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Fourth time's a charm for Matt Mahler
as he takes national tractor restoration title

By Kevin Hamilton
Matt Mahler can now safely say “Fourth time is a charm.”
The 2015 IPHS graduate can also rightly claim that “persistence pays.”

In his fourth straight appearance at the Delo Tractor Restoration Competition Thursday in Louisville, Kentucky, Mahler put Iowa Park on the map when he was named the 2015 National Champion.

The honor comes on the heels of finishing in third place in two of his three other appearances as one of 12 national finalists (as a freshman and sophomore).

This year’s project was a 1972 John Deere 4320 Matt and his father, Barry, found in a used tractor yard in West Texas. He began working on the project in October of 2014, and eventually logged over 760 hours of work.

“Everything worked out well,” the Vernon College freshman said of this year’s competition. In addition to being named Grand Champion, Mahler was awarded Best Presentation.

During competition, Mahler gave a 20-minute presentation to the judges, which was followed by a question-and-answer session. “That was supposed to last 15 minutes, but it went for an hour,” he noted. “I knew that was a good thing, the session going longer.”

At the awards presentation Friday, Mahler initially was awarded “Best Presentation.”

Third place among the 12 finalists was then announced (Drake Davis, Southmont FFA, Crawfordsville, Indiana). “I didn’t hear my name, so I thought I might have a chance,” Mahler said.

Then second place was named – and it was what Mahler considered his toughest competition – from Austin Haywood of Hastings FFA in Hastings, Michigan.

“And then they called my name. It was a huge moment for everybody there,” Mahler said.

“Everyone that organized that contest had known me for the last four years, so they were excited for me,” he continued.

Experience from those previous three appearances helped Mahler in his fourth and final presentation at the Delo competition.

“It is almost unheard of to go up there and place as a freshman,” he said. “As the years went by, I got more and more of a feel for the contest and what you needed to do.” He also said a lot was learned from judges’ comments.

And his fourth year was especially tough, being his senior year at Iowa Park.

Mahler noted that especially at the livestock shows in San Antonio and Houston, where he traditionally did well. This past year, it wasn’t to be.

“I didn’t have good luck at San Antonio or Houston ... I think a fourth and a third ... but definitely not as well as we had done in the past,” he said. “The competition just gets tougher and tougher. Coming into this year, with just a lot of activity going on my senior year, it hurt us at the state shows, but we got it turned around before nationals.

“Going in (to nationals), it was a definitely a downer,” he said of the state results.

And while his classmates and friends would be getting together on weekends or late at night, Mahler was building hours of work on the project. “I definitely did some of that,” he said of the off-hours fun. “It was really hard when it was a Saturday night and everybody is out there having fun, and you are in the shop staring at a blank shell. But a national championship is built on hard work and dedication. You’ve got to want it.”

The Delo Tractor Restoration Competition was established in 1995 to recognize and reward the creativity, technical aptitude and business knowledge of high school-aged students from around the country. Participants develop teamwork, project management, budget management, planning and marketing skills. All of these skills will enable them to become future leaders in the agriculture community.