Farm Collector

Top of the Class

South Carolina Teen tackles Farmall Cub restoration for senior project

High school seniors keep an eye on the checklist as they inch toward graduation. Take college entrance exams … schedule senior pictures … order cap and gown … but  Andrew Spivey’s to-do list included a less-traditional task: Restore antique tractor

At the Greenville technical school, every senior is required to complete a senior project, a year-long study devoted to a topic of the student’s choice.

Each student conducts research to answer a question and produces a tangible product representing what he has learned. Throughout the project, the student keeps a portfolio of journals, photos and relevant documentation. Selecting a project topic was the first challenge.

One day, Andrew noticed an old Ferguson for sale on the side of the road. ‘The thought hit me like a sack of bricks,’ he recalls. ‘I absolutely have to do something with tractors! How neat would that be?!?’ He based his research on the question ‘What goes into restoring an antique tractor?’

Although Andrew grew up around tractors on the farm, he had never restored one. In fact, he had never done any wrenching on that scale. ‘I had a strong desire to work on a tractor,’ he admits. ‘But everyone told me I’d be in over my head … that there was no way I could restore a tractor in a school year without a skilled background in mechanics.’ In the end, that advice took the form of a challenge, and his determination was fueled.

As with many life challenges, this one delivered in ways Andrew never could have imagined. He made friends with Cub enthusiasts all over North America, gained confidence in his ability to solve problems and cemented a relationship with his dad. But we get ahead of ourselves. The story begins with a barely running vintage Cub.

A Cub even mom couldn’t love

Andrew talked his dad into underwriting the project financially and the two began searching for a likely tractor to restore. The answer came in nearby Anderson, S.C., where they found a Cub complete with implements. The tractor would run, and came with belly mower, sickle mower, discs, grader blade and a 1-bottom plow. Father and son returned home triumphant, but the lady of the house saw things differently.

‘Momma didn’t think much of it,’ Andrew notes.

It was early September. Over the next several months, Andrew set to work disassembling and cleaning. ‘An old greasy piece of machinery doesn’t look like it’d take much work to clean until you get down on your knees and try scrubbing it some,’ he says.

Journal: Sept. 4, 2006
‘The biggest accomplishment of the week was that I found a tractor I liked and I purchased it. It is an old Farmall Cub. The owner suspects it’s a 1949 model, but I will have to double check as soon as I go back to pick it up.

‘The biggest problem right now is the engine has almost no compression. I suspect the valves are stuck open, but I do not know for sure. Hopefully, they are; that would be the easiest to fix. Aside from that, the tractor is in relatively good shape. Of course, it has its fair share of ‘battle scars,’ but it doesn’t look like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

‘This week I learned a lot about the Cub’s hitch mechanisms as well as a little about the engine’s startingpieces. This week has been one of the happiest times I can remember: I was overwhelmed when my dad agreed on a price with the owner and they shook hands. I cannot wait to begin tinkering with this machine.’

‘I get by with a little help from my friends …’

Each senior worked with a local ‘mentor’: Andrew’s was neighbor Michael Mabry, who was working on a Cub restoration at the same time Andrew tackled his project. The two swapped notes and bounced ideas off each other. What Andrew hadn’t counted on, though, was stumbling onto a broad network of Cub collectors via the Internet.

Journal: Sept. 6, 2006
‘This week I’ve made friends with a gentleman in Canada, Rudi Saueracker, who has owned several Farmall Cubs himself. He created a website that has been a great source of information for me. I’ve e-mailed him a couple of times asking some questions and thanking him for his website, and he’s responded by saying how happy he is for me and that he was helping a young man he didn’t even know. I’ve gotten a lot of research under my belt this week thanks to Rudi, and his site will be a great help in the weeks to come.’

Journal: Oct. 15, 2006
‘This week I had a great time talking with the guys on the Cub forum ( Rudi said that the guys on that forum were the best in the world, and he wasn’t joking. They have been very kind to me, taking me in like one of their own. This whole project has allowed me to meet so many new people, and it’s just been such a pleasurable experience to meet other enthusiasts who smile at the younger generations moving up in knowledge and skill.’

