Allis-Chalmers M7 Restoration

Iowa couple tackles restoration of rare 1944 Allis-Chalmers M7 snow tractor

| November 2009

Before Richard Liekweg climbs into his Allis-Chalmers tractor, he removes his shoes, sits on the side of the cab and slides in backward.

“I don’t want to get it dirty,” says the Iowa Falls, Iowa, man. If that seems out of the ordinary, so is the tractor: a 1944 Allis-Chalmers M7 snow tractor, designed for use by the U.S. Army Air Corps as a rescue vehicle in remote northern bases.

The Liekwegs’ Allis-Chalmers collection began more than 30 years ago with just one tractor and no place to keep it. That meant buying farmland, which led to other AC items: tractors, a combine, a Gleaner combine and implements. “Richard was raised on a farm,” Peg Liekweg says, “but I was a town girl.” Nevertheless, Peg’s love of farm things helped build a collection of Allis-Chalmers machinery, memorabilia, farm toys – anything Allis.

Northwoods relic

While vacationing in Alaska in 1999, the couple heard about a half-track Allis-Chalmers snow tractor. After seeing pictures, Richard and Peg decided to look at it for themselves. The owner had a wide selection of old military vehicles – government-surplus trucks, bulldozers and snow machines – for sale to civilians. The Liekwegs asked whether the snow tractor was for sale but couldn’t get anything worked out before they had to leave.

Back home in Iowa, they wrote the owner, again raising the possibility of buying the tractor, but received no response. Finally, they sent what Peg calls “a dartboard offer,” enclosing a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Three weeks later, they got an answer and bought the tractor.

Then things got complicated. For starters, the couple had no way to haul the tractor. They considered buying a new flatbed trailer. “I told Richard that customs wouldn’t allow us through if we had it all wrapped up in plastic to protect it from all the stuff on the roads,” Peg says. “So we bought an enclosed 16-foot trailer instead.” Peg sells antiques and collectibles, so the couple loaded the trailer full for the trip to Alaska. “It took about two hours to sell that load in Fairbanks,” she says.

Knowing the M7 wasn’t in very good condition, the couple stopped to buy parts at an Anchorage salvage yard they’d contacted earlier. From there they traveled back to Boundary, Alaska, on the Alaska/Canada border, loaded the tractor into the trailer and headed home. “At U.S. customs they asked what we had in the trailer,” Peg recalls. “When we said ‘a snow tractor,’ they said ‘that’s nice,’ and waved us through. They never looked at it!”

Sleeves rolled up

Back in Iowa, the Liekwegs began to see the immensity of the project. “We knew we’d have to do a lot of research on measurements, color and canvas, and where to get, make, buy or find parts for it,” Peg says. Government manuals helped with measurements and other information. The couple also contacted countless salvage yards, military surplus stores, Internet vendors and collectors. Soon they had a network of people who helped them find parts. Some parts were simply unavailable and had to be fabricated.

“The body was in very bad condition,” Richard recalls, “either rusted or the sheet metal was torn from running over rough terrain. Original parts had been removed, and to make space for inappropriate parts – like a Chevrolet car steering sector – they bent or cut sheet metal out of the way.”

Side body panels of sheet metal had to be replaced, a job Richard says he could not have done without help from his son, Brad, who had 20 years’ experience in the auto body business. Brad had access to sheet metal at salvage prices and the ability to bend it as needed.