Craftsman extraordinaire is the phrase that best describes Gene Gregory. His distinct craft of customizing pedal tractors has blossomed over the years. Today, Gene's pedal tractors have been acclaimed by the most avid collectors as peerless. A Ford 8N is the most recent addition to his fleet of uniquely customized pedals.
Gene lives in farm country in north-central Ohio. While he has no practical farm experience, he's gained an appreciation for field machinery while observing farmers working the land. Inspired, he began restoring and collecting antique tractors years ago, before the hobby became popular. Then came a passion for pedal tractors. He subsequently liquidated the antique tractor collection.
While attending an antique tractor show in Portland, Ind., Gene saw a photo of a unique 1948 Ford 8N: an original factory-built tractor, with several after-market features. The tractor was equipped with a V-shaped snow blade on the front, and was traction-assisted by half-tracks.
On the drive home from the show, Gene pondered the photograph. "That was a uniquely equipped tractor," he recalls. "I began visualizing how it would look as a pedal tractor. It inspired a challenge, and the creative juices kicked in. I just started tinkering, and this is what resulted."
When Gene tinkers, it is an art form. He does not customize something without considerable forethought and planning. The thoroughness of Gene's craftsmanship shows through in his beautifully customized pedal tractors.
The first challenge was to find a pedal tractor that resembled the Ford 8N. Ertl manufactured a nice Ford Model 8N, but it had a higher profile than the real tractor. Gene made do. "With Ertl having the only available pedal tractor, I had to work with it," he says. "I began to cut and shave to accomplish the lower profile."
He started by trimming about 2 inches off under the chassis. That allowed the axle to be raised, which then meant the sprocket and chain clearance had to be adjusted. Gene altered the housing under the seat, accommodating the raised axle. The front end was lowered and retrofitted as a standard 8N. Front wheels were changed to accommodate 7-by-1.25 tires. By then he was on the right track to a scaled-down Ford 8N.
The plastic steering wheel and seat were replaced with steel versions. A miniature steering wheel spinner adds an extraordinary touch. A front grille was added to more closely resemble the real thing.
On the original 8N, after-market halftracks provided additional traction in mud or snow. As he designed his pedal tractor, Gene had little to go on. "I had only seen the half-track from a picture," he says. "So I went from memory when I built these. The webbing was not too difficult, but I wrestled with the cleats a little longer."
The tracks were made with 3/4-inch belting. Gene's custom-designed cleats, each stamped from aluminum, were riveted to the belting. Each track is 52 inches long, with belting clips securing the ends. The front wheel of the track is attached to an arm that pivots off the rear axle. The front track wheel and track hold firm to the ground, but float depending on terrain. The design and track emulate the original perfectly.
The Comfort Cab is made from aluminum sheet metal to minimize weight. The top is molded and welded, providing a finished look. Side panels are fastened together with 6-32 bolts. The top is secured to the side panels using the same style of bolts. The rear opening of the cab features a canvas curtain that can be rolled up and held by straps and buckles at the top. The piece is not quite complete. "I hope to add doors in the future to finish off the cab," Gene says.
A coat of red and gray paint duplicates the authentic Ford color scheme. Front lights were installed on both sides, and Ford Motor Co. logos round out the project. For some people, it'd be work. For Gene, it's a labor of love. "I enjoy this kind of a challenge," he says. "And it's fun to share it with other people."
- Fred Hendricks is an avid "toy farmer" and freelance writer living in Longmont, Colo.