At the forum, Andrew quickly found himself part of a community, one that offered advice and encouragement as well as resources. In January he found a kindred spirit in Ralph Napier, Florence, Ky., who helped supply parts and guidance. And Rick Neuman, New Knoxville, Ohio, a new convert to Cubs, shared Andrew’s enthusiasm for the little tractor via internet chats.

Before long, Andrew installed software that allowed free calls over the Internet and donned a headset microphone: Then the tutorials really took off. ‘We could talk hands-free with our headset mics while we flipped through books and web pages to help answer each other’s questions,’ Andrew says. It wasn’t all work. ‘Sometimes we’d just shoot the breeze.’

Journal: Dec. 3, 2006
 ‘This week was a cool experience for me. I was able to talk more with my friends Rudi and Rick. They gave me some advice and opinions when it comes time to do a little painting. They also filled me in as to how the Christmas card circle works. I signed up for it not knowing completely what it was, but I’m good to go now! I thought it was really neat how these guys are so much like family. I don’t know of any other online forum that mails around Christmas cards; it was just really cool to see that there are still some good people out there.’

In the trenches

Beginning in September, Andrew tackled his project in a manner familiar to any restorer. He tore the tractor apart, fixed what was broken, found replacements for what couldn’t be fixed and cleaned everything. Removing the fan drive pulley from the crankshaft was a struggle, a braze on the differential housing gave him fits and parts were sourced from all over the country.

Journal: Jan. 7, 2007
‘The only problem I discovered this week was that the braze on the final drive housing went all the way around the seam. I was worried as to what might be lying underneath the housing. I listened to suggestions from Michael and Ralph about removing the braze. I have ground through all but a small piece only because night was falling and my lighting was not sufficient. After removing some of the braze, it looks as though the differential housing may also be damaged. If so, it might need to be replaced which can add significantly to the costs …’

Late winter found Andrew working in the garage every night after school, cleaning parts and pieces. In March, he began priming and painting. ‘I was tickled pink to see this old thing start to look like a tractor again!’ he says. As he raced to meet his March 26 deadline, he began to stew over every restorer’s question: Will it run?

With reassembly complete except for the hood, Andrew put a small lawn mower gas tank on the tractor to see if it would fire. ‘I battled with it for two or three days before I narrowed the problem down to the carb,’ Andrew says. ‘It turned out my carb was warped, so the float that didn’t float well in the first place was rubbing the bowl.’

Andrew borrowed a carburetor from Michael. ‘Sure enough, the Cub started up for the first time in decades on March 22, 2007 at about 8:45 p.m. EST,’ he says. ‘I was so proud. I was like a daddy that witnessed the birth of his child!’

A Learning Experience

A year after starting his project, Andrew is a freshman at the University of South Carolina, studying computer science. But memories of his senior project – and the countless positive outcomes that resulted – remain clear in his mind. ‘I have learned so much and met hundreds of the finest people you could ever meet,’ he says. ‘But what means the most to me on this project was all the time I spent with my dad and the new people I’ve met. Dad and I do a lot together, but when it comes to the garage I’m usually the one handing him tools and watching him work. This time, the roles were reversed! … And to top it all off, I also have an essentially brand-new tractor!’

Today, Andrew looks at the project more as a beginning than an end. ‘One day I hope to restore old tractors and trucks on the family farm,’ he says. ‘Actually, this restoration is more of a journey than a story,’ he notes in an essay he wrote at the end of the school year. ‘A story has an end, but this journey won’t end when I graduate school, or (end) with me when I pass on. When they chuck me in the clay years from now, my son, nephew, grandson or maybe even great-grandson will pull the Cub out of the barn and say, ‘Wow! What a neat old thing!’ Then they will take it and restore it just as I have done.’  FC

For more information, contact Andrew Spivey, (864) 967-8361; e-mail:

  • Published on Nov 1, 2007
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