By his own admission, Bryce Frazier is addicted. Nobody knows that better than his family, all of whom cheerfully support his habit — old iron, 24-7. At 16, the Sagle, Idaho, teenager has solid restoration skills and a tractor collection that many twice his age would envy. And he’s just getting started.
Although he can’t remember a time when he wasn’t fascinated with antique tractors, Bryce says his hobby got its start four years ago, when the then 12-year-old tagged along with his mom to a yard sale. There he spotted a pair of 1949 Farmall Model C tractors. One was in running condition (more on that, later); the other was a parts donor.
“I took a good, long look at the Farmall tractor engine,” he recalls. “It seemed amazingly simple compared to our Yanmar sitting at home.” Even the purchase price (the tractors were tagged at $600 for the pair) seemed manageable. “I had the money saved,” Bryce says, “but I had to convince both the owner and my mom to let me buy them.” His only hesitation? The tractors were red — not the green of his beloved John Deere line. Still, a few weeks later, the tractors were his.
School of hard knocks
By the time Bryce became a teenager, he’d restored his first antique tractor: one of the Farmalls he’d bought at the yard sale. When he bought the tractor, the engine would turn over but it made ominous sounds. The tractor had very little power and consumed oil at an alarming rate.
As he and his dad, Barry, tore into the engine, they discovered that, at some point, it had been stuck. A previous owner had somehow managed to get it running. But the damage was done: Rust had eaten piston rings and valves in three of the cylinders and the piston in the fourth was damaged. The engine was badly cracked. “Everything inside was garbage,” Bryce says.
At that point, he and his dad pulled the engine off the tractor and took it to an engine shop for complete disassembly. Bryce bought $800 worth of parts, including new pistons, rings, valves and engine sleeves. Eventually the tractor got a paint job and more new parts (steering wheel, gauges, wiring and a sediment bowl) — and Bryce got a great education.
Active club member
Bryce now owns 11 antique tractors, five of which run: two John Deeres, two Farmalls, one Ford, one Ferguson, one Case, one Oliver, two Allis-Chalmers and a Minneapolis-Moline.
Three of his tractors (a 1954 John Deere 40, a 1949 Farmall C and a 1952 Farmall Super C) pulled 2-bottom plows in a local Plow Day event in May 2014. Bryce drove the John Deere 40, his pride and joy; his dad drove the Farmall Super C and family friend Mark Estoick drove the Farmall C.
Plow Day is an annual production of the Panhandle Antique Tractor & Engine Club of North Idaho. Bryce is the group’s youngest member. More than 20 tractor club members brought antique tractors and plows to the event held just north of Sandpoint last May. By the end of the day, 30 acres had been plowed, disced and harrowed and were ready to be planted.
Planning for the future
Bryce and his parents live on 20 acres in the mountainous panhandle country of northern Idaho. According to Bryce, nearly 90 percent of that land is covered with trees. He has his eye on a 3-acre section of flat, grassy meadow that he hopes to cut for hay. As it is mostly native grass and this will be the first time the field has been mowed, the Fraziers will probably use the hay for nesting and bedding for their chickens. Next year, however, Bryce wants to plant the field in oats that he can convert into funds for a restoration project.
Although old iron is a nearly consuming passion for the home-schooled 16-year-old, Bryce has other interests as well. He’s a member of the Boy Scouts of America and has earned the rank of Eagle Scout. When he finishes high school, he plans to attend an agriculture-based trade school and, eventually, pursue a career in farming.
Learning from a pro
When it comes to tractor restoration, Bryce has a huge advantage: His dad, Barry, works as lead master automobile mechanic for a local car dealership. In his free time, Barry works on old cars in a home shop. Bryce has been his understudy for years.
Once he began to tackle his own projects, Bryce knew what he was doing. If the project is an old tractor in poor condition, he starts by tearing it down to the ground. “While I do most of the work,” he says, “my dad helps me as needed.” Once the mechanical work is complete, Bryce does the cosmetic work in what he jokingly refers to as his “paint booth” — which is nothing more than a spot in the driveway.
