Rare & Restored

FC_V6_I12_July-2004_08-2.jpg

Besides his big tractor, and 130 or so others in his collection

Content Tools

If Jerry Mez had known that spring day in 1988 that a semi-trailer loaded with an International Harvester Co. Model 4300 tractor would be whizzing by on Interstate 80 a mere mile from his implement dealership, he probably would've tried to stop it - which would have been quite a feat since the tractor itself weighed more than 40,000 pounds.

'I had been looking for an IH 4300 to add to my tractor collection for 15 years,' the 64-year-old Avoca, Iowa, tractor collector says, 'ever since we had one here as a demonstration model in the early 1960s. It always hung in the back of my mind that I wanted to get hold of one. It's a tractor not a lot of people know about.'

In fact, IH Model 4300 tractors are extremely rare for several reasons. First, the massive machines were built-to-order at a cost of about $12,000 each in the early 1960s.

As a result, only 44 Model 4300 tractors were manufactured - fewer than any other IH production tractor, except several that were stopped in mid-production when IH was bought out in 1984, such as models 7588 and 7788.

Secondly, it's nearly impossible to buy a tractor when only about six of the big, collectible beasts survive, Jerry says.

Tractor collecting

Jerry's interest in collecting big red tractors began 35 years ago when his father, Max Mez, owned the Avoca Implement Co., an IH dealership. One day, Max received a call from a farmer west of town who wanted to sell his fleet of five IH Model F-20 tractors.

Oddly, each F-20 was dedicated to a single piece of machinery, which the farmer never removed once it was attached. When the farmer wanted to plow, he used the tractor with the plow attached. To pick corn, he drove the F-20 hooked to the corn picker, and used the F-20 hooked to the cultivator when it was time to cultivate.

Max bought all five tractors and the equipment for about $250, and Jerry helped get them into the shop. There, he worked with old tractors for the first time, and saw them up close. That's all it took to pique Jerry's interest and convert him into a dedicated IH fan. 'I kept my eye on them over the years,' Jerry says about those old F-20s. They made such a mark on Jerry that he still owns two of them.

Today, Jerry's tractor collection has expanded to more than 130 different red tractors - about 100 are restored, some are in perfect shape, while others still need work.

'My dream is to start a museum for red machinery,' Jerry explains.

He's already gathered three crucial components for the museum: His tractor collection, promises from other collectors to help fill the museum and 4 acres of land on the outskirts of town near Interstate 80. Like most big dreams, it's going to be a while before Jerry opens the museum's doors. 'The space and money are hard to come by,' Jerry says.

A bigger breed

The Model 4300 is truly a different breed of tractor. Though it was built as a farm tractor, it was painted construction-machine yellow, not red like most other IH tractors.

A little research showed Jerry why: The Model 4300 was built in IH's Hough Payloader factory in Libertyville, III., where the company's construction equipment was routinely built.

'The 4300s were made-to-order out of that factory,' Jerry explains. 'And everything that came out of the Hough Payloader factory was painted yellow.'

Jerry's tractor, made in 1961 with serial no. 1006, was the fifth tractor built during the first year of production for the Model 4300. Serial numbers for the tractors, which were built through 1965, range from 87AH1001 to 87AH1045. The machines were built in response to Deere & Co.'s four-wheel-drive tractor offerings, Jerry adds.

Jerry's Model 4300 has a six-cylinder, 817-cubic-inch turbo-charged engine, which produces only 300 engine or 203 drawbar horsepower.

'It was a tremendously big engine for that time with low rpm,' Jerry says, 'and just didn't have that much horsepower. It's the same engine used in the TD24 crawlers.'

Most IH collectors are used to seeing much smaller engines and have no idea that IH built a tractor with such a big engine in the early 1960s, Jerry says. Jerry doesn't know how many hours the big engine was used because its tachometer was broken when he bought the tractor.

The tractor uses an Allison automatic transmission. 'I never dreamed there would be an automatic transmission that could handle that much horsepower,' Jerry declares. Echoing the tractor's yellow paint, much of its driveline is built from construction equipment used by IH at that time. Although Jerry's tractor has an automatic transmission, Model 4300s were also built with standard transmissions.

The Model 4300 is equipped with air brakes and uses 'crab' steering. The Model 4300's frame isn't articulated, but all four wheels are steerable, especially to work on hillsides. The steering also can be adjusted to steer with just the front two wheels.

The 4300 brings surprises

The museum's centerpiece would certainly be Jerry's IH Model 4300 tractor, which was probably an experimental model, complete with balloon tires and a 300-hp engine. Yet, even though it's finally restored, that tractor wasn't easy to come by, Jerry says.

