Farming leads perhaps all other industries in applying good old American ingenuity to the challenge at hand. The PAL tractor is a classic example. Manufactured for no more than two or three years in the late 1930s, the PAL tractor was created with readily available parts.
"They'd use a used car engine to build a tractor at a time when you couldn't get anything else," says Kenny Braesch, Marathon, Iowa. "They could take a car engine, motor, transmission and rear end, put it in a frame, and you'd have a tractor in a day. You supply a car, and they'd make a tractor."
The advent of World War II, however, derailed the undertaking. And in the post-war years, competition from mass-produced, streamlined tractors would have been overwhelming.
"During the war, even the little factories – if they were equipped at all – were converted to war use," Kenny says. "But even if there hadn't been a war, I don't think they would have succeeded: (the company) was too little."
Kenny has a vested interest in the PAL tractor: he has restored one of the two known to exist. The word "rare" gets thrown around a lot these days, but his tractor fits the description.
"They started late, in 1935 or '36. By '38, they had 12 or 15 ready to sell," he says, "and then the war caught them. I have located 12 PALs, and 10 of those have been scrapped. There's one other one, also restored, and it's in Michigan."
The PAL tractor was the result of a solid-sounding partnership: a car dealer named Pollock, a farmer named Anderson, and a blacksmith/machinist named Lopour. It was manufactured in Sioux Rapids, Iowa. It wasn't top of the line, but it got the job done.
"It was fitted so you could put a horse-drawn cultivator on it with modifications, two 14-foot plows, or a 15-foot disk," he says. "It basically took over what two or three horses could do. For what they had in those days, it was a lot better than horses."
Kenny found his PAL through a newspaper ad.
"I was lucky enough to be the first caller," he says. "But I really didn't know how rare the PAL was until I started doing research on it."
The tractor had not been babied, he says.
"It had sat out probably all of it's life," he says. "It was in bad, bad shape when I got it in 1988. It needed a complete motor, transmission and bearings, wheels; the radiator, head, grille and fans all had to be rebuilt. I probably spent more than three years working on it ... it was a bucket of rust.
"It needed a lot, a lot of work," he adds. "A lot of the castings were broke. I had to take it all apart and have it re-welded and re-machined. There were a bunch of missing parts ... the exhaust manifold was broken into three pieces, and the bearings had all fallen out."
Chasing parts was a job, but not an impossible one. The original bearings were similar to Timken bearings, which are still available, as are some original Model A parts he needed.
"I was lucky to be able to find most of the parts, with help from a local shop," he says. "I had to have a whole new set of valves and guides, had to rebore the cylinders, and put in oversize pistons – it was worn that bad."
Kenny doesn't know much of the tractor's history, other than the fact that he's at least the third owner. Original literature is almost non-existent, although he has copies of a few pieces. When he painted his tractor, he used traces of original paint as a guide.
"When I took it apart, there were places I uncovered the original paint," he says. "My tractor is real, real close to that color."
The restoration went well, he says.
"It runs real good," he says.
"With that four-cylinder engine, it sounds identical to a Model A. I like hearing it run."
At shows, it's a definite hit.
"I collect International and John Deere, but that PAL is the real crowd pleaser," he says. "It's a real show piece."
It also generates some debate from onlookers.
"It's got a chrome radiator grille on it," Kenny says. "People say cars back then didn't have chrome on them, but they did: I've had a '29 A Coupe that had chrome on it."
Kenny's worked for an elevator company and a manufacturer of hog equipment, and has operated his own trucking business. In retirement, he works on vintage iron.
"I've been working on a 1938 long frame John Deere B, and it'll probably take close to another year," he says. But he doesn't begrudge the time his hobby consumes.
"I'm a farm boy who moved to town, and you just hate to leave all that behind." FC
For more information: Kenny Braesch, 320 S. Agora, Marathon, IA S0565.