Mark Watters was one of thousands drawn in by the anomaly of John Deere's 4440 Dressed to Till tractor on display last fall at the Farm Science Review in London, OH. At first glance, it looked brand new. Yet the styling was undeniably vintage.

So he ventured inside the tent and discovered it was a 1980 model that had been reconditioned by the John Deere Aftermarket Division. The purpose: to showcase all of the aftermarket parts available to update your existing tractor.

Some of the highlights were a reconditioned engine. A remanufactured clutch. A swivel seat. New style steps for easier access to the cab. Additional lights. A U-shaped handle on the hood to help you hoist yourself up on the axle to refuel. A refurbished cab - including new upholstery, front and rear headliners and floor mat. Extendable mirrors that let you see behind a grain cart. Additional hydraulics. And a power strip to power a computer, cell phone and other electronic devices.

The cost? $7,187 for parts, and about double that for labor. (See price listing.) To get the same 150-hp tractor new would cost about $100,000, says product manager Vicki Ziegler, John Deere Aftermarket Division. "Our whole intent is to show that older tractors can be repowered and updated with all the latest technology," Ziegler says. "And it's very inexpensive compared with buying a new one."

Cheap horsepower. The 4440 was being raffled for $5 a pop, with part of the proceeds benefiting Ohio's Future Farmers Foundation and the Ohio 4-H Foundation. Watters bought a ticket, and by the end of the show had won himself a new tractor. "It beats my other tractors all to pieces, and they're all nice tractors," says Watters, who owns and runs a haying operation with his wife, Melissa, in Minford, OH. He says there is no play in the wheel, and the brakes have quick response. "It's just like driving a car." They plan to use the tractor to pull implements for round baling.

The 4440 was the premier tillage tractor when it was first introduced, Ziegler says. It was chosen for reconditioning because of the high population of that series still in use. "It was a good vintage tractor to show all that can be done with a tractor you might be using at home," she says.

The Aftermarket Division bought it for $24,000 from Parrott Implement, a nearby dealership. It was in working order at the time of the sale. Parrott also performed the overhaul, which took about six weeks. Today the tractor is valued at around $50,000, Ziegler says.

A growing trend. Dave Donohue, John Deere Aftermarket Parts product manager, says the average age of farm equipment owned today is 17 to 20 years old. In the past five years, he has noticed increased demand for aftermarket parts, particularly for tractors in the 15-year-old to current bracket, which includes the 30 and 40 series.

He attributes the increase to the escalating price of new and used tractors. He says the cost to recondition a tractor from engine to frame typically is between $15,000 and $17,000, including labor. Labor rates vary by location but typically run $32 to $50/ hr., Ziegler says. Parts can be financed through Farm Plan, a credit arm of John Deere.

The engine overhaul is claimed to provide several thousands of hours of additional life and possibly more, depending on level of use and maintenance. "We see tractors with as high as 20,000 to 30,000 hours on them, and they are 35 years old and still working," says Thad Bechtelheimer, parts marketing representative, John Deere Waterloo Works. "So if a person overhauls the engine and goes through the transmission, the life could be indefinite as long as you take care of the tractor."

John Deere dealers have a complete list of aftermarket parts available for each model. The dealer will give you an estimate on parts you want replaced. Many of the parts you can install yourself, Donohue says. But those requiring calibration and testing to meet industry specifications should be installed at a dealership. Parts are guaranteed for a minimum of 90 days and up to 12 months if installed by a dealer.

More overhauls coming. This month the Aftermarket Division will recondition a 4450 tractor for display at farm shows this summer. It will feature a completely remanufactured engine, which Deere released to the aftermarket just last month. "With the remanufactured engine, farmers now have a full line of repair alternatives available to them," says Fred Allen, manager of aftermarket engine sales, John Deere Engine Works.

The cost of the remanufactured engine was not available at press time. But Allen says with labor included it will be priced slightly higher than the engine overhaul kit featured in the 4440, which retailed for $1,596. Both engine-rebuilding options satisfy current EPA standards, he says.

Based on the performance of the 4440, the Watters are planning to overhaul their 35-hp Allis Chalmers. Plans include a reconditioned head and new sleeves, pistons, fuel pump, rings and clutch. They will perform most of the labor themselves, and Watters estimates parts will cost around $800. "For that, you can't touch a new tractor."

For more information about John Deere reconditioning options, contact your local John Deere dealer or Deere & Company, Dept. FIN, One John Deere Place, Moline, IL 61265, 309/765-4714 or circle 214.