Finding the Family Farmall M

Collector learns a valuable lesson in the process of finding the Farmall M from his childhood

Better than new, Jim’s Farmall is completely restored and now serves as a memorial to his father, the late Earl Radley.

Better than new, Jim’s Farmall is completely restored and now serves as a memorial to his father, the late Earl Radley.

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I have fond memories of growing up on a dairy farm in northern New York. I was crazy about tractors as a young boy, and whenever my dad used the Farmall M when I was around, I always rode with him. I remember plowing with him as a very young boy. I stood on the deck between his legs and hung on to the bottom of the steering wheel. 

Dad bought the Farmall M new in 1945. It was wartime and tractors were rationed. To get a new tractor, your name had to be on a list. One day the International Harvester dealer called Dad and said that a neighbor had backed out on the purchase of a new M. Dad was next on the list but if he wanted the tractor the neighbor had passed on, it would cost him an additional $300 because the tractor had a wide font end.

Dad really needed the tractor so he took it, and paid $1,100 (about $13,800 today) for it. He used it on our farm for 17 years and it never broke down. It was always my favorite tractor. After Dad quit farming and took a job out of state, my uncle bought the Farmall M. He used it for seven or eight years and then traded it for a new John Deere. At that point, I lost track of the Model M.

The search begins

As an adult I served in the U.S. Air Force and then worked as a heavy equipment operator and truck driver. In 1997 I became interested in old farm tractors and bought my first restoration project. I began to think about the possibility of tracking down Dad’s old Farmall M and restoring it.

Over the years, I searched the area in New York where I grew up, even visiting the dealership where my uncle traded the tractor. My cousin, a dairy farmer in upstate New York, told me that in the early 1980s a group of Canadians bought a lot of used farm equipment in upstate New York and took it back to Canada. My cousin wondered whether Dad’s tractor had crossed the border. I began thinking of buying a Farmall M to restore in honor of my dad but held on to hopes of finding his.

A critical clue

Several years after my dad’s death, my sister was going through his papers. She found the original 1945 bank note recording a loan to underwrite the purchase of the Farmall M and two heifers. On the bank note was the tractor’s serial number: FBK92932.

Armed with a serial number, I placed a classified ad looking for the Model M. For five or six years, whenever I thought of it, I’d renew the ad. One day out of the blue I got an e-mail from a man in southern Minnesota who said he had my dad’s Farmall. He said he’d bought it with a truckload of Farmall Model M tractors from an equipment jockey in Wisconsin and the tractors had come from Canada.

The caller, who was 28, was a used car dealer. He said he and his dad had a collection of about 300 Farmall tractors. He was restoring a Farmall M Diesel and was about to remove the differential from my dad’s tractor to use it on the diesel. The serial number was fresh in his mind as he’d been looking for more parts online when he saw my ad.

By that time, Dad’s tractor had been roughed up a bit. The caller said the wide front had been sold and replaced with a narrow front. The hood, muffler, front grille and belt pulley were gone; one rear rim was rusted through and the engine was stuck. I was unsure of my ability to restore a tractor that far gone but I was willing to give it a try. We finally agreed on a price. The seller asked me to send a $500 deposit and said he’d mail a receipt and photos.

A second look

I consulted a buddy in the hobby and he put things in perspective for me. He reminded me that I’d not actually seen photos of either the tractor or the serial number tag. Also, with so many missing parts, the differential and transmission were the only surviving pieces of the tractor that were actually my dad’s! “Why don’t you just buy a Farmall M in running condition that’s not a basket case?” he asked.

And that’s just what I did. I e-mailed the used car dealer and asked if he was going to part out the tractor anyway, could I just buy the serial number tag as a remembrance of my dad; he never responded.

Through a friend, I located a 1951 Farmall M in Verona, Wis. It had a wide front and was equipped much like my dad’s was. It had a sound engine and drive train but needed a lot of TLC, as well as a good cleaning, sandblasting and paint job. I finished restoration in May 2010. I am now restoring an IH Little Genius 3-16 trip plow on rubber to show with the tractor. Having that tractor is like a dream come true. Whenever I look at it, I think of my dad and all the fond childhood memories I have of him and his Farmall M. FC