RESTORATION OF THE MONTH
John Blake of Elwood, Ind., got to know his 8,200-pound Case LA ‘from one end to the other’ during the two and a half years it took him to restore the tractor. ‘I found it in November 1999 at Morris Hersberger’s, at Lapel, Ind.,’ John says. ‘It was complete but stuck.’
Before he even addressed the engine problems, though, he removed 90 gallons of fluid – weighting in at 11 pounds a gallon – from each of the rear wheels. The extra fluid had been added to improve the tractor’s pulling power, John says, ‘but that was a lot of weight on top of the 8,200 pounds, so we took the fluid out and put in new tubes.’
John unstuck the engine by pouring three gallons of brake fluid into it and leaving the fluid to soak for about four months. ‘That loosened three of the four cylinders,’ he says, ‘and then I had to pull the head to get at the other one.’
John, who has restored several other tractors, said he knew the fluid was working when he could feel it through the side caps.
While he had the head off, he also completely replaced the rings and installed new sleeves and new bearings. Recently, he replaced the head – after searching for six months to find a good used one. ‘I’ve had seven and they’ve all had cracks.’
The main challenge John faced in restoring the engine was finding parts. He notes that old Case parts are not being remanufactured, can’t be ordered through the manufacturer like in the old days – and weren’t all that common anyway, originally: ‘There were probably 10 John Deeres for every one Case,’ he estimates.
A good example of a troublesome Case part to replace is the sleeves. The new sleeves John bought had to be bored out because the LA engine needed larger ones than he could find. To get the right fit, John bought another old, junk engine the same size as the LA’s, put the new sleeves in it and took it to have the sleeves properly bored out. Once the job was done, he brought the junk engine back home, removed the newly bored-out sleeves and moved them into the tractor’s engine. ‘It was a long process,’ he says, adding he has invested close to $2,000 in parts in the engine alone, ‘and I only paid $1,300 for the whole tractor.’
The clutch and transmission were in good shape, but the brakes presented other challenges. The LA has a hand clutch with hydraulic brakes on the rear wheels, each of which has a master cylinder. Both cylinders had to be over hauled, and to get to them, John had to remove a 1,200-pound hub on each wheel. After he gained access, he removed the cylinders and had them re-machined at an auto supply store.
‘The hydraulic brakes also were difficult to get bled properly,’ he adds. ‘I just bled them very carefully, so no air got in, and they hold well now.’
The tractor runs on gasoline, the radiator holds 15 gallons of fluid, and the 6-volt electrical system is all original ‘even the light bulbs,’ John says, ‘and they all still work.’
For paint, John used Case’s original ‘Flambeau Red’ tractor enamel, bought from his local Tractor Supply Co. The decals were purchased from a mail order company in southern Indiana.
Sanding and cleaning proved the most tedious aspect of the restoration, ‘as any speck of dirt will cause the paint to flake off,’ and painting proved the most intensive. ‘It took me over seven months – a couple of hours here and there – to clean and paint it. Every part that could be removed was taken off, cleaned, sanded and painted, and then replaced and painted again.’
Drips were a constant hazard, and John’s advice is, ‘Put a thin coat of paint on and walk away. Leave it for 10 minutes and go back and do it again.’
By the time he was done painting all the parts and replacing them, he says, he found himself actually ‘talking’ to the tractor. To accomplish the professional quality of work that went into the project, he says he just gave himself plenty of time to execute the work correctly, and he had the help of a friend and fellow collector, Richard Ennis, also of Elwood, who has done a number of tractor restorations. Mostly, John says, his personal restoration know-how comes from just doing it – trial and error.
‘The LA is the first one I’ve had to completely redo,’ John says. ‘I’ve just worked my way through it.’
John bought his LA to complete his collection of Cases dating from the late 1940s through the early 1950s. The other tractors in the grouping are a 1946 VAC, a 1954 DC and a 1954 SC. The DC and SC have foot clutches and dual hydraulics with Eagle hitch three-point implement hookups, and John notes, 1954 was the last year both the DC and the SC were made.
The DC, serial no. DC8033307, belonged to Richard’s father-in-law for 25 years before John bought it 10 years ago. The tractor was in good shape mechanically; John just repainted it.
The SC, serial no. 8041288, also was bought in good shape, in March 2000, at an Ohio farm sale, and the VAC was bought, already restored, in January 2000 at Quincy, 111. ‘We left here and it was sunny, and then we ran into a solid ice storm. It was a scary trip.’ The VAC is serial no. VAC5063702.
John hooks the four tractors together for parades. ‘I’ve made hitches to put on the front wheels of the tricycle tires so I can pull all of them, with the LA in front,’ he explains.
John also owns a 1952 International fire truck with less than 11,000 actual miles. His late wife, Michelle, spotted it for sale in a nearby town and convinced him to buy. ‘It was her fire truck,’ he says, ‘even though I had to drive it.’ He uses the truck to pump water at the Portland show for the steam engines.
Also at Portland, John helps run the sawmill and he says he’s ‘famous’ at all the area shows for his Dachshund dogs, which always go with him. ‘I make at least four trips to Portland every year,’ he says, ‘and I’ve been going 10 years.’
John’s fondness for Case tractors can be traced to a pair of 1937 Case model CCs bought new by his grandfather, William Earle Blake, and his grandfather’s brother, Joe H. Blake. ‘They were one serial number apart,’ John says of those tractors, ‘and they were on steel.’
John grew up driving his grandfather’s Case, which his father still owns. They have the original bill of sale, he says, and John completely restored that tractor before he began buying the newer Cases. He recalls helping his grandfather regularly with the field work while his father worked at General Motors Corp. in Anderson, Ind., and he especially remembers cultivating for hours at a time with the old CC. John himself later worked for GM in Anderson, retiring in 1994.
Through the years, he adds, Case tractors always have performed well for his family, but now that he has his vintage ‘quartet,’ he has all he’s planning to buy. FC
For more information on John’s Case tractors, contact him at 422 N. Sixth St., Elwood, IN 46036; (765) 552-9946.