I had just finished my antique Craftsman lawn tractor, which took first place in the Turner parade and second place at the county fair, when I decided I wanted to restore a David Bradley walk-behind tractor. I had bought a box of old Gas Engine Magazines and a David Bradley tractor inside took my eyes, and didn't let go. I had to have one.
I decided to put an advertisement in the local paper, and within two days a man called and said he had one that had been sitting in his shed. My Grandpa, who is the best storyteller in the world, has always told me stories about tractors and farming. He went the 50 miles with me to pick up the 1946 David Bradley, Model 917-5751, Series 126.
When I got home, I noticed all that was wrong with it. The hood was rusted so bad it was pitted and one of the grille bars was missing. I spent about 50 hours working on the engine, but I wasn't too disappointed when I couldn't get it running, because it wasn't original.
The first thing I did was pull the hood off and take it to school to restore. I started by sanding and using paint thinner to cut the old paint. It made a mess, but took off most of the paint. I painted it with rust converter and over the next three weeks applied body filler to all the dents and pits, and sanded until it was really smooth. I painted the letters gold then took grease and covered them so when I painted it red, the letters would stay gold. That's a trick I learned from my dad.
I pulled the wheels off because one of them was rusted pretty bad. Except for the gas tank, the tractor was completely disassembled and it was time to sand, repair and paint. Without a shop to work in, winter weather in Oregon can be uncooperative. Luckily the weather was nice and my David Bradley was sitting on a fender set up off of an old riding lawnmower. Am I a hillbilly or what? Later I got some jack stands from my dad, which worked much better.
I took the gas tank and bracket into the shop so I could repair them. I sprayed them with paint thinner and to my amazement the paint came off like hot butter. The tank was beautiful, except for a minor rust spot and the sediment bowl setup. Luckily, I had an extra sediment bowl off an old Lauson engine.
I also took the wheels into the shop and bragged to everyone at school about how I had the original knobby tread tires from 1946 with almost no wear on them. Unfortunately the wheel on the left side was rusted so badly it was falling apart, which required taking the tire off of the wheel. I decided to advertise for a set of wheels and also a Briggs & Stratton Model N engine, which was the original for the 5751.
While waiting for my ad to come out, I decided to try to repair the rusted rim of the wheel. I got a restoration magazine from Roger Welsch, author of Old Tractors and the Men Who Love Them, that showed how you can clean and build-up the rim by welding on it. My dad said I should repair it by building it up and then lining the rim with rubber strips to protect the new tube from rubbing against the rough rim. I used a wire brush to take off the heavy rust flakes and I put some muscle into it, which did it justice.
I brushed on rust converter and sprayed the inside of the rim with rubber undercoating to make it even. The hole where the stem comes out to air up the tube was rusted so bad it was crumbling away. I took a heavy-duty washer and decided to weld it on to create a new stem hole.
For the frame, I tried engine de-greaser, carburetor cleaner and gasoline, and none of them took the grease/dirt mixture off. My friend and I scraped for three hours a day for a week and still didn't get it completely off. I decided to try oven cleaner, but it proved too expensive, so I settled for grease remover, which worked.
I also cleaned the nameplate with toothpaste and a toothbrush. I primed the frame gray, sanded it smooth and painted it with three coats of Rust Tough red primer. After lightly sanding with 600-grit paper, I painted the body Radiant Red and the axle Metallic Silver, followed by two coats of clear coat.
No one responded to my advertisement for a Briggs Model N engine, so I decided to use an old Briggs I had laying around. I cleaned the grease off, and to my surprise it had a David Bradley logo on it! All this time I was looking for an engine and I had one the whole time. I cleaned the points and got a spark, but I needed to replace the plug wire because it broke. The carburetor was really corroded and I didn't have compression.
I took the carburetor off and put the parts into a coffee can full of gasoline and carburetor cleaner. I call it the "poor man's solvent tank." I sandblasted the shroud and painted it with high-resistant, semi-gloss Ford black paint. I pulled the flywheel and the magneto plate, exposing the engine's internal organs. I was relieved the crankshaft and camshaft looked in really good shape. I didn't want to pull the cylinder head off due to the fact that it would have ruined the head gasket and I couldn't have found a new one.
When I got the engine back together, I noticed the points were not opening and closing like they should. I realized the old style points are timed differently, and after I timed them and put a new plug wire on, I installed a NOS Champion J8 spark plug and had excellent spark. I put it on a tiller frame to test start it. It wouldn't start. I noticed gas was leaking through the carburetor. Because of time, I pulled the carburetor off another David Bradley tractor I had. It still wouldn't run. I put it all back together, put a new plug wire on, tried three other spark plugs and still no spark. I came to the conclusion that the coil was dead. I pulled one off another old Briggs engine, which sparked about three times before I lost it. I pulled the whole thing apart and realized the flywheel key was sheared. Once I replaced the key, it started right up.
Now in working order, I started it and lifted the drive lever. I hadn't tested to see if the transmission or the clutch worked. I lifted the lever and the tractor took off! I nearly lost it. This was a learning experience for me, which gave me a terminal case of "Rusty Iron Fever." After this restoration, I am now addicted to the David Bradley garden tractor. I just bought a 1951 DB "Super Power" at the Great Oregon Steam-Up. It's in terrible shape, but I plan to do an even better job on restoring it.
Contact 18-year-old restorer Tony Morrical at: 8424 55th Ave. S.E., Turner, OR 97392.