The next two tractors on Bryce’s restoration agenda are a 1945 Ford 2N and a 1948 Case VAC. Meanwhile, he’s concentrating on an undercover job: Restoration of his dad’s 1924 3 hp Fairbanks, Morse & Co. Model Z stationary gas engine. “My dad said he didn’t have the time to fix up the engine right now,” he says, “but I had the time, so I did it. I’m hoping to finish it as a surprise for him.”
Paying his own way
Last summer, the Fraziers built a dedicated tractor shed to house part of Bryce’s collection. Bryce funded the project, which ended up costing him about $1,400. Support poles came from cedar trees cut on their property. The tin-roofed building measures 36 by 24 feet with four bays, each big enough for two tractors and perhaps an implement.
To help fund his old iron hobby, Bryce works part time during the summer for a local farmer. He also does odd jobs, such as yard work for neighbors. And he gets a helping hand from his grandmothers, both of whom have supported his hobby. At Christmas and on birthdays, each has been known to gift their grandson with tractor tires, parts, wiring and paint.
It all feeds an interest Bryce has had all his life. “I’ve always dreamed of being a farmer,” he says. “I’ve always loved tractors. When I was about 7, my parents bought a little Yanmar F-18-D tractor with a loader to help around the property. I was in heaven.”
Finally … a Deere
Bryce’s second tractor restoration project — a 1947 John Deere B — was a unique undertaking. The tractor had been donated to the local antique tractor club but the club had no immediate need for the relic. “I was completely in the dark about this tractor,” Bryce says. “I had just finished my Farmall C when they surprised me at our monthly tractor club meeting by giving me the John Deere as a gift.”
The Deere was in pretty sad shape. Just about everything on the tractor had been modified, broken or removed. The only good thing about the tractor was a pair of nearly new rear tires. Because of the scope of the project, Barry helped Bryce restore the Model B. Before they were finished, they’d put in a new engine, transmission, cooling system and sheet metal. They also replaced gauges, wiring, lights and decals.
The finished project cost Bryce $4,500, nearly double what he’d put into his Farmall C. But he was thrilled with the end result: It was his first Deere and to him it looked even better than the new tractors at the dealership in town.
Hobby spans the generation gap
At the young age of 16, Bryce is already learning about the bonds created through the old iron hobby. Over a period of years he became good friends with an elderly neighbor, Ralph Green. “I never got to know either of my real grandpas,” Bryce says, “so Ralph was kind of like an honorary one to me. Every time I saw him, we’d talk about his old farm machinery and equipment and what it was like to be a farmer years ago.”
Ralph died in March 2013. He left Bryce a Ferguson TO-30, an Allis-Chalmers WD-45 and the equipment he had used with them. Bryce traded the WD-45 for another Farmall but held on to the Ferguson as a tribute to his friend. Among the equipment willed to him were two Allis-Chalmers M crawlers in junk condition. Bryce sold the pair to a local steel recycling plant and made enough to cover the Ferguson’s restoration costs.
Bryce began restoring the Ferguson in the fall of 2013. When the temperatures dropped, he parked it in the new shed for the winter. This spring he pulled it out of storage, painted it and began reassembly. By summer the Ferguson had become a good partner to a Ford 501 mower Bryce also restored — and a good reminder of a cherished friendship. FC
For more information:
— Bryce Frazier, 222 Elliots Lane, Sagle, ID 83860; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now living in Sandpoint, Idaho, freelance writer Cecil Hicks grew up on a family farm in north central Illinois. He worked 16 years as a wildland firefighter (including seven years as a smokejumper) in Washington, Alaska and Idaho, and is a retired elementary school teacher. Contact him at 131 Red Clover Dr., Sandpoint, ID 83864.