North Stonington senior honors grandfather, follows in his footsteps
North Stonington — On a recent Wednesday evening, while other high school seniors zipped up and down the town’s winding farm roads on their dirt bikes, Evan Jones was deep in the woods near Clarks Falls Road working on his red 1948 Farmall “M” tractor, flanked by two 150-pound Maremma sheepdogs.
“That’s the extent of my company most days,” he said, as the shaggy dogs followed him into a barn. He lifted an ancient-looking manifold and matched it against the engine, and went to work stripping debris from the contact points.
Since his junior year, Jones has spent more than 300 hours, between shifts at the local Dunkin Donuts, stripping down and rebuilding this 70-year-old machine as a tribute to his grandfather Gerald Jones. Gerald Jones, a longtime electrician at Fisher Controls, collected tractors and attended tractor swaps throughout the region. He died during Evan Jones’ freshman year.
“He would have liked to see it put together,” Jones said of his grandfather.
The project also meshes with Jones’ longstanding interest in engineering, which he intends to major in when he heads off to Virginia Tech in the fall.
Part of why he thinks he’s attracted to mechanics is getting to understand how a system works and learning to fix it, Jones said.
"I think it’s cool, everything works in unison; if one thing doesn’t work, it can be aggravating and also funny,” he said.
Jones will be the first in his family to go for a four-year degree. And while college is expensive, he will defray the cost by participating in the Reserve Officers Training Corps program. In that respect, he also will follow in the steps of his grandfather, who served as an electrician in the Air Force for decades before returning to North Stonington. His ultimate goal, he said, is to become an Air Force aircraft maintenance officer.
Ray Jones, a cousin of Evan Jones, is a skilled mechanic who helped Evan through the restoration process. He is in charge of maintenance for the fleet of vehicles at United Builders Supply, a company that supplies building materials to homeowners and contractors.
As part of their partial restoration, he and Evan Jones had taken apart the governor, a piece that regulates the engine speed, and taken an acorn out of the carburetor to make sure the engine was working, among many other de- and reconstructions.
But the engine was running too hot, Ray Jones said, putting it at risk of overheating on the 6-mile trip from the barn to school the next day, where Evan Jones would be presenting his project.
Gerald Jones had tried many times to get the red tractor in running shape, without success.
Despite his own lack of success, Evan Jones said his grandfather told him: "Don’t let it get you mad, it’s just a piece of iron."
Evan Jones remembers that in the days before Fisher Control closed, employees were told they could bring home what they wished because the rest would be scrapped. His grandfather, he said, took home odds and ends all week in his lunchbox, and arrived on his last day on one of his antique Farmall Tractors to get his paycheck.
In his garage he had containers full of random parts: "cigar boxes, pill bottles ... clementine boxes, he always had a use for those,” Evan Jones said. He, too, is known for storing stuff away on the off-chance he might need it.
“My family always tells me 'oh you're just like him,'” he added.
By Thursday, the day before senior presentations, the engine still was running hot. The two Joneses revved the engine to dislodge 40 years of gunk and grease and drained the coolant several times, which changed from a clear color to a murky, orange sludge as it passed through the engine. A few hours later and it hummed at a cool 140 degrees, and was ready to take to school.
“Not a week ago, it was (just an engine) block of a trailer,” Evan Jones said. “It’s kind of nice."
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