Colorado Tractor Tales

Before Restoration John Deere tractor

Before: July 1988

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301 Lincoln St., Longmont, Colorado 80501.

I have always been interested in 'old iron.' As a youngster I spent several years on a farm, and I always enjoyed being around the machinery. Although I was too small to be of much help, my dad would let me drive our old John Deere B to and from the fields, and I well remember what a 'grown up' thrill that was. I never did get to drive our McCormick-Deering W-30, though. I guess it was too hard to steer. I remember how big that one seemed to me.

Years passed, and in the business of growing up, moving away and raising my own family (away from the farm), I guess my 'old iron' interest grew dormant. I still liked looking at old equipment whenever I had the opportunity, but I pretty much had left all that behind me.

Several years ago, however, I visited our local county fair (Boulder County Fair in Longmont, CO) with my family to see all the exhibits there-livestock, crafts, 4-H projects, etc., when all of a sudden, from around the end of the display building I heard a very familiar sound-the unmistakable sound of a John Deere tractor. Of course I had to go see what that was all about! Lo and behold!-there were a number of old tractors back there, all fixed up shiny fresh and looking very, very nice! There were a few John Deeres, some Farmalls, and a Case or two.

I stood there most of the rest of the afternoon listening, looking, and in general being a big pest to the tractor exhibitors.

WOW! The sight, sounds, and the smell, too, of the old tractors there brought all those memories back to me. It amazed me to see how that old equipment brought it all back so clearly-just as though I had walked out the back door of the old farmhouse. I was HOOKED!

Also about that same point in time, I saw my first Gas Engine Magazine. I was describing to a friend how impressed I had been by that display of old tractors, and he pulled open a drawer, got out a magazine and said, 'Then I'll bet you'll want to see this.' I took the magazine straight home and read it from cover to cover. I just couldn't imagine there being so many old iron nuts out there, and the stories and pictures really fueled my desire to join in.

I knew right then and there I had to have an old tractor. Now, I need an old tractor about as much as I need a hole in the head, but that's beside the point. Luckily, my wife is very supportive of my somewhat eclectic nature (maybe she's as crazy as I am), so she thought that sounded O.K. Well-I didn't know how to buy (or what to buy) in the way of an old tractor, but I started looking, asking questions, and keeping an eye out in the local paper, and sure enough-one day there was an ad there that sounded just right:

For Sale: 1941 John Deere Model G tractor. S/N 11203. Disassembled. Needs work. Cheap.

(I especially liked the 'cheap' part). I didn't even know what a 'G' was, but I called the man, went to his house, and saw a G for the first time. My gosh, it sure looked a lot bigger than the old B. I was a little bit intimidated by its size, but the price was very attractive, and it was 'unstyled'-a term I had already learned.

As of then and there, I became an official 'tractor owner.'

I finally got that decrepit old thing drug home, much to the dismay of my neighbors (I live right in town). They all asked, 'Whatever will you do with that?' I don't think they believed me when I told them it was my new garden tractor.

Anyway, I began to work on my new toy. Although it was a basket case, I found that all parts were there, though many of them needed to be replaced. The previous owner had managed to find a replacement block for it, so that was already there for me to use. What I didn't know, however, is that he bought a block that had been bored 0.045' oversize. So there I was, a good (but oversize) block, and good (but standard size) pistons. Oops. Well, thanks to our local, foremost antique tractor collector/restorer, Harvey Nelson, who was instrumental in getting together that show at the county fair I mentioned, I was soon able to locate a pair of oversize pistons for it. This was only the beginning. As I proceeded with the restoration, I found myself relying more and more on Harvey for advice, help, and encouragement. I'm sure I would have soon decided that this business of tractor restoration was not so much fun after all if it weren't for Harvey, who became a good friend as well as a source of help and advice.

After many trials and tribulations, uncounted hours, and many new and rebuilt parts, I was ready to spin the flywheel of the old G. The BIG EVENT was here! I had no idea whatsoever what to expect. I had never overhauled an old tractor so I was really flying by the seat of my pants, even though I had Harvey to lean on. Well, I went over my checklist of things to do prior to starting it, and when I finally ran out of excuses not to crank the flywheel, I cranked the flywheel several times. And then several more times-and all of a sudden it fired once. WOW! So I cranked it a few more times and the old thing fired to life for the first time in who knows how many years. There is no way to describe the thrill of hearing it run for the first time, although you readers who have been through all of this know exactly what I mean.

Although this was exciting for me, it was funny for my wife, because I had absolutely drenched all the internal engine parts in oil when I put it back together for the last time (I'm surprised the poor old engine would fire at all!), and when it started it spewed an oily mist all over itself, the driveway, and of course, me. It just rained oil for the first couple of minutes and I had my very own oil slick right there. It was about two days before she quit laughing at me!

