Jack Domogalla is nothing if not patient. How patient? He waited 40 years to get hold of a tractor of his dreams, a 1927 Fordson Model F crawler with a front-end winch.
Jack lives in Cedar, Minn., now, but he grew up in central North Dakota on a homestead his parents took near relatives. “When the Great Depression came along, most of my uncles left,” he says, “but Dad and Mother stayed out there and farmed.”
The Domogallas used Rumely and Allis-Chalmers and, especially pertinent to young Jack, Fordson tractors. “That’s how I got into Fordsons,” he explains. “When I was a kid, our 1923 Fordson was the first one I could drive. During World War II we couldn’t get any tractors or parts, so we ran the old ones and that was one of them that I ran.”
Later, while working for a Minneapolis-Moline dealership in Minnesota, Jack delivered tractors to farmers, affording him the chance to spot old tractors in sheds and tree groves. That led him to buying old tractors, like his 1935 English Fordson N with a plow that he bought (for $80) from a farmer in 1950. “I still have that one,” he says, “sitting right next to my crawler.”
“After the Moline dealership burned down, I worked on ore boats in Duluth for three years, keeping that 1935 English Fordson N in a chicken coop at my mother‘s place,” Jack says. Later he started a unit concrete step company in Cedar, Minn. “But I always found and sold tractors and kept some over the years,” he says.
When the concrete business slowed during the winter, Jack delivered fuel oil. A customer living 3 miles away owned a 1927 Fordson F crawler with a winch. “He said it was in a shed, it wasn’t for sale and he didn’t want me even looking at it. He wanted to fix it up one day. But I managed to look at it anyway,” Jack says, laughing. “He didn’t know how to run it, so I don’t know why he had it. Maybe a relative gave it to him. That went on for 10 years until he died.”
Jack was optimistic, thinking the tractor would be his. But when the owner’s widow hired contractors to fix her septic tank, one of them ended up with the crawler. “It traveled from 3 miles east to 6 miles west of me,” Jack recalls. “I drove over there to try to buy it, but it still wasn’t for sale. This went on for 25 years. He died, and his son inherited the tractor. He was going to fix it up in honor of his dad, but he never did. I dealt with that for six years, and finally two years ago he called me. ‘I know you want that tractor,’ he said. ‘If you want it, come over and get it.’ So I went over there and got that tractor.”
Nearly 80 now, Jack doesn’t get too excited about stuff anymore. “But when I got that tractor after 40 years, I could hardly believe it was in my shop,” he says. “It felt good.”
Jack says all of the crawler’s owners intended to restore the tractor, but either didn’t get around to it or couldn’t find parts. Neither was a problem for Jack. “I always have quite a few Fordson parts,” he says. “At any time of the week I have a varying number of Fordson tractors on my property — about 20 right now — so I started working on it.”
The crawler hadn’t been run in at least 50 years. Despite the fact that it had been housed in a shed, the tractor needed work: gas tank, steering wheel and other parts were rusted away. “The Fordson didn’t have much of a body,” Jack says. “The gas tank covers the engine and all the rest is made of cast iron. They don’t have much tinwork on them. This one was supposed to have fenders on back but they were gone, so I cut pieces of steel plate and made them.”
The engine was stuck but was otherwise in good shape. “I loosened the pistons and rings, and though the valves and pistons were in real good shape, I ground the valves,” Jack says. “I had to put on a magneto, manifold and carburetor to make it run. Within about a month I had it in halfway decent shape.”
Fordsons originally started on gasoline and ran on kerosene. Jack puts gas manifolds on most of his Fordsons so they no longer get hot enough to run kerosene but run strictly on gasoline. “The regular Fordson had coils and magnetos on the flywheel like Model T’s, but I’ve converted most of them to aftermarket regular tractor magnetos,” Jack says. “When Fordsons were new, the magnetos didn’t work, so they sure as heck aren’t going to work 80 years later. I also use a Chevrolet truck carburetor to help the Fordsons run better.”
Jack doesn’t conduct full restorations. Instead, he performs just enough repair work to get the piece running again. “I don’t take the body off and turn every bolt like a lot of guys do,” he says. “Of the 20 Fordsons I have right now, 16 of them run, two I’m working on and the other two are waiting to be worked on.”
