Let’s talk a little bit about some of the disasters, large and small, that befall tractor collectors.
Derby-style tractor pull
I witnessed one such sad event at a show several years ago. The exhibitors had organized an impromptu, derby-style tractor pull and several tractors were competing, including a very nicely restored 1925 McCormick-Deering 10-20 equipped with steel lug wheels. The track was loose dirt – not packed down much at all. The tractors all successfully pulled the sled the required 20 feet on the first round, more weight was added and the second round began. The old 10-20 hooked to the sled and pulled it a couple of feet when the left rear wheel began to spin in the soft dirt.
When a steel wheel equipped with spade lugs spins, the whole tractor jerks and jumps up and down, putting a lot of strain on both the tractor and the driver. With no individual rear wheel brakes, the driver can only leave it to spin or disengage the clutch. This driver let it spin. The left wheel caught, the right wheel began to spin and then caught suddenly, at which point there was a loud crack! The right wheel hub, made of cast iron to which the flat strap iron spokes were riveted, cracked wide open across its entire width while several spokes bent. It was enough to make a rusty iron lover weep.
Engine repair gone awry
I heard another story that could bring tears to the eyes of a tractor collector. A friend told me of a friend of his who bought a John Deere 730 tractor that was in beautiful shape with near-perfect sheet metal. The 730 had one problem: water in the oil.
The guy removed the hood and grille, pulled the head off the engine and found a bad head gasket. After suitable repairs, he reassembled the engine, started it up and it ran fine. It ran so well in fact, he decided to take the tractor for a spin, sans hood and grille. He backed the tractor out of his shop and right over the beautiful grille that he had carefully placed on the floor behind a rear wheel.
The last coat of paint
Many years ago, I put what I thought was the final coat of paint on a McCormick-Deering W-4 tractor. After the paint had dried, I draped a couple of old bed sheets over the tractor itself and threw towels over the separate gas tank, hood and grille to keep off the dust.
Since I was away all weekend, I didn’t look at my painting masterpiece, the best I’d ever done, I told myself. They say pride goeth before a fall. Sunday evening, I whipped the covering off the grille and found, to my horror, that the towel had left the imprint of its nap in the paint. Apparently, even though the paint felt dry to the touch, it was still soft enough that the heavy towel sank right into the finish.
Inexperienced steam engineers
An old gentleman once told me of a small disaster of another kind. When he was little (the second of five boys), he’d visit his grandfather, who owned a steam traction engine. One evening after chores, he and his older brother got to playing on the engine that had been used that day.
The boys threw a few lumps of coal on the still glowing embers in the firebox and started to play engine driver. The older brother moved a lever and the engine lurched forward! They had no idea how to stop the thing and stood helplessly on the platform as the big engine lumbered across the barnyard and into a split rail fence. Luckily, there was an open field beyond the fence where the engine ran out of steam and stopped, to the boys’ great relief. They left it sit, ran into the house and went to bed.
The next morning all five boys were eating breakfast when their father came in with that certain look in his eye. The two culprits confessed and had to repair several broken sections of fence, among other punishments.
Sometimes bad things happen to good people.