When Bob Radoush bought his first tractor 15 years ago, his son wasted no time in turning him in.
“Mom, Mom,” Jason squealed, “Dad got drunk and bought a tractor!” That’s not exactly what happened. Jason was young, Bob had drank only a couple of beers on a hot day, and he had long wanted a small tractor to use on land he owned near Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota. “I needed a little tractor to plow a 5-acre corn field,” Bob recalls.
That first tractor was a 1946 Ford-Ferguson 2N with a 2-bottom Ferguson plow. Bob had no intention of collecting old iron. “Ferguson was not on the radar,” he says. But his Mille Lacs neighbor, Louie Richards, changed that. “He had quite a bit of Ferguson stuff, and I got hooked on it,” Bob says. “Louie convinced me that Ferguson was the No. 1 tractor.”
Soon, Bob (who lives in Chaska, Minn.) had restored the 2N. “It came to me in pretty good shape, but I restored it to the best of the best, including the best possible paint of all in my paint shop. I didn’t want to collect, but it kind of crept up on me. It’s a disease,” he says with a laugh.
Today, Bob has 75 pieces of Ferguson equipment, including 27 different versions of Ferguson plows and 12 Ferguson tractors. He’s sold on the line. “They made so many different kinds of machinery, it’s built solidly, and it just doesn’t wear out,” he says.
Bob’s first Ferguson implement acquisitions were practical ones: a 2-bottom plow, corn planter, disc and section drag to use on his acreage. “From there, we started going to threshing shows with that little 2N, and started seeing more types of Ferguson tractors,” he says. “Every one I saw I wanted to own.” Today, Bob has all the Ferguson models except the Pony and the Pacer.
One of the quirks of the Ferguson line is that some of the tractors and equipment are badged as Massey-Harris pieces while others are Ferguson. (Massey-Harris acquired Harry Ferguson Inc. in 1953. The new company was named Massey-Harris-Ferguson and plans called for production of two separate lines; in 1958 the name was changed to Massey Ferguson and the dual arrangement ended). “Just like Chevy and Buick are two GM automobile brands,” he explains, “this equipment is the same except for the tag.”
Ferguson equipment is harder to find and much more desirable than comparable MH pieces. Collectors need to be aware of that distinction, Bob says. “Fergusons are identified by a plate on the engine block that says ‘Harry Ferguson’ and has its own Ferguson serial number. If you’re a real Ferguson collector and you see one of those tractors, the first place you go is to check the engine block.”
Bob makes a point of sticking around his display at shows and thresherees. “I’m glued to my stuff,” he says. “When I show it, I don’t ever leave it because people want to learn about this stuff, and I’m there to show them that.”
His quarter-turn Ferguson plow always draws a crowd. “You get to the end of the furrow, and when you lift the plow at the end, it rolls over,” Bob explains, “so you’re using the other plow share, and coming back in the same furrow, turning dirt the same way, but just going a different direction.”
Another interesting show display piece is his Ferguson disc plow. It was designed to eliminate hard pack (the result of too many years of plowing). “It worked well on some ground, but not so well on other,” Bob says. “It’s a common plow up here in Minnesota, but not so common in other parts of the country.”
His Ferguson collection also includes a grain drill, lister cultivator and rear-end demo. “The drill (complete and original) is a pretty rare piece to find, especially complete and in good shape,” Bob says. The lister was primarily used in the South, he notes, and the rear-end demo (a show-crowd favorite) was used to demonstrate the internal components of the 3-point hitch. Other pieces in his Ferguson collection include a TO-20 jack stand, subsoiler, rake, milk can cart, rotary cultivator and spray tooth cultivator.
Back from the brink
One of Bob’s most interesting Ferguson implements is a Ferguson BEO-20 baler he discovered by accident. In a conversation at a show, he heard of a man said to own a BEO-20 baler. “I told the guy who told me about it that there were none left,” Bob says. “They’d all been recalled because of a patent infringement with the International Harvester knotter. The guy insisted he knew somebody in Canada who had two of them.”
After a few phone calls, Bob tracked down the balers (no. 201 and no. 202), bought them and restored one to near-perfection. “Both of them work,” he says, “but I won’t use the restored one because I’ve put too much money in it to make it into mint condition.”
Later Bob met the man who’d been in charge of the Ferguson baler recall. “He said in 1955 Ferguson came out with a side-mounted hay baler, but the knotter was identical to the IH baler knotter,” Bob says. “IH gave Ferguson the choice of being sued or else cutting up the balers it’d already sold. He picked up the balers, hauled them to junkyards and watched them be destroyed.”
But that man’s territory was limited to the contiguous U.S. Because Alaska and Canada were not included in the recall (Alaska was not even a state yet), some balers survived. “There are 11 that I know of,” Bob says, “so they’re a pretty rare item.”
Bob’s balers were originally used with a 1958 Ferguson TE-35 diesel tractor, a model well-known in England but rare in the U.S. Bob tracked down the exact tractor that had been used with the balers in Canada, but the co-owners didn’t want to sell. A year later they changed their minds and offered Bob the tractor. “That was something special, because it was the original tractor for those two side-mounted hay balers,” he says. “We restored it and got it looking real pretty.”
The downside? No parts are available for the tractor in the U.S. “To get anything for that tractor, you have to go to England,” Bob says. “It looks just about like a regular Ferguson TO-35, but the front end is more rounded.”
A jinxed project
Bob’s 1955 Ferguson Model TO-35 gray-green tractor has a fascinating story as well. A previous owner decided to restore the tractor. He disassembled the entire thing, sandblasted all the parts and laid each on the floor of a building – which was then struck by a tornado. “The roof blew off and all that raw sandblasted metal turned into rust immediately,” Bob says.
Determined, the owner went on to sandblast each part a second time. This time, he put the parts in his barn. Six months later, the barn caught fire and burned to the ground. Later, Bob bought the charbroiled basket case. “The hood was completely destroyed,” Bob says. “I searched all over the U.S. for a hood for a 35 Ferguson, but there was none to be found. Finally I realized I had to redo that burned-up hulk.”
He used metal files and a blowtorch to shrink some of the metal, putting more than 200 hours into the hood until he finally got it back in shape. “One of my friends who saw the before and after couldn’t believe it,” Bob says.
Eventually he got the entire tractor restored. “I use that one for show,” Bob says. All of his tractors are retired, but he does use some for demonstrations, like the unusual one he’s planning for the 2010 season. “We’re going to have four guys completely tear down a Ferguson tractor and then set it back together and get it running, all within an hour,” he says. “That’s going to draw a lot of people.”
All things Ferguson
Bob doesn’t limit his collection to tractors and machinery: He also collects other Ferguson items. One of the rarest pieces in his collection is an oversized Ferguson System book. “I took my truck and big flatbed trailer to buy a Ferguson tractor for sale at an auction in Missouri,” he recalls. “The tractor went for so much money that we couldn’t buy it. But we saw this huge Ferguson System book that was used to show farmers and dealers how the system worked. It was the last item sold that day, so even though we didn’t get the tractor we wanted, we stayed to the end and bought that book for $900.”
He also has a stilt tractor, a Ferguson TO-30 that was put on a set of after-market stilts when the tractor was new. It was used for spraying corn or other high-crop work. With the addition of extra seats, it could be used for de-tasseling corn. It’s a perfect example of what keeps him interested in old iron.
“I used to hunt and fish, but I got tired of that and decided to try something new,” Bob says. “I just fell in love with old machinery, and now it’s a passion for me. I’m always looking for the next piece of Ferguson machinery.” FC