Jack was told that this 1927 Fordson Model F was originally brought into Minnesota as a log hauler. The winch and cable show obvious use. The crawler tracks and winch are aftermarket pieces from Milwaukee and Oregon. “Fordson never made tracks or the winch,” he explains. “It’s unusual to find something like this in Minnesota, because these are usually found in Texas oil fields. They’re pretty hard to come by. There aren’t many around, probably five or six that run and a few in the deserts and mines in California, but those don’t run and are completely destroyed.”
The tracks on his Fordson have never been broken and remain in good shape, so he didn’t have to fix them or the transmission. “The rear end and wheels never wear out because they were very toughly made, so I didn’t do anything with them either,” he says. “That was one of the reasons I wanted this crawler because those parts were in good shape. I could have put another engine in because I have extra engines, but I didn‘t need to do that either.”
Jack has a red-wheeled 1927 Fordson Model F tractor that has never been used. Years ago, when an area farmer’s tractor was beginning to wear out, he bought a new 1927 Fordson F as a backup, setting it in a shed until his older tractor wore out. “By the time that happened, he discovered the new tractor didn’t run and his implement dealer had gone out of business,” Jack says. “He removed the head and left it all setting in a granary for more than 40 years.” After paying $85 for it, Jack found the engine was stuck. “I got it loose and discovered the timing gear was off four teeth, which was why it wouldn’t run right,” he says. “That’s why that particular tractor is in such good shape.”
A 1945 English Fordson Model N also stands out in Jack’s collection. “That was one of the last N’s they made in 1945, and it belonged to England’s Royal Air Force, with their logo painted on the hood,” Jack says. “I was told it hauled bombs during World War II, but since the war ended in 1945, I don’t know.”
Shipped across an Icelandic route from balmy England without antifreeze, the RAF Fordson froze up, cracking the block. “I welded it up, not the best job in the world,” Jack says, “but it works. That tractor is also still pretty original.”
People do a double take when they see Jack’s Fordson crawler and winch. “They want to know what it is and what it’s used for,” he says. “They’re often overwhelmed when they see that it runs. Then the Royal Air Force Fordson and my 1925 Fordson Model F Industrial model with hard tires really get them going.”
The Industrial tractor was originally used at the St. Paul stockyards. “It looks and runs better now than when I got it more than 20 years ago,” Jack says. “It ran good when I got it; then I changed carburetors and tuned it up a little bit.”Other tractors in Jack’s collection include models his parents farmed with, like Rumelys and Allis-Chalmers. His wife grew up in Goodrich, Minn., east of the Red River Valley where her parents farmed with McCormick-Deering and International. She collects tractors, too, including her prized Farmall F-12, a McCormick-Deering W-30 and McCormick-Deering 10-20.
“I’ve also got some Rumely and John Deere, but my real love is Fordson,” Jack says. “I buy Fordsons if I can find them and get them real cheap. I bought four out of Rochester five years ago, and I’ve got two out of the four done. I’ve got to get those other two finished. That stuff is getting so high now: If you have to put a lot of money into them, you’ll never get it out. I’m not in the business of just buying stuff. I want to get most of my money out of them, although there are some that I’ve paid good money for and want to keep. The rest I trade off or sell or whatever.”
Jack also collects old trucks: Fords, International, Chevrolet and Dodge. “I might have a Freightliner out there too,” he says with a chuckle. His favorite is a 5-ton 1960 U.S. Army International Harvester truck. “I always said to myself that if I ran into one I was going to buy it, and by golly, I did,” he says. “It‘s a big truck, almost too big to drive down the road.”
He marvels that a collector can go all over the U.S. and even into England to buy tractors, and yet find one of the oddest tractors of all within 6 miles of his home. “Make sure you look in all the sheds and granaries and chickens coops and barns around you,” he says, “because you never know what you’ll find right at home.” FC
For more information:
— John (Jack) Domogalla, 2206 Viking Blvd. N.E., Cedar, MN 55011.
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; email: email@example.com.
Learn the history of the Fordson name in Ford Tractor Was Not What It Seemed.