When you hear the words "family heirloom," you're likely to think of a fading photograph, aging china, or a tissue-soft quilt. But for Raymond "Butch" Howe, Ballston Spa, N.Y., the words summon a vision of a tractor made in Ireland years ago.
His treasure is a 1931 Fordson, serial number 772770.
"A neighbor bought it new, which was quite a thing locally, as it was during the Depression, and nobody had any money," he said.
More than 20 years later, in the mid-1950s, Butch's father bought the tractor for $50.
"I recall the day he drove it home," he said. "I rode alongside on my bicycle. In order to get it home, he had to go about a quarter of a mile on a paved road. Of course, the Fordson had steel wheels, which marked up the road pretty good."
Into its third decade, the Fordson was a good tractor, but it started hard.
"As a 10-year-old boy listening to Dad starting the tractor," Butch said, "I built quite a colorful vocabulary."
The new owners worked the Fordson regularly, with the exception of raking hay, as the steel wheels would pin the hay to the ground.
"I rode the old McCormick mower quite a few miles," Butch said, "and we plowed a great deal with it."
Later, at about the same time that Butch left home and joined the Navy, his father retired the Fordson. It was relegated to a spot alongside the barn, where it sat neglected and exposed to the weather.
"Over the years, I would return home from time to time," Butch recalled, "and occasionally wander down to the barn, where the old Fordson was slowly turning to rust."
Sixty-four years after the tractor was manufactured, it got a new lease on life.
"In 1995, I retired from the U.S. Navy and returned home to live on the old family farm," Butch said. "That summer I dragged the old Fordson tractor out of the weeds and began restoration."
It was an uphill battle.
"After all those years, it was in a 'beyond restoration' condition," he said.
The project became a labor of love, and a lesson in both perseverance and history.
"During the restoration, I learned quite a bit about the tractor," Butch said. "Ford ceased U.S. production of the Fordson in 1928. After that, from 1929-31, Fordsons were made in Cork, Ireland. In 1932, production was moved to England."
Butch's Fordson was built at Cork in 1931. Only 3,501 were made that year, and just a few – including his – were imported to the U.S.
"I found that this model year Fordson is quite rare," he said.
With restoration complete, the tractor is almost like new.
"It runs great now and starts on the second pull of the crank," Butch said. "I guess the valve job helped it start better."
Butch uses the Fordson for light farm work, and takes it to local tractor shows, where it gets a lot of attention. Some heirlooms are left on the shelf. But this one generates the most smiles when it's in action.
"Unfortunately, Dad lost a battle with cancer a few years back," Butch said. "But I'm sure he is enjoying seeing the old family tractor running again."
Butch has moved on to restoration of other Fordsons. But the one constant is his family heirloom.
"I'll run it as long as I'm able to," he said. "Then, hopefully, I'll pass it on to the younger generation." FC
For more information: Raymond "Butch" Howe, 531 Sherman Road, Ballston Spa, NY 12020.