| June 2003

Good as Prairie Gold

Kansan collector gives old iron Midas touch

Some people claim to bleed red or green when it comes to their favorite tractors, while others see the beauty in all brands. That's the case with Louis Gast of Linwood, Kan., who owns a small fleet of four brands: a Cockshutt 540, a Massey-Ferguson TD35, an Allis-Chalmers D17, and his newest project, a 1950 Minneapolis-Moline ZAU.

While looking for a tractor project, Louis eyeballed two old, orange cast-aways that his neighbor, Sam Thrift, had rusting away on his property. Louis says he was interested in the tractors after he realized that there weren't many Minneapolis-Molines at tractor shows. 'The owner said he'd sell it for $100 if I couldn't fix it up,' Louis remembers. 'I told him that's what I intended to do, so he said he'd rather give it to me and watch me restore it than sell it.' The neighbors agreed, and Louis hauled off two model ZAUs -one for parts, the other for restoration.

With the help of his brother-in-law, Kenny Thompson, both tractors were moved to Louis's garage with a skid loader. That was the easy part. With two rusted hulks taking up space, it was time for Louis to get down to business. Louis started the project by dismantling the tractor one piece at a time in August 2001. With hundreds of parts to keep track of, surprisingly, he never mixed up any of the parts he removed, even though this was his first true restoration. 'I didn't really keep anything separated,' he says. 'I already knew what had to go where, so I pulled it off and then put them aside.' Every single component was either replaced or reconditioned, including the clutch, pistons, rings, wheels and cylinders. An easy job? No way. Yet Louis seemed unaffected by the formidable project. To him, the transformation was just a matter of patience and perseverance. Prompting him to discuss the restoration's specific problems is like removing a rusty bolt from old iron.

'O.K., it wasn't quite that easy,' he reluctantly admits. Louis shuffled between two salvage yards looking for parts and 'spent more money than the darn thing is worth.' The entire tractor was rusted inside and out, so Louis blasted away at the rusty, pitted components one at a time. 'I won't be doing that again,' he says with a chuckle. The sandblasting took too much time for each part. Also, he built a radiator for the old tractor, which turned into another excursion. Louis searched junkyards and selected two broken radiators before he found one worthy for the restoration. Those old radiators won't go to waste, though. He plans to build a mailbox from the scrap, if he ever finds time.

Louis, a very capable mechanic, had more problems working around the tractor's dilapidated condition than he did rebuilding the ZAU. 'Tearing apart the tractor was the hardest part for me,' he remembers. 'Bolts were always breaking off before I could get them out of the tractor.' The nuts and bolts were rusted all the way through. In fact, the rust-covered tractor provided home to a few local animals. To Louis's surprise, a large cache of walnuts poured out when he removed the cover to the crankcase. He removed about 25 winters' worth of squirrel nuts, which completely filled two 5-gallon buckets.

The two pitted cylinders of the ZAU's engine also posed a challenge. Louis took them to a local machine shop to have them bored out, but the bore wasn't deep enough, so he returned and had them hand ground even further, which proved too deep. The bore went through the bottom of the cylinders into the water jacket. Rather than try more repairs to the cylinders -this was his third attempt - he just replaced them.