Restoring a John Deere Model A

Son restores his father's 1941 John Deere Model A

Cal Morton on a family heirloom, his father's 1942 John Deere.

Out for a spin: Cal Morton on a family heirloom, his father's 1942 John Deere.

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The cadence of an approaching two-cylinder John Deere tractor is a legendary sound. Sometimes it's a "pop-pop"; sometimes it's a deeper sound nearer to a roar. Cal Morton's JD Model A is an example of the latter. 

Morton, who lives in Fairfax, Mo. (population: about 800), is the proud owner of a 1942 Model A. His father, the late Ken Morton, bought it new in the fall of '41. Cal rescued the tractor from a spot behind a barn near Rockford, Ill., where it had been parked since 1980.

"I went back and pulled it out of a weedy fencerow," says Cal. "Right off I noticed that bees had built a nest between the battery box and the dash gauges. But some things still looked good."

"The A was the only piece of new machinery that Dad ever bought, paying $1,100 for it. He used it for all his farming operations," he says. "Then, in '49, he bought a Minneapolis-Moline tractor which was somewhat more powerful, and had all the hydraulics on it. So the A was shifted to lighter duties, including loader work, pulling wagons and the like. That's probably a reason why it didn't have to be rebored, which is usually the case."

Cal's father had told him the A was one of the first two six-gear Model A's shipped to Rockford. Ken Morton had bought one of the two from the Pagel & Kleickman dealership there. It was factory equipped with an electric starter and lights. Before 1941, the A had four gears, with electrical accessories first offered as factory options in 1940.

"I'd like to find its Rockford twin to possibly restore," says Cal.

That would complete the symmetry of his first Deere restoration project.

"I started on my A on Aug. 4, 1998," he says, "exactly 57 years to the day since it was built, purely by coincidence."

The A has its original pistons, block, head and radiator. But Cal had to buy used grilles, a hood and replace a back tire rim (which was rusted out).

"The motor was frozen, so I took it to John Egeland, a machinist in Fairfax," Cal explains. "He knocked the pistons out, cleaned up the head and installed new valve seats. Then I put the motor back together and did the mechanical work, including installing new piston rings.

"I had the generator rebuilt by M&M Rebuilders in Maryville, Mo.They also cleaned up the starter," he adds. "I then bought a muffler from John Deere and installed it.

"I purchased decals from K&K Antique Tractors in Shelbyville, Ind., applied them and spray painted the tractor, after wet sanding it. I used Classic Green and John Deere Yellow paint. I painted the rims, framework and the lettering on the backs of the axles with a brush."

Cal had to replace the carburetor because the bowl was rusted off. He bought a DLTX carb, plus a hood, from Harry Combs, a fellow Fairfax antique tractor enthusiast. He also bought new reproduction battery covers from Restoration Supply in Medway, Mass. He installed new clutch plates, bought from John Deere. More work, he says, remains to be done.

"The A still needs a new throttle shaft, because the original is worn and keeps it from idling as well as it should," Cal adds. "It also needs lights because the old ones had been taken off. I'll also put on new tires next springs, as well as new original gauges, because the originals in it now are too hard to read."

The A's roar rekindles memories, he says. When Cal drives the A to town, or parades it, he leaves the motor running when he parks, especially for the old-timers who like to hear the Deere's unique sound.

His wish list includes a 1937 or '38 Model A to restore. But in the meantime, he may be busy with another aspect of tractor renovation.

"I'd like to help organize a tractor show here in Fairfax," he says. "We need help, but there are several types of old tractors in the area which should show up." FC 

Gary Van Hoozer is a Missouri writer specializing in vintage agriculture and farm history.