During the summer of 1988, Jerry was talking with a representative with Leaman Bros., a Willow Street, Pa., tractor parts dealer. The representative offhandedly mentioned the firm owned an IH Model 4300. Leaman Bros. bought the tractor in California and trucked it to the company's Pennsylvania headquarters. To Jerry's surprise, the tractor was for sale.

'I worked with them for a while, and by the end of the summer I bought it by telephone during their auction,' Jerry adds.

When the 4300 finally arrived in Avoca by truck in late summer 1988, Jerry was shocked by its condition.

'When it got here, it was a disaster. It looked worse than I thought it would,' Jerry recalls. 'Somebody had whacked the corners off all four fenders so they could use it in the mud a lot. I spent two entire evenings just washing it so we could get it clean enough to restore it.'

Beyond the machine's terrible appearance, the Model 4300's valves leaked oil. Nevertheless, Jerry was confident that his machine shop could repair it and happy just to own the rare tractor.

'I didn't know where else I could've gotten another 4300,' he says.

Jerry knew the tractor was huge, but was again surprised when he learned the machine weighed 40,000 pounds. The truck driver was surprised about the weight, too, because he'd been overloaded for the entire 1,500-mile trip! Remarkably, 2.5 tons of that weight was contained inside the liquid-filled tires, which Jerry promptly removed.

'I figured those big old tires would last a lot longer without all that weight in them,' Jerry says.

That still left a 30,000-pound machine, twice as weighty as IH's second-heaviest tractor, the Model 4166 that weighed 16,000 pounds. A 15-ton machine like the Model 4300 had rarely been seen since the days of the great sodbusters before 1920, and the sight made Jerry proud.

A year of restoration work - and 36 gallons of yellow paint later - Jerry's Model 4300 was nearly a new machine.

Guaranteed show-stopper

Jerry takes the 4300 to every show in the Avoca area and drives it in parades. Without fail, the tractor's straight-diesel-start engine turns over every time. Jerry's also displayed the tractor at four national Red Power shows, much to the public's delight.

'When I take it to a show, there's a lot of interest in it because people have never seen one before,' Jerry says.

'Most of the 44 Model 4300s built were destroyed or parted out, so there's only about six remaining - and people always want to know why it's yellow, if it's really an IH tractor.'

Although built for farm work, the Model 4300 had two drawbacks. First, its massive size was too large for small farms. The tractor is so big that its use was limited to farms of 500 acres or more, like big ranches in Montana and western Nebraska, where farmers could pull two or three discs or gang plows behind the machine. That's why many of the tractors ended up in construction, pulling a sheep's foot or doing other heavy work.

'They were pretty well semi-destroyed or beat to death before the construction company got done with them,' Jerry says.

Another drawback was a lack of compatible implements. Very few implements were available that could be successfully used with the Model 4300, which meant its life as a viable farm tool was quite limited.

Today, the major problem with the 4300 is finding replacement parts - because none are available.

'If you break something on it, parts are impossible to get,' Jerry says, 'so you have to be careful how you use it. The diamond-tread tires are not in that great of shape, with some cracks in them, but they're 12-ply so there's a lot left. They're not made any more. I have looked and looked and looked to find them, but can't. If one of those blows out, I don't know what I'm going to do without going to a different rim.'

For those and other reasons, Jerry's never used the big tractor for heavy work, just for display.

'I like the 4300, because of all the tractors I have, that one had the fewest made,' Jerry says. 'It's just a unique tractor. The automatic transmission was ahead of its time, and I love to run it because the engine sounds so good. I love driving it in parades, because it's a rare machine that most people have never seen before.' FC

- Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and the author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56569; (320) 253-5414; or e-mail: 'mailto:bvossler@juno.com' bvossler@juno.com

The Model 4300 at a glance

International Harvester Co.'s Model 4300 tractor was built between 1961-1965. Just 44 were manufactured and only six are known to exist today. The tractor used a DT-817 turbo-charged, high-speed engine with a low idle speed of 650 rpm and governed speed of 2,100 rpm. The six-cylinder engine produces 300 hp with a bore of 5 3/8 inches and stroke of 6 inches. Crankcase capacity is 34 quarts of oil. The Allison eight-speed automatic transmission offers speeds of 3.5 to 22.7 mph.

With a cab, the Model 4300 is 10 feet long and 9 inches high. It's 9 feet 4 inches wide from axle hub to axle hub, and 21 feet 9 inches from grille to drawbar. The tractor's wheelbase is 10 feet, and ground clearance stands at 1 -foot 7 inches. The machine's inside turning radius is 10 feet 2 inches with four-wheel steering, and 23 feet 6 inches with two-wheel steering.

Standard tires for the IH Model 4300 are Type R1, 23.1 -by-26 inches, with a tread of 7 feet 4 inches. Ballast in each tire includes 100 gallons of water mixed with 500 pounds of calcium chloride, with a working tire pressure of 24 psi.