Article by Joyce E. McLain Photos by Sally Anspaugh
Discarded decades ago in the woods northeast of
North Adams, Mich., the 1919 Allis-Chalmers Model 6-12 General
Purpose tractor was just something for little boys to play on. But
last year, the 6-12 shone like new again when members of the Center
Adams Power and Equipment Club drove the smartly restored tractor
in the North Adams Heritage Days Parade.
Club member Bernal Tolan, Hillsdale, Mich., had known about the
tractor for 20 years. The tractor had a face only a mother could
love. "It looked like a piece of junk to me and everyone else," he
recalls, describing the 6-12. But in 2002, he finally convinced the
landowner to part with it. After Bernal's relatives and neighbors
hauled the unidentified skeleton out of the woods, they called
another club member, Dave Boardman, Osseo, Mich. He brought by an
Allis-Chalmers book and identified the tractor as a 6-12. Club
members decided to make it a project, and the work began. This time
it was big boys playing on the tractor.
Restored from top to bottom
Virtually every part of the tractor cried out for restoration.
Everything that wasn't missing or rotten was frozen. "The wheels
and steering wheel would not turn," Dave recalls. "None of the
levers would move. The bottoms of the wheels were rotted off. There
was no sulky, radiator, governor, carburetor or gas tank cap."
Brothers Jim and Dick Anspaugh pulled the front wheel and axle
assembly out of the housing. They built a fire inside a hollow log
and set the wheels over it. Once it was hot enough, they used a
sledgehammer to drive the axles out of the wheels.
The front wheels were the most perplexing part of the project.
New bushings and pins were built for the drive axle. But after
putting the axles and wheels on the tractor, the drive sprocket
wasn't true. The crew then took out a section of the drive sprocket
and drilled the holes larger where the sprocket mounted on the
wheels. This enabled the drive sprocket to slide back, and stopped
the wheel from binding on the axle as it turned.
The 6-12 had grease cups instead of grease zerks for oil and
grease points, but they were rotted off. Dave tapped out the holes
where the grease cups went in, and used pipe to make new
standpipes. Using a valve stem from a portable air tank, Dave
filled the standpipes with WD-40, then forced it through with air
pressure. After a week or so, it started moving.
Chasing parts and pieces
Replacement parts for the 1919 relic are not available, so club
members became resourceful in restoring the 6-12. The men bought a
round tube the right size to go back to the sulky, and machined it
to fit where it went into the tractor frame at the front. Dave and
the two brothers scrounged around their farms for more parts. For
the rear of the 6-12, they used an axle and wheels from an old
silage blower. Dave pulled the seat spring off an old dump rake,
and using scrap iron Dick had on hand, they welded it together to
make a new sulky.
Other restorers offered advice, and leads on parts. "Two
collectors had 6-12s at the first show after we got this one," Dave
says. "One of them gave us a lot of tips. He had two original old
stock pistons, rods, bearings and rings for a 6-12, so the club
bought them. He also found us a used governor and magneto. He was
the key to all our parts."
The 6-12 had a LeRoi 2-C engine in it. A club member bought a
4-cylinder LeRoi engine, and the carburetor and governor drive gear
were recycled for the end of the camshaft. From a John Deere
dealer, the restoration crew got a NOS clutch plate originally used
on an older John Deere baler. A machine shop bored out one of the
cylinders and sleeved it. The magneto was sent out for repair and
came back ready to use and with all the brass polished.
The crew used an unstyled Allis-Chalmers WC radiator predating
1939. Since those radiators did not have sheet metal around the
radiator tanks, the restoration crew chose a professional to form
the hood and box in the radiator. They had the bottom of the
radiator tank extended to match the height of the gas tank, and
then brought the hood across.
Both steel wheels were completely re-wrapped. "They rolled the
metal for us, so it was a radius to start with, not flat stock,"
Dave says. "Dick Anspaugh made up some new spokes and welded them
in because they were rotted off from sitting in the ground for so
The crew sandblasted and primed the 6-12, and then showed the
tractor at the 2004 Hillsdale (Mich.) County Fair. After
determining the correct paint colors, they finished the job and the
tractor made its official parade debut. It was an instant favorite,
receiving Best of Show and People's Choice awards at the North
Adams Heritage Days parade.
The club displayed the restored 6-12 for the first time at the
Kruse Car Auction Museum in Auburn, Ind. A unique quirk of the
tractor caused a few anxious moments. "When the 6-12 is turned
tight one way, it's very hard to use the clutch," Dave says. "They
were inside the building, trying to park it, and the operator could
not get the tractor stopped. Another club member tripped the mag to
shut it off. Since then, we've added a kill switch accessible from
the driver's seat."
The club made sure the 6-12 would be a welcome show and parade
entry by modifying the tractor's original steel lugs. Members of
the restoration crew tracked down U.S. Army surplus track vehicle
rubber pads. Another member cut the pads in two, re-fabricated them
and bolted them onto the wheels for lugs, protecting asphalt and
other soft surfaces. Such efforts were typical of the friendly
collaboration the project inspired.
Two club members, for instance, remembered that their father
once owned a 6-12. Spurred by nostalgia, brothers Don Verdon and
Marvin Verdon spent two Christmas holidays in Dave's shed,
excitedly working on the project. That kind of involvement became
routine, Dave says. "Most everybody donated time and parts," he
notes. "I don't believe the club has $1,200 in that tractor."
Learning from experience
The group project quickly proved the truth of strength in
numbers. Members of the restoration crew took photos and movies of
similar tractors at other shows to use as a resource. A friend of a
friend shot photos of his tractor's carburetor, throttle and
governor linkages and emailed them to Dave. Connections like those,
he says, make the difference when chasing parts and information.
"Go to shows and get acquainted with people," he says. "The
magazines are a big help, too. It just takes a lot of time and
looking. And if the part you find isn't exactly what you need, you
can usually adapt it to work."
And don't get discouraged. "There is not a tractor out there
that is in too bad a shape to be brought back to life," he says,
"if you have the determination."
For more information:
- Dave Boardman, 8620 Culbert Road, Osseo, MI 49266; (517)
- The Allis-Chalmers Story, by C.H. Wendel,
Crestline Publishing; Allis-Chalmers Farm Equipment
1914-1985, by Norm Swinford, published by the American
Society of Agricultural Engineers.
Joyce E. McLain is a freelance writer from Michigan. Her
work has been published in Farmland News, Farmers' Advance,
Farm and Ranch and Rural Heritage