Tractor Salvage Surprise

Collector gets more than he bargains for in tractor salvage operation

| September 2011

Individuals interested in old tractors know that old iron can be found almost anywhere. In fact, old tractors sometimes turn up even in areas where farming doesn’t appear to have been an economic enterprise. Stumbling on to a tractor treasure is always exciting. What happens then varies so much that even the best imagination could not possibly predict what to expect. The good news is that the events are invariably interesting. The bad news is that sometimes the events are unpleasant at the time. Those experiences make great stories to be shared later with fellow tractor enthusiasts. 

Salvaging a crawler

The tractor in question was an early 1930s McCormick-Deering crawler. Since tracklayers (as they are called in our part of the country) were the motive force for farming during my formative years, I was happy to find an old one. Any tracked vehicle has a lot of visual appeal, especially when it is moving. Movement is a problem, however, when it is not capable of it under its own power. Saving a long dormant crawler, even if you have something capable of hauling it, is a daunting task.

The old McCormick-Deering had no identifying number on it so I didn’t know what model it was. It was small enough that I was sure my tilt-bed machinery trailer could handle its weight. As is often the case, a lot of old farm stuff and general junk had been piled on the crawler over the years, and now all of that needed to be moved. After the larger items had been off-loaded, my sons and I carefully examined the tractor and determined that the engine was free. Outfitted with the “bring it back to life” items we routinely pack on tractor salvage expeditions (see Clell’s list, page 35), we decided to try to start the engine.

Lubrication and fuel were the only considerations at the time, and coolant would be needed only if the engine ran. The oil was checked and appeared to be basically full. Non-detergent oil used in really old engines does not hold contaminants in suspension over a long period of time. Thus one finds beautifully clear oil on a dipstick since the contaminants long ago settled to the bottom of the oil pan. We really didn’t expect to get the engine running, so the pan full of basically clean oil was good enough. The cylinders were lubricated with a squirt oilcan and the magneto was cleaned. The pipe to the air cleaner was removed so a little gasoline could be poured down to prime the updraft carburetor.

Happily, with a small amount of cranking the engine sputtered to life. With that good omen, we put gasoline in the fuel tank and determined that it was actually getting to the carburetor. Further cranking caused the ancient old engine to actually run – not perfectly – but run, nonetheless. When water was poured into the radiator it leaked some, but all signs indicated that it might be possible to walk the crawler up on to the trailer.

Sent to the great beyond

The big question now was: Would it move? The inertia of tracked vehicles is great, and sitting for many long years meant that it had settled down into the ground. Would the clutch work? Would the marginally running engine have enough power to climb out of the indentation it was sitting in? If so, would it have enough power to climb up on the tilt bed trailer?