Discarded decades ago in the woods northeast of North Adams, Mich., the 1919 Allis-Chalmers Model 6-12 General Purpose tractor was just something for little boys to play on. But last year, the old tractor shone like new again when members of the Center Adams Power and Equipment Club drove the smartly restored tractor in the North Adams Heritage Days Parade.
Club member Bernal Tolan, Hillsdale, Mich., had known about the tractor for 20 years. The tractor had a face only a mother could love. "It looked like a piece of junk to me and everyone else," he recalls, describing the 6-12. But in 2002, he finally convinced the landowner to part with it. After Bernal's relatives and neighbors hauled the unidentified skeleton out of the woods, they called another club member, Dave Boardman, Osseo, Mich. He brought by an Allis-Chalmers book and identified the tractor as a 6-12. Club members decided to make it a project, and the work began. This time it was big boys playing on the tractor.
Virtually every part of the tractor cried out for restoration. Everything that wasn't missing or rotten was frozen. "The wheels and steering wheel would not turn," Dave recalls. "None of the levers would move. The bottoms of the wheels were rotted off. There was no sulky, radiator, governor, carburetor or gas tank cap."
Brothers Jim and Dick Anspaugh pulled the front wheel and axle assembly out of the housing. They built a fire inside a hollow log and set the wheels over it. Once it was hot enough, they used a sledgehammer to drive the axles out of the wheels.
The front wheels were the most perplexing part of the project. New bushings and pins were built for the drive axle. But after putting the axles and wheels on the tractor, the drive sprocket wasn't true. The crew then took out a section of the drive sprocket and drilled the holes larger where the sprocket mounted on the wheels. This enabled the drive sprocket to slide back, and stopped the wheel from binding on the axle as it turned.
The 6-12 had grease cups instead of grease zerks for oil and grease points, but they were rotted off. Dave tapped out the holes where the grease cups went in, and used pipe to make new standpipes. Using a valve stem from a portable air tank, Dave filled the standpipes with WD-40, then forced it through with air pressure. After a week or so, it started moving.
Replacement parts for the 1919 relic are not available, so club members became resourceful in restoring the 6-12. The men bought a round tube the right size to go back to the sulky, and machined it to fit where it went into the tractor frame at the front. Dave and the two brothers scrounged around their farms for more parts. For the rear of the 6-12, they used an axle and wheels from an old silage blower. Dave pulled the seat spring off an old dump rake, and using scrap iron Dick had on hand, they welded it together to make a new sulky.
Other restorers offered advice, and leads on parts. "Two collectors had 6-12s at the first show after we got this one," Dave says. "One of them gave us a lot of tips. He had two original old stock pistons, rods, bearings and rings for a 6-12, so the club bought them. He also found us a used governor and magneto. He was the key to all our parts."
The 6-12 had a LeRoi 2-C engine in it. A club member bought a 4-cylinder LeRoi engine, and the carburetor and governor drive gear were recycled for the end of the camshaft. From a John Deere dealer, the restoration crew got a NOS clutch plate originally used on an older John Deere baler. A machine shop bored out one of the cylinders and sleeved it. The magneto was sent out for repair and came back ready to use and with all the brass polished.
The crew used an unstyled Allis-Chalmers WC radiator predating 1939. Since those radiators did not have sheet metal around the radiator tanks, the restoration crew chose a professional to form the hood and box in the radiator. They had the bottom of the radiator tank extended to match the height of the gas tank, and then brought the hood across.
Both steel wheels were completely re-wrapped. "They rolled the metal for us, so it was a radius to start with, not flat stock," Dave says. "Dick Anspaugh made up some new spokes and welded them in because they were rotted off from sitting in the ground for so many years."
The crew sandblasted and primed the 6-12, and then showed the tractor at the 2004 Hillsdale (Mich.) County Fair. After determining the correct paint colors, they finished the job and the tractor made its official parade debut. It was an instant favorite, receiving Best of Show and People's Choice awards at the North Adams Heritage Days parade.
The club displayed the restored 6-12 for the first time at the Kruse Car Auction Museum in Auburn, Ind. A unique quirk of the tractor caused a few anxious moments. "When the 6-12 is turned tight one way, it's very hard to use the clutch," Dave says. "They were inside the building, trying to park it, and the operator could not get the tractor stopped. Another club member tripped the mag to shut it off. Since then, we've added a kill switch accessible from the driver's seat."
The club made sure the 6-12 would be a welcome show and parade entry by modifying the tractor's original steel lugs. Members of the restoration crew tracked down U.S. Army surplus track vehicle rubber pads. Another member cut the pads in two, re-fabricated them and bolted them onto the wheels for lugs, protecting asphalt and other soft surfaces. Such efforts were typical of the friendly collaboration the project inspired.
Two club members, for instance, remembered that their father once owned a 6-12. Spurred by nostalgia, brothers Don Verdon and Marvin Verdon spent two Christmas holidays in Dave's shed, excitedly working on the project. That kind of involvement became routine, Dave says. "Most everybody donated time and parts," he notes. "I don't believe the club has $1,200 in that tractor."
The group project quickly proved the truth of strength in numbers. Members of the restoration crew took photos and movies of similar tractors at other shows to use as a resource. A friend of a friend shot photos of his tractor's carburetor, throttle and governor linkages and emailed them to Dave. Connections like those, he says, make the difference when chasing parts and information. "Go to shows and get acquainted with people," he says. "The magazines are a big help, too. It just takes a lot of time and looking. And if the part you find isn't exactly what you need, you can usually adapt it to work."
And don't get discouraged. "There is not a tractor out there that is in too bad a shape to be brought back to life," he says, "if you have the determination."
For more information:
- Dave Boardman, 8620 Culbert Road, Osseo, MI 49266; (517) 523-2273.
- The Allis-Chalmers Story, by C.H. Wendel, Crestline Publishing; Allis-Chalmers Farm Equipment 1914-1985, by Norm Swinford, published by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers.
Joyce E. McLain is a freelance writer from Michigan. Her work has been published in Farmland News, Farmers' Advance, Farm and Ranch and Rural Heritage Magazine.