Farm Collector

Trash Into Treasure: A Graham-Bradley Tractor Restoration

A single additional Graham-Bradley tractor appeared at this year’s Old Threshers Reunion, along with the Hadley family’s four. It belongs to Joe and Bev DeVreize of Coal Valley, IL, and Joe says he thinks it’s a 1938.

He bought it as ‘a pile of junk’ in November 1998 at a Reynolds, IL, sale, and he and Bev tackled the tractor restoration themselves.

As a youth, Joe says, he was attracted to the Graham-Bradleys’ streamlined look, and their speed. ‘I was about 14 years old and a guy had a brand new one. It was a ’38. He did a lot of custom work with a threshing machine. I helped another fellow, but I can remember that guy threshing. I’d also go down to Moline (IL) to the Sears store and see the new Graham-Bradleys in the parking lot. I thought they were neat. That tractor was ahead of its time.’

He says the official top speed was about 22 mph, ‘but depending on the size of the rear tires, the tractor would go as fast as 30 to 35 in road gear. I’ve never checked this one; it goes fast enough for me.’

He and Bev had to tear the whole back end out of theirs. Joe did the engine work and had a professional mechanic review what he’d done. About the time they brought the engine back home, Joe got sick and had to have five bypasses.

While recovering, ‘he wanted to go out to that tractor again,’ Bev says, so as soon as they dared, they were back out there, Bev handling tools and Joe providing the instructions.

Mostly, he says, you can’t buy parts for these tractors today, so a lot of pieces had to be made. The side panels on their tractor were missing, for example, so they had new ones manufactured by Art May in York, PA. They also discovered a shop in Moline that had a book that identified what the original clutch and brake lining should be — and that also had those parts in stock.

Eventually, Bev says, they got the tractor back together again, but then it wouldn’t start. Undaunted, she asked a neighbor to pull the tractor for her while she gently popped the clutch — and the tractor started right up. It was Oct. 27, 1999, Bev says. The look on Joe’s face was incredible. ‘He’d only been home two weeks. I was crying. He said, ‘How’d you do that?’ And I answered, ‘I did what my father always told me.’

‘Then I told the neighbor, ‘I’m not supposed to do this, but I’m going to help him up on that tractor’,’ and she did. Joe drove the Graham-Bradley for the first time, up and down the lane, and Bev says today, ‘That was the best therapy he could have gotten.’

A neighbor who paints tractors professionally took care of that aspect of the restoration for them, and Bev says now, when they take the tractor to shows, it really draws the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs.’ FC

  • Published on Dec 1, 2002
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