Parade grand marshal wants Big Four to represent heritage of Monticello
Winn Westcott has a great appreciation for the history of Monticello and a strong respect for the men and women who spent their days and nights working hard simply to make a living in the little city where he grew up.
He has expressed that appreciation for the last 13 years by donating hundreds of hours of his own hard work to restore, and then provide constant maintenance to, one of the city’s most recognizable icons – the lumbering behemoth that is the Big Four Tractor.
He has also been instrumental in organizing the popular tractor pull event. As Monticello hosts its annual Pioneer Day Celebration this week and remembers the past, it’s fitting that Westcott will serve as the 2019 parade grand marshal.
His labor of love is truly a bold representation of the legacy of Monticello. Its residents have always depended on the land where they live. For generations, farmers have respected and cared for this land.
It’s a heritage that is slipping into the past and residents should strive to reclaim it, Westcott said.
“We’re losing our history just as fast as we can go,” he explained. “People come and go all the time, and they’re not very interested in what started the town, the people who started it. The fabric of the community is changing.
“The young people have moved on and they’re so busy,” he continued. “They have a million things to do now. I’d like to see us stop losing our history and get interested again in what Monticello is about.”
For Westcott, and many other local residents, the Big Four Tractor is a bold reminder of that bygone era. For that reason, he continues to put in work on the ten-ton beast in hopes that it can make a return appearance in the parade after a two-year hiatus.
The Big Four, a member of the class known as prairie tractors, is a rare tractor. According to FarmCollector.com, just 25 are known to exist. It was built by the Emerson-Brantingham Company in 1912 and got its name because of its four 4x5 cylinders.
It was used in various dry farms in the area until 1915 and was abandoned until the City of Monticello bought it in 1962. Westcott said this special tractor is really the grand marshal this year, not himself.
Most folks who have lived in Monticello for any length of time are familiar with the Big Four and the massive restoration project that was completed on it in 2008.
It began in 2003 when Westcott and Steve Young led a group of local tractor buffs who made it their goal to restore the Big Four to running condition and build a suitable home for it at the Frontier Museum. Until that time, the tractor had been sitting in Veterans Park for over 40 years.
Project coordinators began fundraising. A successful grant was written and by 2006 the foundation had raised more than $14,000. Young’s Machine Company provided space in their shop with large hoists to work on the huge machine.
The tractor was completely taken apart and all the parts cleaned. The crank shaft was re-ground and polished, the pistons were refurbished, new rings were made, old cylinders were re-sleeved, new Babbitt bearings were provided for the rods, and transmission bearings were replaced.
The radiator was taken apart, cleaned, and reconditioned. The carburetor and governor were rebuilt and the clutch was relined.
Some work was completed locally and some by firms across the nation. No parts were available for the repair job, so new ones had to be fabricated if the old were unusable.
The project would have been prohibitively expensive if not for the generosity of several companies that donated thousands of dollars of labor.
Other sources of funding came from the City of Monticello, tractor pulls held in Moab and Cortez, and uncounted hours of volunteer labor.
Westcott said it was an impressive group, and you can find their names printed on the individual fan blades located inside the radiator of the restored Big Four.
The shiny, like-new tractor made its first modern appearance on a trailer in the 2008 Pioneer Day parade and rumbled down Main Street under its own power in 2009.
Westcott has been the volunteer caretaker of the giant tractor for 13 years. He is truly married to it, but at this point, he said, he’s “trying to get a divorce.”
“The thing about the Big Four that people don’t realize is that it’s not like the tractors we have now,” Westcott said. “People want to drive it and they can’t even start it. It’s a process. It’s kind of like your wife. You think you know her and the next day something else is different.”
It’s also extremely expensive to keep the Big Four running. Westcott said a piston that was recently replaced came with a price tag of $1,300. “There’s constantly something wrong with it, and there’s always a lot of little stuff that needs to be done,” he said.
Since the restoration was completed, there has been no steady funding for the Big Four. That’s why the San Juan Chamber of Commerce will seek donations during the parade this year. Any funds raised will go directly toward maintenance and upkeep of the tractor.
One reason the Big Four is a little larger-than-life in Monticello is that it is a reminder of city roots. “Tractors were a big part of living in Monticello in the past,” Westcott said. “Those guys worked all day long and half the night just to live.
“People think it’s like these new tractors: you turn the key on and push the button and it starts up. They aren’t really interested in having to crawl under the old tractors and get the grease all over them.”
The Big Four was a pioneer in the “tractor era” that revolutionized the farming industry.
“That tractor and other things have provided us time that we can do stuff that we really need to,” Westcott explained. “I would like to see it represent that.”
He described a labor-intensity with the Big Four that the modern farmer with modern equipment is hard-pressed to understand. It produces an appreciation for what farming ancestors endured.
Explaining that it had to be completely inspected and maintenance performed after every 12 hours of operation, he said, “So it was a great thing for those guys, but it was intensive and it wasn’t a one-man job.”
Even though he’s been so intimately involved with it for so long, Westcott said he doesn’t like to drive the Big Four. He detailed that it steers like a soapbox derby car and the brake is “basically nonexistent.”
“You have to have two guys on the tractor and you need to have another on the street, because even though it only goes 2.5 miles per hour, it’s tough to stop that ten-ton tractor.”
Winn Westcott was born in Monticello in 1942, just in time for the uranium boom. In his teenage years, like many others in the area, he did some work on the farm. He hoed beans and hauled hay, and also did some of that work a few years later while living in Oregon.
Interestingly, Westcott left Monticello to attend Brigham Young University when he was around 20, just as the uranium mill was closing. After graduating with an engineering degree, he and his wife Laraine left for California where he began work as a high school shop teacher.
Within a year, the young couple decided they didn’t want to raise their family in California, so Westcott took two more shop teaching jobs in Idaho and Oregon before returning to Monticello to care for his mother who had fallen ill.
Back in Monticello, he went to work for Hal-Ken in the mines before eventually taking a job as Vocational Director in the Grand and San Juan school districts.
Westcott said he would like to see Monticello flourish again like it did in the uranium era, and that it needs a little growth to do so.
“I really think that we need another thousand people,” he reasoned. “You have to have some economy, you have to have schools, and as the price of things goes up, somehow you have to pay for it.”
It’s within reach as long as Monticello has residents like Winn Westcott who freely give their time and resources in an effort to help the city appreciate its past so it can successfully move into the future.