The gleaming tractor restorations we see at farm shows and tractor pulls usually have humble origins.
Old tractors are fun! They pass by in parades all bright and shiny, their owners obviously proud. They roar down the track in antique tractor pulls, displaying far more power than they had when they were brand new. They sit in rows at shows and festivals, waiting to be inspected and enjoyed by people of all ages.
But did you ever wonder where these old tractors come from? Many are 50 to 70 years old. How could they look so good after all those years?
My job as a custom applicator takes me down lots of back roads in a four-county area. Several years ago, I spotted some old tractors scattered across a cattle lot. I contacted the owner, but he wasn't interested in selling. I kept his phone number tucked away in my wallet, and last winter I tried contacting him again. He had passed away, but his widow informed me that she would "love to get rid of all that junk."
We agreed on a price for five and one-half tractors, a mounted corn picker and a set of steel wheels. She told me the tractors had been sitting there for more than 20 years, so it wouldn't hurt anything if I didn't move them immediately. That suited me fine, since this was strictly a weekend project.
My next step was to call my son, Greg, who helps me with old tractors. I asked him if he wanted a half-interest in more old junk. As I fully expected, he did.
When fertilizer season started winding down and I had a little time for myself, I moved my Minneapolis-Moline 670 Super to the owner's farm so it would be there when we needed it. Our shop at work was put to good use during noon hours, as my co-worker, Steve Crowley, welded tongue irons on each end of a 12-foot piece of 2-inch pipe to use as a push pole, and rebuilt my boom pole, which had suffered damage in an earlier incident. Things were starting to come together.
After Greg and I decided on the weekend when we wanted to begin work, I talked to long-time friend and neighbor Bill Blackwell, who allowed that he was always up to a challenge. On the following Saturday morning, he dragged his trailer 35 miles and met Greg, my grandson, Clint, and me at the cattle lot.
I realize that the proper way to tackle a project like this would be with a big tractor and front end loader, but since I don't own a big tractor and front end loader, we made do with what was available. We decided to ease into things, so we started with an Allis-Chalmers WC. Besides being the smallest tractor in the bunch, it was also sitting on the most level ground. We dug around the wheels, lifted it free with the 670 and boom pole, and then hitched on to pull it into loading position. It sure seemed to pull hard with both rear wheels sliding. We checked the brakes, but they weren't stuck, so we pulled the top off the transmission and quickly spotted the problem. The gears were rusted to the shaft. To our amazement, with the help of penetrating oil, a hammer, punch and appropriate language, we managed to get the transmission into neutral.
After moving the WC into position, we found the push pole worked fairly well for loading, but both tractors and the trailer had to be lined up perfectly straight because any side push tended to shove the rear wheels off the ramps and force the front of the tractor towards the side of the trailer. This wasn't really a problem for me, since I was driving the push tractor, but it seemed to make Greg a bit nervous. We got the WC loaded and boomed down, and then picked up the half-tractor with the boom pole and backed a trailer under it. That pretty much used up Day One.
The next day we got one Moline Model U loaded without incident, dragged another Model U off a steep bank without turning it over and dug a Case Model DC out of the dirt. The brakes were stuck on the Moline, and we found that the wheels on the Case were set so wide that it wouldn't fit on the trailer. The next weekend, we used lots of oxygen and acetylene, and Clint lost quite a bit of knuckle-hide, but we finally got the brakes and axle clamps freed. By Sunday afternoon we got two more tractors home.
Before we could return for the Case DC with mounted picker, my 97-year-old mother passed away. Old tractors didn't seem quite so important for a while. Not long after that I went to the hospital for a knee replacement, so we still have some work to do when we get back to it. For now, we have four and one-half tractors sitting at my place, and at least three are worthy candidates for full restoration. We might do one ourselves, or we might not do any of them, but at least the three will eventually be restored by someone.
The next time you find yourself wondering where these old tractors come from, rest assured that not all of them have been sitting in dry, heated buildings all these years. They come from cattle lots, fencerows, ditches and woods. And each one of them costs lots more in time, money and knuckle-hide than it will ever be worth. But we love them and wouldn't have it any other way. FC
Alan Easley lives in Columbia, Mo., where he raises cattle, works for a large farm supply dealer, restores and pulls antique tractors. Contact him at (573) 442-0678.