns one antique puller currently, and Ben will compete with it. (The event was held Aug. 17-18, after The Cooperator’s press time.)

There’s no doubt the two-day show will be bittersweet for those who enjoyed seeing H.A. greet and compete, especially his family and close friends.

“It’s gonna be tough this year to be there without him for the first time,” says Stan.

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