Building an Aftermarket Fordson Tractor

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The finished product sports Fordson gray on the rear axle housings, radiator, gas tank and dash. The remaining components — painted other colors — came from aftermarket suppliers.
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A work in progress: The Fordson before the wide front was replaced with a single front wheel from a Moline corn cultivator.
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Fordson emblem

A group of us Fordson tractor enthusiasts were talking about all the aftermarket accessory parts made for the Fordson tractor in the 1920s, when more than half of all tractors made were Fordsons.

It looked as if it would be neat to put a Fordson together with as many of these aftermarket parts as could be rounded up. This looked like a challenge to just see if it could be done.

Finding a Hercules

The Hercules Engine Co. made an attachment to put a Hercules O or OX engine in a Fordson. It had a water pump, magneto, gasoline carburetor and oil pump. I placed an ad in Hemmings Motor News. I was really surprised when I got a phone call from a fellow in Wisconsin saying he had a Hercules on an old Fordson that he would sell and he priced it. I told him I was interested.

When I called back to say I was coming to get it, he jacked up the price. But I said I was still coming up to Elkhorn, Wis., to get it. My son-in-law and I drove up on a Saturday. The seller was at work, so I had to finish dealing with him through his wife over the phone. You really have bargaining power when pulling a trailer. We got this over and the tractor loaded. Basically, all I was after was the Hercules engine and the parts to get it on the Fordson. Boy does machinery rust up by the lakes compared to what I had been getting out of western Kansas and the Dakotas. The fender brace irons were half rusted away and the cast parts were really pitted. We got home after dark. The better half and dear daughter ended up doing the evening chores.

License plates seal the deal

I put in another ad for a Hamilton rear end for a Fordson. It has a bevel rear end instead of a worm gear but used Fordson transmission gears. This makes the tractor’s wheelbase 10 inches longer. It is claimed that one could pull a 3-bottom plow with this rear end as the worm sucked up that much power. I got one call on the ad — from Canada. The caller had an interesting Hamilton; it had a fourth gear and an internal PTO. He wanted to trade it for a certain size Case steam engine for his boiler. I told him I had nothing like that.

Some years before when I was at a Chickasha, Okla., swap meet, I had seen a Hamilton rear end on a somewhat homemade tractor in a fellow’s old car assortment. It had a 6-cylinder Buick engine and a transmission U-jointed to the clutch shaft of a Hamilton rear end. This fellow wanted to trade for old steam car parts that I did not have any hope of coming up with. He would not price it. I finally traded him three old license plates that I did not have much in but were probably worth more than I want to know.

Chasing old iron on the high plains

Wilford Ables, who lived west of Clay Center, Kan., was a neighbor of my daughter and son-in-law, Karen and Jim Unruh. He was going to Chickasha, so he hauled the rear end back to his place and my son-in-law brought it on to Iowa. I got a pair of fairway rear wheels, a pair of Moline cultivator rear wheel fenders and an extra Hercules engine for parts from Wilford.

Wilford was a super fellow. When I’d go to Kansas to see Karen and my other daughter (who lives in southwest Kansas) I always visited Wilford and Hess Salvage in Clay Center. He had been chasing old iron on the high plains and into Canada with his cohorts since the 1950s. One time I rode with Wilford and Eldon Myer, Miltonvale, Kan., to the Chickasha Swap Meet. Eldon said Wilford was spending cash he got for a vehicle. I was fascinated by his stories of chasing old iron. He had bought and sold so many unusual items. His favorite thing was to gather up a group of parts of something and lay them out like they might go. Then someone would come along, slobbering over the dream of what he thought he could put together out of the pile. Wilford said you had to pick the cherries when they were ripe!

Lesser of two evils

The Hamilton rear end was in good shape; all it needed was to be cleaned up. The engine was another story. The engine from Wisconsin was a Hercules O and the one from Wilford was an OX off a combine with a patch on the side of the block, but most of the parts would cross.

I decided to use the O from Wisconsin. It had two cracked cylinders that had to be bored and sleeved. It also had cracks up each end of the block that were peened. Jim Blakely, who worked at Arnold Motor Supply in Washington, Iowa, did that work. Every time I came in with one of my projects, he would rub his hands together, smile and say he was going to send his kids to Vassar. He had to sleeve two cylinders, bore the cylinders to fit the other engine’s pistons, pin and peen the cracks in the block, and grind down the main bearing caps as the babbitt in the block was worn down. I had to rework the oil pump and water pump, change the pistons, piston rods, crankshaft and camshaft around to get the best parts. I did luck out on the magneto. I put WD-40 on the impulse to loosen it and cleaned the points and it worked.

Gleaner and Moline

Larry Holmes, Kahoka, Mo., sold me a New Idea PTO that went in the belt pulley hole. It had a shaft that went to the rear of the tractor along the right side of the transmission. It had a crack in the casting where water had gotten in the gear case and froze. I cleaned up the case and took it to the welding shop in Washington owned by one of my cohorts, Paul Evans, who wants to know everything about your personal life. He had a heck of a time getting it brazed; grease kept cooking out of the poor-grade cast it was made of.

The Hercules engine attachment had a special casting that bolted to the front of the engine to hold the radiator and attach the front axle. It also had a 1/2-inch steel plate that went between the rear of the engine and the front of the transmission. I found an ugly old tractor air cleaner with a glass jar on the bottom to hang on the side of the tractor.

When I first put it together, I had a Fordson front axle with front truck wheels from a Gleaner combine. Early Gleaner pull combines used Fordson front wheels. Later Gleaners had their own wheels after Fordson went out of production, so the bearings are the same. Later I bought part of a Moline corn cultivator at the Yoder sale in Frytown, Iowa, so I could get the single front wheel and its bracket. I got that cleaned up, the linkages made and put it under the front end of the tractor. I got this all together without too much reaming out of holes. I had to make a long crank to go though the Moline front castings.

An ominous sound

When I started it up, it would only run on two cylinders and it had a ticking noise. Finally I took the pan off and was disgusted to find the ticking was something on the crankshaft fan pulley. The cause of the firing problem was when I changed the camshafts. It changed the firing order from 1-2-4-3 to 1-3-4-2, so it ran nicely after I changed two spark plug wires.

I came up with a Waukesha Ricardo head (supposedly high compression) that I installed. While you’re rounding up parts, it is best to keep an eye out for the bolts that you will need to put your project all together. It is best to find someone in your chase with a bucket full of bolts from a taken-apart Fordson.

Found a cellular core for the radiator but never got it installed. I suppose like most old radiators it would leak like a sieve. The only Fordson grey is on the rear axle housings, radiator, gas tank and dash. The other parts I painted colors of the manufacturers known. I ended up with a real different looking machine. Well, onto another project! FC

Richard Stout lives in Washington, Iowa. He is assisted in his writing endeavors by his long-suffering granddaughter, Ashley Stout.

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