While a seventh grader in Marion, Iowa, Cameron Luedtke built his own tractor. That wasn't what he called his 4-H project, nor how he thought about it at the time. But as it turned out, that's what he did.
"My father (Kurt Luedtke) bought this tractor at an auction in 1996," says Cameron, now 19. "He was going to restore it, but never got around to it because he got too busy. He took it apart and put it in a box, but that was as far as it got."
In 2002, Cameron figured he might be able to restore the farm tractor as a 4-H project. "That's how I got started on it," he says. And that's when the learning process began.
Cameron's grandpa Willis Lillie restores tractors, so together they pulled the tractor parts out of the barn. It didn't take the pair long to discover that they didn't know what kind of tractor it was. "The parts were similar to the B.F. Avery tractor, and overall it looked something like that too," Cameron says, "but when we started looking at the fine details, we saw some parts were different."
Grandpa came to the rescue, digging up a calendar showing a tractor manufactured by Cleveland Tractor Company (Ohio) called the General GG 10-19. "We noticed some parts on our tractor were different from parts on the B.F. Avery," Cameron says, "including the grille, which was the same as the grille on the General tractor in the calendar."
Another part of the learning curve for Cameron was figuring out which parts were missing, which were unusable and which were usable. The inventory came out this way, he says: front and rear tires were rotted, clutch and motor parts were missing, and the piston rings, generator bearing, gaskets, wiring harness, clutch, hoses, decals and back rims were either suspect or unusable.
To complicate matters, Cameron and his granddad discovered the tractor frame had been cut and shortened. "I couldn't tell you then why it was done and I couldn't tell you now," he says. "It must have been too long." So a new frame was required.
On the plus ledger, most of the sheet metal was all right, with the grille, hood, fender and gas tank looking good, and the steering wheel was usable. But everything needed work. "Using an angle-grinder and wire brush," he recalls, "I had to clean all those metal parts up and get them ready for painting."
At a junkyard Cameron found a piece anyone else would have simply called "old iron." To him and his granddad, it was a thing of beauty: a B.F. Avery - probably an Avery Model A - that looked very much like their General tractor. From their new donor tractor, they took the frame and a variety of other parts that appeared identical to those on the General, and most bolted right on.
Putting the parts on proved to be a challenging learning experience, Cameron says. "We had to figure out where parts went, and when we weren't sure, we had to try by word of mouth to figure it out from someone else. We had no clue what color to paint it. The calendar picture helped us some. But we really didn't have any booklet or instructions or anything like that to figure out what goes where. We really could use a lot of the Avery parts, but some things we had to push around a little bit to get them to fit."
Cameron worked on his tractor after school and during extended school breaks. "It was usually cold enough that I wanted to be inside, and could work on it in a little heated bay, sometimes for the entire week," he says. "Good thing I wasn't older and had a job where I had to start thinking, 'Oops, what did I get into here?' I had time on my hands and didn't need to be done with the project anytime soon, although as a 4-H project, I did need to get it done in time for the county fair."
The most difficult part of the tractor restoration, he says, was the lack of knowledge about the tractor. "We knew it had been made by Cleveland Tractor Company in 1942 and 1943 (some references say 1939-1942)," he says. "We kind of forgot what parts went where because it had been taken apart and sat for so long, so that was a real learning process."
Finding parts was another challenge. "Two pieces of sheet metal that come out from the grille had rusted out, so we had to have these unique pieces of sheet metal made and bent," Cameron explains. "We had the engine rebuilt too."
Cameron's mother underwrote the project. "That's how I got the parts I needed and I did all the work on it," Cameron says. "Plus, I'm the one who uses the tractor now for hauling stuff. We have a small wagon we haul around. We could use it to haul big stuff, but we don't really want to take a chance. Sometimes we just use it in parades, or take it to shows."
Cameron's General GG tractor was chosen to go to the Iowa State Fair, where it was displayed outside the 4-H building. "There were about 15 tractors there that year," he says, "some that had run and just needed the rust scraped off and repainted, and others that required more work. For the General, though, we found it in parts in a box, and had to figure out how to set it together, so it was a big old overhaul that wasn't easy."
People who see the tractor are surprised to learn Cameron was only 13 when he restored the General. They're also curious about the General because it's a unique tractor. "I've only seen two others," he says. "You usually don't find yellow tractors unless they're Caterpillars, so people are pretty curious about what this is. When you compare the ones I've seen with ours, you see a few minor differences, where the battery is located, things like that, but it's the kind of thing nobody knows, because there aren't good pictures to go from."
The General was a big project for Cameron, but he had some idea of what he was getting into. "I had watched Grandpa restore tractors, so it wasn't completely foreign to me," he says. "And I wasn't just turned loose. I was directed in what I should do, what should be the next step, what goes where."
Cameron started on the General in January 2002 and finished it in July, in time for the county fair. His least favorite part of the project? "Wire-brushing all that metal," he says. "It was a lot of work and there was a lot of dust."
On the other hand, he really enjoyed figuring out where parts had to go and putting it back together. "Through working on the General, I got a feel of how any kind of motor works," he says. "When I finished the project, I had the feeling I'd really accomplished something. Now it's all over with, and I'm kind of proud of what I've got, so I can go and show it off, because I worked really hard on it. Despite all the hassles, it was still a lot of fun."
For more information: Cameron Luedtke, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 56569; e-mail: email@example.com.