Rt. 1, Box 373, Mt. Crawford, Virginia 22841
I got this Russell/Fordson motor grader, serial number 229, and
the snake, one hundred miles from my home. I came across this
machine while walking through a woods in May. I stopped and took a
long look and thought, 'What a piece of junk!' Lying under
this machine was a large black snake, so I didn't get too
close. For as long as I can remember, I never liked those long
critters. This was my first visit to this farm and we were house
sitting with our grandchildren.
About a year passed by, and I was told that the farm would be
sold and if I wanted the grader I could have it. I said, 'No
way would I want that piece of junk!' However, I would walk out
there and take another look. Guess what! There was that black
snake! Later we returned the one hundred miles home.
Several days later a Mr. Benson came by my machine shop for some
repairs on one of his F20 Farmall tractors that he collects. I knew
he would be interested in the old grader as he has other machines
he plays with in tractor pulls. I offered the grader to him. He
told me he was not interested and that I should take it for myself.
I said to him, 'You must think I am nuts to haul that thing 100
miles up here.' A couple of days went by and Mr. Benson called
to say he thought he had a way I could get that machine to the
valley for maybe nothing. He had just bought a John Deere H for a
Mr. Smith, a tractor collector who lived only ten miles from where
the grader was located, and that he was coming here with a trailer
that would haul five tons. He gave me Mr. Smith's phone number,
and I don't know why I called, but I did. I told him of the
grader. He said he would be glad to look at the machine to see if
he could haul it. I got into my car the next Sunday, picked up Mr.
Smith at his home ten miles from the grader, and went to see the
machine. We saw the grader together, and there was that black
snake! The snake felt our presence and crawled into the bottom
rusted-out gas tank. Mr. Smith said, 'He has a home in
there.' I offered the snake and grader to him. He said no, but
he would be glad to bring it to the Shenandoah Valley for me when
farming allowed some playing time to pick up his tractor.
A week or so went by and I received a phone call from Mr. Smith.
The grader was on his trailer and he was coming today. He had
picked it up two days earlier and parked it by his house. He asked
for the best way to come to my place. I told him to come west on
1-64 and north on 1-81, exit 235 east, plus some Rockingham County
roads. True to his word, here coming into my drive was the grader.
We unloaded the machine. Coming up the interstate highway Mr. Smith
said he heard this car honking its horn and the people were
pointing to this black snake up on the steering wheel of the
grader. He said this happened many more times and that the last
time he saw the snake was back about 20 miles and the snake was
hanging down over the edge of the trailer. He guessed he finally
fell off. We continued to talk tractors and other good stuff for
some time. Then we noticed the snake coming out of the gas tank!
He's dead now, after a 100-mile trip. He measured out at six
feet, six inches in length. I paid Mr. Smith and thanked him and he
went to get his John Deere H tractor.
A couple of days went by and Mr. Benson showed up with some of
his friends. They were quite amused and asked, 'How long is it
going to take you to get it running?' I told them I had no
intention of getting it running, and if I did, it probably would be
ten years or so. One of the men said he didn't believe that I
could get it running. Word of mouth travels fast around here and
others began to come see the Russell/Ford-son powered motor grader.
One 85 year old gentleman said he used to work on those graders
when he worked with the highway department before 1930. He said,
'Never could get them Fordsons running before noon and, by the
looks of the missing parts, you may not ever get it running.'
Well now, that stirred a little challenge. I have never worked'
on a Fordson tractor motor but figured that it couldn't be that
hard a task. Some people gave more encouragement saying,
'Y'all get it going.' Then my children, grandchildren,
brothers and sisters got after me to get started. I thought well,
I started on it about June 15th. Totally missing were the
ignition system, carburetor, bottom half of the gas tank and a bad
leaking radiator. There wasn't a governor, and the only thing
salvageable on the outside was the manifold. The spark plugs had
long ago rusted completely out and were consumed by water. The
motor head was removed and water had filled the cylinders, froze in
the winter and cracked the cylinder walls. It took a week to free
the pistons. After this I took the motor out and into my shop and
onto my horizontal mill, bored out the cylinder holes, purchased
dry sleeves and pressed them into the bored holes. Then rebred the
sleeves to fit the salvaged pistons.
By the way, I found out where those horseshoe magnets came from
that I used to play with when I was a younger man in the '30s.
When I played in my dad's blacksmith shop, he didn't tell
me they were attached to the flywheel and that's where the
power came from for the coil ignition system.
A few years ago, my wife Betty and I started attending gas
engine shows, so I know where to obtain some parts if needed. I
didn't try to keep anything original in order to get the motor
running. I got a governor in Canandaigua, New York, a carburetor in
Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, a magneto in Kinzers, Pennsylvania, a Fordson
tractor book in Denton, North Carolina, and other things in
Virginia shows. When I had every system installed and about 200
hours labor into it, I cranked it up on September 15th and drove it
around the place. Those doubters were now believers. Maybe
that's when the old iron hit me, or maybe it was there from my
childhood and just needed to be forced out into the open again.
Since then I have obtained several older tractors, hit and miss
motors and many air cooled motors, plus many other pieces of good
stuff. I help lots of other tractor men get their old stuff going.
Some have found me by way of word of mouth. I make parts for the
serious tractor pullers on the national circuit.
I was born in 1930 on a farm at home and live within a mile of
where my roots in this country were homesteaded in 1742. I left the
farm in 1950 when I married Betty and by 1954 had two sons and a
daughter. Into industry, I quickly found out that more education
would be necessary and so back into night schools for many, many
years studying all engineering fields. I am retired from industry
now, but I covered a lot of responsibility over the years being in
charge of manufacturing, engineering, safety and quality, plus I
traveled on business through 43 of the 50 busiest airports in the
The Russell/Fordson motor grader sits in our front yard by the
road now for all to see and enjoy. I work in my shop, travel, and
enjoy sitting on the front porch looking out over the Shenandoah
River at the Blue Ridge Mountains some five miles away. Betty and I
will be attending many gas engine shows throughout the country this
year. Hope to see you at a gas engine show!