Tractor Restoration Basics

Patience is a virtue when taking on a tractor restoration


| October 1998



Farmalls on display at the Kansas and Oklahoma Steam and Gas Engine Show

For the novice restorer, years may elapse before a project comes out as perfect as these Farmalls, on display at the Kansas and Oklahoma Steam and Gas Engine Show in Winfield, Kan., in August

Photo by G. Wayne Walker Jr.

If you're getting older, you've probably had to slow down a bit. If anything major's gone out or needs replacing, modern medicine can usually handle it. The same is true with old tractors and tractor restoration. In both cases, having a caring "doctor" certainly helps.

Larry Meservey, a Trenton, Mo. collector/restorer of antique tractors and equipment, is a classic example of that. Often aided by his sons, Norman and Don, Larry has brought several tractors back to "new" condition, including one – a 1921 kerosene-powered, chain-driven International 8-16 – that won top honors at the state fair.

"That tractor has a four-cylinder engine (serial number IC 8385)," said Larry, who is the president of the national IH Collectors Association. "The engine was also used in International trucks back then. The 8-16 designation means drawbar and belt horsepower ratings. The fan and radiator are at the rear of the engine, and the hot air is blown back over the driver."

Larry, who bought the completely disassembled tractor in southeastern Minnesota, began restorating the tractor in 1990. Some parts were unusable, or too far gone to restore, so he bought an air cleaner at a Kansas City estate sale, and a rear axle with brakes at an Illinois sale. The only reproduction parts used were fenders purchased by the previous owner. Larry also had a new radiator core made and assembled at a local repair shop.

"Some time in the past, the engine block had cracked, probably because water had frozen in it," Larry said. "It had been welded, but was very rough. I ground the welds off and everything looked fine, but after assembly and painting, it leaked very badly. That created a lot of extra work, of course."

Father and sons tore down and cleaned the motor and transmission. They found the bearings and seals to be very good, so the same parts were reassembled. Then all of the tractor's parts were sandblasted and given a coat of primer and a coat of paint (two more coats would be applied after assembly). Finally, the finishing touches were stencilled on. It was a fairly typical restoration, one where experience helped keep hassles to minimum. The surest way to prevent restoration headaches? Identify potential problems with a tractor before purchase. Also, as you look at problem areas, consider your own skills in parts fabrication and re-fab, the availability of resources and services, and your budget. Decide how far you want to go, and think hard about your goal. An investment in parts and restoration services is only rarely recouped at resale. Plan to keep your tractor for use, shows, parades or just general enjoyment.