Search for missing elements adds challenge to restoration projects
Old farm tractors make wonderful restoration projects. Finding replacement parts, though, can present a vexing challenge. Obtaining machinery parts is one thing, but tracking other accessory items – like matching the paint color, decals, knobs, wheels and other elements – can be a real trick.
If you're new to this business of restoring farm tractors and collectibles, meet Jeff Grodey of Indiana. He dove into his first tractor restoration project in 1996. His triumphs and defeats in restoring a Case SC tractor, and his current project (a Farmall H) offer valuable lessons.
"Well, I'm kind of new at this," Jeff says. "I started in December 1996, but I bought my first tractor, a 1949 Case SC, in 1990. I didn't realize what all this restoration stuff was about. I'm glad that I started with something easy. I am now knee-deep into restoring the Farmall, and have found that parts for this tractor are a little harder to come by."
Finding parts is perhaps the most challenging aspect of restoring farm tractors, or any farm collectible, for that matter. A collectible loses its value without original parts. The older a piece gets, the more forgiving the marketplace is for non-original spare parts. But the parts that were originally included are the most sought after.
"There have been numerous places that I have gotten parts," Jeff says. "I guess it depends on what part I am replacing. Parts such as sheet metal, original lights, battery box lid and radiator, I got at tractor junk yards and from junk dealers."
If you've compromised on original parts, and would like to find newly made usable pieces, going to a dealer or auto parts supplier is a good start. A rich resource for parts that can't be found at a junk yard or salvage dealer's is the dealer himself. Dealers usually have regular customers, and inventory spare parts for specialty items.
If you're really stumped, try going online.
"I don't think I would have had as easy a time doing this restoration without using the Internet," Jeff says.
He found a lot of information, parts and general help on the Antique Tractor Internet Service (ATIS) web page (http://www.atis.net).
"From there, contacts were made in every area, from business dealers to other collectors who had either advice or parts," he says. "The Internet has offered a wealth of information."
If you plan to restore a tractor or any other farm collectible, it's important to factor costs into the equation. When you buy an antique, take into consideration how much restoration will be needed. Very often the cost of restoration and replacement parts exceeds the price paid for the collectible itself.
"The first tractor that I restored is a 1951 Farmall H," Jeff says. "The restoration ended up being a complete tear-down, with the exception of the transmission. Eleven gaskets and seals were replaced, and new pistons, sleeves, clutch and radiator were needed. When I got done, the repairs ended up costing about double what I paid for the tractor originally."
One place to get parts and accessories for hard-to-find tractors and engines is at tractor and engine shows.
"I think that the best time I had buying parts was at the Antique Farm Power Steam and Gas Show in LaGrange, Ind.," Jeff says. "That's where I found the last pieces that I needed for the tractor: a battery box lid, rear light and decals, and all at decent prices."
For a tractor show near you, try the Line-Up in this magazine, or the Farm Collector Show Directory.
There's a lesson here to be learned in value. No matter what type of farm equipment or machinery you collect, this is a general rule of thumb: if you buy the equipment in tip-top shape, requiring no restoration, you're bound to pay a premium for it. The real bargains – or apparent bargains – are in the equipment that's old, rusted and looks as if it will never be brought to life.
The savvy farm collector will work hard at finding equipment that needs a minimal amount of time and effort to get it working, and at a reasonable price. That is the art of hunting for worthwhile collectibles. In most cases, the equipment that needs the most restoration is better left alone, unless you have the gumption to build a source list of parts and accessory suppliers. FC
Jim Romeo is a freelance writer in Chesapeake, Va. He may be contacted at 1008 Weeping Willow Drive, Chesapeake, VA, 23322.