To try to make a buck after a lifetime of fixing or welding just about anything to make a living, and after a five-artery bypass with five hip surgeries thrown in, Wayne Stephenson at 61 figured he’d try to sell a tractor.
Not just any tractor, but a new tractor on a trailer, with a front-end loader and mower, too. All offered up by a cousin who started out selling used farm parts a generation ago and turned hard work and honesty into a big tractor dealership near Charleston.
A lady stopped a few days ago at Stephenson’s house between Lowrys and Chester, out in the country in western Chester County along U.S. 321, where everybody knows the Stephensons. The extended family has turkey farms and a dairy business.
The name Stephenson is Lowrys. This is an area where Wayne never had a problem with anybody taking anything.
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A deal was struck. The sale would have closed today, after a handshake that was all that was needed.
Then at about 2 a.m. Tuesday, Stephenson heard his little dog bark. He walked out to the porch with more than a dog leash in his hands in the dark, that much is sure. A shotgun is made of steel.
“It was dark, and I didn’t see anybody or anything,” said Stephenson.
So Stephenson went back to sleep, and when he got up around dawn he found that somebody had stolen the tractor. And the mower. And the trailer, too.
About $18,000 worth of stuff – gone.
The only thing left was the block of wood the tongue of the trailer was resting on.
“They took it all right from my front yard,” said Stephenson. “I’m just trying to make ends meet. And they cut the tires on the van, too.”
Sure enough, the front tires of the handicapped-accessible van next to the tractor were slashed.
Stephenson called the Chester County Sheriff’s Office, and a report was taken. The case remains under investigation, said Sheriff Richard Smith, yet it is a bit different from most thefts. Smith even talked to Stephenson personally Wednesday.
“This is a big ol’ tractor,” said Smith. “It has serial numbers on it and all that, but most of all it is big. A tractor is not easy to hide.”
The equipment came from the stock of Stephenson’s first cousin, Billy Steen of just past Charleston these days, with the largest Kubota equipment dealership in the state. Billy was one of 14 Steen children born right across U.S. 321 from Stephenson.
This is a guy whose first few dollars came from selling used parts he cleaned and painted himself. He is now 64, knows nothing but work, and sent the tractor to Stephenson to sell on commission to help Stephenson pay bills.
So one might say that Billy Steen is taking this theft a bit personal.
“Wayne is the kind of guy who has given away things all his life, helped people when he could, and this happens,” said Steen. “Cowards. What is going on when somebody steals a tractor from a front yard?”
Steen’s words to describe what is going on in this world when a tractor is stolen from a front yard within sight of where he was raised are used often by working people mad as hornets – but those words are not printed in newspapers.
Yet Steen said a deal is a deal. By sometime today, another tractor will be sent from Charleston to Chester County, to be sold to the lady who had agreed to buy the original.
“I honor a deal and Wayne always honored deals, so that’s the way we do things,” said Steen.
“Absolutely, a deal is a deal,” said Wayne Stephenson. “Treat people right is the only way.”
Steen is going to pay a reward to get his property back, and for the arrest and conviction of whoever did the stealing.
For big Wayne Stephenson – who is the approximate size of a mountain even after a quintuple bypass and hip replacement – he still plans on selling equipment from his yard. And when he hears anything rustling outside his house in the dark after midnight, the noise-maker better not be considering theft.
“All my life this family has been here, and after all these problems with my health, I just figured this was a way to make enough to live on,” Stephenson said. “Now people is even stealing from old men with hip replacements and five bypasses.
“Next thing you know, old ladies carrying a purse won’t be safe.”