It is a rare thing to find someone who has achieved success in a field not only in one aspect but in two divergent ones. Luckily we can find such a person right here in Chesterfield resident, Keith Jones. He has found success in collecting and restoring antique farm tractors at the Keystone Tractor Works Museum in Colonial Heights and in the modern trucking fleet that is Abilene Motor Express off Willis Road.
Keith Jones’ interest in trucking came at the young age of 13 when he went to work hauling lumber from his father’s sawmill in the little railroad stop-over town of Abilene in Charlotte County, Va. He was the middle child of seven children and he learned how important family and a strong work ethic was, and that knowledge would define his career.
During that time he caught the tractor bug when his uncle passed away and left an old John Deere tractor in a field. His aunt was going to auction it off even though Keith had expressed interest in it. He bid and won the tractor anyway and to his surprise his aunt returned the money to him stating she wanted him to earn the tractor rather than just have it given to him. It was a life lesson Keith would not forget, and it has led to one of the largest collections of farm tractors on continuous display. His hard work and determination eventually led him out of state to Baton Rouge, La. where he met and married his wife, Joy. They moved back to Virginia and Keith began another, more modern, trucking concern.
In 1986 Keith, along with his brother Kolen, started Abilene Motor Express naming it after their home town. They originally envisioned it as an equipment rental company but as opportunities presented themselves they turned to hauling freight as well. The company they had started with 2 trucks now has expanded to more than 300 tractors delivering to 48 states and Canada.
“Keith is always willing to help someone in need.” said Alan Jones, Keith’s nephew and VP of Operations at Abilene. “If someone works hard at Abilene he considers them a member of the family.”
It is no surprise that many times during those years of growth you could find Keith behind the wheel of one of Abilene’s green tractors delivering a load for a customer when no one else was available to do it. One could easily assume that the green painted Abilene trucks might be somehow related to Keith’s passion for John Deere tractors.
“It was just an accident actually” Keith explained. “The first two tractors we ordered were supposed to be a dark green but they left the black out of the paint and even though the manufacturer offered to re-paint them we liked the color because it was so different from any other trucks out there at the time.”
As his trucking company grew and succeeded Keith had the resources to devote to his other passion, finding and restoring antique farm tractors. Over his lifetime Keith has amassed over 200 farm tractors as well as some antique cars and trucks. For years he stored them on trailers at the Abilene terminal. He could only put them all on display once or twice a year, most notably at the Abilene Blow-Out, a day of food, music and fun which he would organize every year in May. Once again his hard work provided him with an opportunity and he bought an old paint factory building in Colonial Heights and after months of renovation finally opened the Keystone Tractor Works Museum.
At the museum visitors can see over 170 farm tractors and 40 antique cars, pickups and old big rigs on continuous display in the 70,000 square foot display area. Old signs, machinery and other memorabilia from bygone days can also be seen. A gift shop managed by Keith’s daughter, Becky, gives visitors access to the many farm tractor souvenirs. Another large windowed room allows visitors to see a restoration in progress though many of his restorations Keith contracts out to other firms.
Keith has not stopped collecting though his focus has changed more to the antique big rigs. He has plans in the works to add a snack bar and expand the display area by an additional 15,000 square feet. He is also very involved in the tractor pull circuit and attends many of the regional fairs and tractor shows. The Abilene Blow-out is also still held at the museum every May.
Keith Jones is still at the wheel steering his two passions. If one sees a green Abilene big rig or visit the museum remember it was due to the vision and hard work of one tractor man.