Complementary Antique Collections

Michigan couple's antique collections put it all together.

| July 2005

"We didn't know what it was, but we knew we had to have it," Bob McCausey explains while rolling an ancient, horse-drawn tobacco transplanter out of the shed. "We found it near Pall Mall, Tenn., on one of our trips through the U.S. 127 Corridor Yard Sale." That event, now in its 19th year, has become a virtual Mecca for collectors, but Bob and his wife, Jo, have many other sources.

The Mulliken, Mich., couple has been collecting together for as long as they can remember, and though they search for different things, they support one another's efforts. Bob enjoys making old machines work perfectly and look beautiful, but he is particular, and likes them to be fairly complete from the beginning. Jo finds fascination in wooden and stoneware vessels, and other farmhouse objects, but they have to be in nice condition to get through the doors to the house. Both are drawn to well-weathered pieces, like the tobacco setter, which they put back to work by innovatively installing them in their yard.

Fantastic finishes

"I started painting many years ago because I wanted it done right," Bob explains, pointing out that the castings on his 1949 John Deere Model AW are perfectly smooth. "I might have gone a little overboard on this one, but I like a smooth finish." The 1949 AW isn't the first tractor he ever painted, but it was the first that he really went all out on, and it required some creative repairs to get it running.

"I bought it from a guy who had overhauled the engine, but he couldn't get it to run," Bob explains. "It had new pistons, new rods, a new crank and everything, but it wouldn't run." The tractor had been parked for quite a while when he negotiated the purchase, but it was still loose. "It took me a while to figure out what the problem was," he says. "Turns out the cam was out of time with the crank." Bob took care of that problem by removing the engine's flywheel and timing cover, and carefully removing the cam bearing with the aid of a cutting torch.

With the bearing gone, there was sufficient clearance to move the camshaft gear away from the crankshaft gear just enough that they disengaged. Bob then rotated the crank and cam independently of one another until the timing marks were aligned, and he reengaged the gears, installed a new bearing and buttoned up the engine. "I still needed to do some work on the governor and the ignition system before it would run right," he says.

Once the tractor was mechanically sound and free of leaks, Bob prepped it for paint. The sheet metal was all there, but it was a little rough and required a good deal of straightening and repair. Along the way he also decided that he was going to take every nub off of every casting and make the tractor smooth. "I spent about five months grinding castings and taking care of the sheet metal," he says. "And then it took about another month of sanding, priming and blocking before I painted it." Bob chose authentic John Deere paint for the project, and finished with a new set of tires.