Stable Full of Ponys
Massey-Harris Pony tractors are Donald’s favorites. He likes the way they look and how softly they run.
Donald Herzog owns an entire herd of Ponys – Massey-Harris Pony tractors, that is – along with another dozen fully restored Massey-Harris tractors.
“My dad had an old 4-wheel drive General Purpose Massey-Harris on steel that we used when we farmed,” he says. “That’s how I got interested in Massey-Harris equipment.” Donald had a Massey-Harris 20, 30 and 44 when he farmed on the home place, so he continued the interest that way.
When Donald and his wife attended a tractor show in Little Falls, Minn., in the early 1990s, he saw his first Massey-Harris Pony and fell in love. “A man from Pierz, Minn., had a Pony there,” he recalls. “I never realized they ran that nicely. I stood beside it and could barely hear it run. I just thought it was a nice looking little tractor and I got stuck on it. I told my wife I was going to get one some time. At the time I didn’t have the money or the time to fool with them.”
A collection begins
Five years later that changed, and Donald began searching for Ponys. He went to an auction at Detroit Lakes, Minn., where he found one in poor condition. “You could wiggle the front wheels back and forth on the spindles, and they wanted $4,500 for it,” he says. “I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to afford any of them.”
Then he saw an ad for a Pony in North Dakota, made the trip and brought back the fully restored tractor, as well as a Massey-Harris Pacer. “The Pony was painted perfectly, but the engine was worn out,” Donald says. “I already had doubts when I first heard the engine run, and when I took it apart I found out the engine needed a complete overhaul, new pistons, reboring, everything.”
Donald looked on the bright side. “It got me a little bit educated on those tractors, so I realized I would have to be a little careful from then on.” After that, he found other Ponys for sale, and people who knew of his interest contacted him. Soon he had added seven to his collection. “Now they’re pretty hard to find, and I don’t know of anybody else who has as many as I do,” he says.
Good as new
Donald wants his restored tractors to look like they’ve just come off the factory assembly line. When he gets a new tractor, he tears it completely apart. He and his son David, a mechanic, do the engine work on the tractors, new rings and other overhauling. If new pistons or reboring are needed, they hire that work.
Otherwise, Donald tears the tractor completely apart, cleans the parts, has them sandblasted, makes repairs as needed, primes, paints and reassembles. “If you don’t sandblast them, they’ll just start rusting again,” he says.
Donald learned mechanic work while farming, on his own and with the help from other mechanics. “I don’t really enjoy restoring,” he admits. “The hard part is usually taking things apart, but setting it all back together and getting it restored, that’s the best part of all.”
Family that plays together …
Donald’s Massey-Harris collection has become the focal point of family get-togethers. “I have six boys,” he says. “One who works for an implement shop has a big truck, and the others have fifth-wheel trailers, so we load all the tractors and implements and take them to a show in one trip. It’s a big job to load them, tie them down and haul them, but we make it a family vacation.” Family members drive the 17 Massey-Harris tractors in show parades, too, starting with his good Pacer. “That’s usually the lead in the parade and the rest follow.”
Pony tractors were not common in the central Minnesota area where Donald lives. “A guy from North Dakota told me once that a lot of them were used in the Red River Valley when there were truck farms in that area,” he says. “I see ads for them on the East Coast, too.” The 8 to 10 hp Pony tractors were built from 1948-1957.
Donald says all Pony tractors look pretty much alike. “You could never tell the difference from a photo,” he says. “The later ones have more convenient levers for PTO and stuff, but that’s about the only difference. Otherwise the main part of the tractor is almost identical on all of them. You have to get up close. The only way to tell what year they are is by the serial number.”
Donald enjoys the Pony’s line of implements just as much as the tractors. “I like to see Pony tractors with the implements, just like they came from the company,” he says. “They made a 1-bottom plow, 1-row cultivator, side-mounted mower, digger, disc and push-blade for them.” The first Pony tractors pulled the hand-lifted implements; later Pony tractors had a hydraulic system. All of those implements are difficult to find today, Donald says. He has all of them except the corn planter.
The implements also fit on the one-step-larger Pacer tractors, too. “They weren’t made for the Pacers, because the Pacers have their own implements,” Donald says, like a 2-bottom, 12-inch plow. “I’ve been trying to find one of them, but it’s just about impossible because so few were made and the people who have them won’t sell them.”
Donald says he and family members occasionally play with the tractors: “I watch the kids and grandkids plow with them. I enjoy seeing them go more than driving them myself.”
Filling the stable
Massey-Harris Co. made an entire line of horse-themed tractors, including the Colt, Pony, Pacer and Mustang. The Massey-Harris Colt was built in 1952-1953 as a 2-plow tractor equipped with a Continental F-124 engine with 3-by-4-3/8-inch bore and stroke. It came in row crop and standard tread models.
The Massey-Harris Model 23 Mustang (built from 1952-1955) used a Continental F-140 4-cylinder engine. The model was offered in standard tread and row crop designs, with the choice of dual-front or single-front wheels, or high-arch adjustable wide-front axle.
Pacers are probably the rarest of the line, Donald says, as they were only built for a couple of years starting in 1954. He says his two are the nicest he’s seen. “I had a call this summer about another one, but when I got there it had been sold. But that was all right, because I pretty much have what I wanted, and they’ve gotten so expensive to restore that it almost cleans out your pockets,” he says. “And my shed is all filled up, too.” He’d like to find a Model 444 or 555, especially if they’re in good shape. “They were the latest tractors, and were nice looking,” he adds. Donald also keeps an eye out for Massey-Harris implements, but most of what he sees for sale is in poor condition.
Donald’s first Pacer, which he bought in North Dakota, provided him some excitement. “After I cleaned it up, I found out the transmission case was cracked,” he says. “I thought I was in real trouble.” A Camden, Ohio, company located a junk Pacer for him, but Donald feared it would be out of his price range. Learning that the seller wanted just $250 for it, Donald arranged for shipping. When the tractor arrived, it was a basket case: little more than loose parts and pieces on a pallet. “It had a good transmission case, so I painted it and put it on, and the Pacer is in good shape now,” he says.
Donald has benefited from good luck on several tractor buys. At an auction near Redwood Falls, Minn., Donald saw a Massey-Harris 22 on the back of a truck. “I asked the guy driving if he wanted to sell it,” Donald says, “but he said he had just bought it, and wasn’t interested.” A while later, the man called, wanting to sell. When Donald got there, he found the seller also had a Pacer. “I ended up buying both of them,” he says with a chuckle. He was glad to get the 22 because it was in superb condition and complete, including a 3-point hitch and the original Massey-Harris ties on it. “All I had to do was paint it,” Donald says.
Leaving a paper trail
Donald also collects Massey-Harris literature, most of it gathered when he was a boy. “There was a pretty good Massey-Harris dealer in Albany, Minn., and he used to set a half-dozen new Massey-Harris tractors out front, right on Main Street,” Donald says. “I remember wishing we could afford them. But we didn’t have that kind of money, so I would go inside to the stand where he had all the literature on them, and pick that up.”
Those boyish dreams have finally come true. Today Donald gets great satisfaction from his collection, and sharing it with others at shows – others who share his appreciation for vintage iron and careful restoration. Sometimes, he muses, everything clicks during a restoration project: “It’s just beautiful to look at these tractors when that happens.” FCBill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56569; e-mail: email@example.com.