Old Iron Gets New Lease on Life

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Left: Joe Molnar at the controls of his restored John Deere Model H tractor.
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Above: Tractor restoration has become a favorite hobby for Joe Molnar. Shown are past and future projects.
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Left: The John Deere Model A, partially restored.
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Below: Joe’s research indicates that this “Made in USA” sticker appeared only on the John Deere export tractors, like his Model H shown below.Below: Joe’s first restoration, the JD AR.
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Right: A 102 Massey-Harris once owned by Joe’s father, and rediscovered after a long search.

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.

The most striking thing about the Model H is its diminutive
size. With only 9.7 drawbar horsepower, it is remarkably small for
a prairie tractor. However, when Donna’s father first brought it
home, it probably seemed like a powerhouse. The first tractor the
family owned, it replaced a team of horses that had been used for
field work until then.

Ironically, Joe found this small machine to be his most
expensive restoration effort so far. “All those little, tiny parts
are very expensive,” he says. Finding John Deere parts posed no
difficulty: All Joe had to do was drive to his nearest John Deere
dealer and order what he needed. When he first walked into the farm
machinery dealer to order parts for a tractor long since out of
production, he presented a bit of a novelty. “I got a few strange
looks,” he says. Today, though, orders of old parts rarely cause a
stir.

After completing the Model H, Joe began thinking about the 1945
Massey-Harris 102 his father had purchased in 1954. With fond
memories of growing up with the tractor, he set out to find a
similar one for his next effort, as the original had long since
been traded away. But all the 102s that were being sold or
auctioned commanded prices higher than he was willing to pay. Then
a stroke of luck turned what seemed like a lost cause into a
remarkable find.

Joe was returning from an auction in yet another failed effort
to find an affordable 102 when he met one of his neighbors. When
the neighbor asked where he’d been, Joe explained. The neighbor had
good news. “He said, I’ve got one sitting in the bush,” Joe
recalls. “It’s been sitting there for probably 30 years.” So we
jumped in the truck and went and looked at it, and it was the one
we (previously) owned.”

After Joe’s father traded in the 102 on a larger Model 44 in
1964, the little 102 was purchased by the town of Kennedy and used
to collect household trash. Later, it disappeared. Joe didn’t see
it again until the day he found it in his neighbor’s bush. But it
wasn’t anywhere near complete. The motor, radiator and most of the
sheet metal were missing. And, what was left was firmly stuck in
place. Brush had grown up around it, holding it fast. Joe recalls
cutting trees with his chainsaw for about 20 minutes in order to
free up the tractor.

Until tackling the 102, Joe had little difficulty sourcing
parts. But the 102 was different. “That was an experience,” he
says. “With John Deere, if you need a part, you go get it. With
Massey-Harris, you get nothing.” It took lots of talking with
neighbors and visiting, he says, but word of mouth lead him to four
other 102s that he used as parts donors. In order to get a working
engine, he finally turned to a Model 34 Massey Ferguson
self-propelled swather. The swather’s motor was identical to the
one originally used in the 102. A new set of gaskets was installed
to eliminate leaks, and the motor was up and running.

The 102 isn’t the only gem Joe has found hiding in a bush. Three
years ago, another neighbor told him about an old tractor sitting
in the way of some bulldozing he was going to do. It turned out to
be a 1941 John Deere Model A. “I brought it home, and two hours
later it was running,” he says.

The Model A is partially restored now, and Joe continues to work
on it. Next, he wants to replace the rear axles. A cutting torch
had been used to cut off the ends of the axle shafts that extend
beyond the tires. Why would someone do that? “Maybe because it gets
you right in the knee when you walk past it,” Joe says with a
laugh. His goal is a high-quality, correct restoration on this
tractor. With each project, he says, “You get to know a few more
little tricks on doing things.” One of those tricks will focus on
the cast metal parts. Joe plans to sand and fill in the casting
imperfections before painting, creating a very smooth finish. When
the final coat of paint dries, the tractor will look more polished
than it did when it left the factory.

One final tractor sits in the Molnars’ yard: a 1929 John Deere
Model D. It looks great, but doesn’t run. Joe has been asked to
give it a fresh new appearance before it is set up as part of a
centennial anniversary display at the nearby town of Kennedy.

There are many other projects-in-waiting around the Molnar farm,
ranging from an original John Deere wagon to a Massey-Harris
cultivator. Based on the quality restoration work Joe has already
rolled out of his shop, the future of these old machines looks
bright indeed.

For more information, contact Joe Molnar at: (306)
538-4610.

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer specializing in
articles on antique farm machinery and agriculture. He and his
wife, Caron, live on a small farm in southeastern
Saskatchewan.

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