Old Iron Gets New Lease on Life

Canadian collector relishes family ties in restored tractors

| May 2005

To say Joe Molnar's favorite color is green is an understatement. Bookshelves in his home are filled with scale models of various John Deere tractors showing the evolution from steel-wheeled to modern four-wheel drive, articulated models. Intermingled with them are the 10 awards Joe has won when showing his restored, full-size machines.

Joe and his wife, Donna, live on an 850-acre farm near Kennedy, Saskatchewan, Canada. It's the farm Joe grew up on. Like the farm, most of the tractors he has restored have a family connection. "It sort of all started by accident," Joe says. "The 1951 John Deere AR my dad bought new. It was getting to be sad looking and it needed a paint job." Joe decided to spruce it up as a winter project. It was a working tractor, still used for a variety of jobs around the farm. Until 1964 it had been the primary power unit on Joe's dad's 640-acre farm, but the years of hard work were starting to show.

Joe's son, Brian, had just finished school and was helping work on the AR. He suggested if they were going to go to the trouble to restore the tractor, it should be done right. "So, we tore it all to pieces," Joe recalls, "cleaned it and painted it." Joe was so happy with the results that he moved on to another project.

But that wasn't the end of the story for the AR. After completing work on it, Joe began showing the piece in regional antique machinery events. It started winning awards … a trend that has continued with all three of the fully restored tractors Joe now owns. Perhaps because it was the Molnars' first full restoration project, the AR seems to have a special place in the family. When Brian was married in a nearby city, the AR was taken there to be present in the wedding photographs.

Next up for restoration was a 1945 John Deere H Donna's father had farmed with. "He bought it used in 1959," Joe says. It had been unused for about 20 years. Fortunately, the engine hadn't seized. Although Joe had the restoration of one John Deere under his belt, the Model H project required research to make sure the end result was historically correct. "You still have to look in books," he says, "and you have to get service manuals for all of them." Joe located all the manuals he needed from a specialty printer in the U.S.

The Model H was completed in much less time than the AR. "But it became a job," Joe says of the hectic work schedule he'd set. "It took me probably four months, every night, for five or six hours a night." Lesson learned. Since then, Joe keeps to a comfortable pace on his projects.