Engine collector Clint Russell was bored. He had had some fun building his collection of engines, restoring them meticulously, but, once completed, ‘just seeing them set there and run’ got old fast, Clint says. He thought about expanding his collection to include tractors, but, at his home in Apopka, Fla., there was simply no room for them. So Clint Russell decided to combine his love for old tractors and old engines and build half-size antique tractors.
‘I was only going to make one,’ Clint remembers, ‘but I wasn’t completely happy with the first one, so I decided I would do better on the next one.’ Now working on his tenth, Clint’s getting better each time.
That first tractor was a Rumely Oil-Pull M. He’d always been fascinated with that tractor as a child growing up on an Indiana farm and, once he’d decided to build a small tractor, he knew that was the one he wanted to make. Interestingly, he had no Rumely from which to work. ‘The Rumely I built entirely from pictures,’ he says. ‘Preferably, I like to take measurements directly from a tractor. I think a lot of the problems I had with the first one were because I didn’t take the measurements from a tractor.’
Being an engine lover, Clint started there. He wanted to make sure that the engine he chose for the project was going to be right with the tractor he had planned. ‘I took a picture of the Oil-Pull from the side and then found an engine that, when I centered the flywheel on the flywheel of the tractor, it would match up and keep the proportions right.’
Then the research began. For the Oil-Pull, as for every tractor since, Clint gathered a loose-leaf notebook full of research materials. These notebooks begin filling up a year before he ever starts actually building the tractor.
After the Oil-Pull, Clint just began moving on to tractors that ‘somebody might mention that they had used as a kid.’ If he really liked the look of a tractor or had found an engine for it that he liked, he would build it. In the case of the Allis-Chalmers WC he built, he had just wanted to have an Allis ready for when Florida Flywheelers – a club of which he’s a member – hosted the annual Gathering of the Orange Allis-Chalmers convention. He looked for good, challenging projects and found plenty.
One of the toughest that he built was his replica of a 1913 Little Bull. He had only seen pictures of it and after deciding to build a copy, traveled to Le Sueur, Minn., to take measurements. It was lucky even finding out who had one, though. Clint guesses that only four or five restored Bulls exist in the United States.
The problem was that he hadn’t been knowledgeable enough about the tractor to even really know which measurements to take. The Bull, it seems, has some complicated workings. ‘The Bull transmission is unique,’ Clint says, clearly avoiding a word unsuitable for public consumption. ‘I had to build it from scratch and once I got down to doing it, I realized that I didn’t know how. So I had to head back to Le Sueur.’
Clint isn’t sure how much the travel has cost him, but estimates that the cost for building each tractor has been a couple of thousand dollars, running as high as three thousand. He could build them cheaper, he supposes, but they just wouldn’t be right. ‘I don’t use much junk,’ he says. ‘I don’t salvage stuff. I don’t like to make the compromises you have to make. Almost invariably I use brand new gears and sprockets.’ He has made his own wheels for every tractor.
Even if he chose too, he wouldn’t have a lot of luck finding parts near him. He says Florida lacks the old parts he would need.
Building things from scratch, he says, makes him feel better about the tractors, too. He knows that the parts inside are right because he made them with his own hands. He also knows, however, that he may have built those parts three times or more. ‘There’ve been a lot of those,’ he says, laughing. ‘I’ve probably made as many parts that didn’t work as parts that did. Engines are sometimes hard to match to projects, too. The Bull is another example of this. ‘The Bull had a two-cylinder opposed engine and ran less than 1,000 rpm. I used a starting engine from a model R John Deere, but it ran at 4,000 rpm.’
Clint is a guy who cares about such things. He’s not just happy with something looking good, but with its being as right as possible. He admits, though, that because he chooses engines mostly for how they will appear on the finished tractor and not for an adequate power-to-weight ratio, most of his tractors are underpowered. They’re all built well enough for him to ride around on, though, but for the exception of the Bull, whose lightweight front wheel causes the tractor to tip backwards if the clutch is popped.
The other tractors he’s built include a 1915 1020 International Titan, a 1916 International 10-20 Mogul, an 1892 Froelich, a 1927 John Deere D, a Waterloo Boy R, a John Deere Dain and an Allis-Chalmers 1933 WC. Each of the tractors has taken about a year to build. Next, Clint plans on building an F-20 Farmall, if he can find all the parts he needs. ‘I’ve got the research material together, but haven’t been able to locate a rear axle. I’m looking for a Power King rear axle with a 10-1 findal drive ratio.’
One of his favorite things is showing off the completed tractors to others. Often, people don’t realize that they’re models he’s built. ‘A lot of people think that these were built by the original manufacturer. ‘What did they use these for?’ they’ll ask. If they look real close, though, they’ll see the flaws.’
Clint says that building these tractors has been a real learning experience for him. Not only has he learned about the tractors, but he’s learned a lot about himself. At 77, he says that most of the changes of age have been first noticed while building one tractor or another. ‘I’ve learned a lot about my limitations,’ he says, without, it must be mentioned, any noticeable sense of self-pity. ‘I’m finding now that I’m having a lot of problems in seeing. I’ve only got one eye and it’s failing. There’s not going to be too many more tractors.’
Clint Russell can be contacted at (407) 889-0310. He says he is considering selling his models.