This whole episode, from me dragging that old tractor home until I put the finishing touches on it, took me a whole year. Those last few weeks found me rushing to get it completed so I could enter it in that year's fair, and I made it just by the skin of my teeth. I had a great time with it there, and that year's turnout was larger than the first one I had seen. (Each successive year's turnout has been larger as well.)

When I started all this foolishness, I intended to buy a tractor, fix it up and then I'd be satisfied. Right? Well, you know that isn't how it works. Whenever the subject of old iron comes up, it seems you always encounter someone who says, 'Say, I know of an old...,' and off you go, chasing some other old rusty piece of junk. It seems the challenge of finding and acquiring this old stuff is addictive.

I no sooner got my old 'G' finished when someone said to me, 'Say, I know of an old track type thing I saw at such and such place,' and before you know it, I was off to see what that was all about. It turned out to be a very tired looking 1935 McCormick-Deering T-20 Trac Tractor. I really hadn't intended to buy it, but I couldn't resist going to see it, since I'd never seen a Trac Tractor. However, looking led to talking, and the owner made it perfectly clear that he intended to get rid of it, and he made me an offer I just couldn't refuse, and so there I was.

Another year went by, and I got the T-20 restored, with a little bit of money and a lot of elbow grease. The old thing really didn't need many parts. Someone had reconditioned the undercarriage already, and the tracks are worn but still serviceable. So, after a new main bearing, rod bearings, a couple of wrist pins, a new seat, etc., and what seemed to be about a million hours of my free time, you can see the result.

I really enjoyed the restoration of these first two tractors, although each had offered both challenges and frustrations. There were times when it was fun, and there were other times when I thought I'd never get done! But a serious 'old iron nut' can't let the frustrations get in the way. It seems there's always a way around the problem of the missing part or the broken stud, or whatever the problem happens to be at the time.

After the T-20 project was finished, I happened to be driving down a country road in rural eastern Colorado, when I glanced over and saw, behind a farmyard, a very old looking thing-an old tractor with such an awkward style as to be downright ugly, and yet fascinating. Well, I couldn't imagine what that could be, so I just had to stop and talk to the owner. He turned out to be a gentleman in his 80's, and he told me the tractor had been in his family since 1930, and it was a year old when he and his brother bought it. And this, then, was the first Case Model CC I ever saw. I immediately liked the old thing. Talking with the owner about it, it was obvious he didn't want to sell it, so I just left him with the impression I thought that was a very nice old tractor he had.

Two or three years went by, with me stopping to see the old Case CC from time to time, and talking to the owner as well. He obviously knew I'd like to have it, although we never discussed it since I knew how attached he was to it. Finally, though, he decided to have a farm auction and sell all his equipment, since he was no longer farming his land. He sent me a sale bill so I would be sure to know about it, and I darn sure was there the day of the sale. I was sure every collector in the country would be there that day, even though the Case was the only antique listed. But the auction was relatively small, and was evidently not well advertised, for it turned out there were only three of us bidding on the Case. The other two bidders evidently were not what you'd call 'collectors,' for they both dropped out after just one or two bids, and I got the tractor!

The old Case was such an interesting tractor to me I dug into it right away. The engine was stuck, but the old owner had told me that once a year or so, he would go out and pour kerosene into the cylinders, and sure enough, I was able to free it up with a minimum of effort, and the cylinder walls were not at all damaged. Again I got lucky in that the Case needed a minimum of new parts to repair. I had the valves ground (I try to do all the work myself, but grinding valves is one thing I'm not equipped to do), put a new seal in the water pump, and put a new ball thrust bearing in the governor assembly. Other than that it was a matter of replacing a few miscellaneous external parts, finding steel wheels (it somehow seemed a shame not to have steel wheels on anything that old), and of course another million or so hours of labor. It now runs very nicely, indeed.

The old owner steadfastly claims it's a 1929 model, but the serial number is C304571, which would be a 1932 (?) model. I thought somewhere along the line the owner might have replaced the tool box, on which the serial number tag mounts, but he said he hadn't. Perhaps his memory as to when they bought the tractor is faulty, or perhaps some more knowledgeable Case collectors can explain the discrepancy to me.

I'm not sure just where this hobby is leading me, but it has so far been very enjoyable. I've met a lot of nice people, seen a lot of nicely restored equipment, and heard a lot of stories from the owners. I've also acquired a few more 'gems' to restore whenever I find the time and money, and I suppose whenever I meet a person who says to me, 'Say, I know of an old...,' I'll go chasing yet another relic. Receiving Gas Engine Magazine each month helps keep my interest level high, too, seeing all the photos and reading the articles from other collectors.

One last word to any of you old iron nuts who happen to be out this way in mid-August-stop out at the Boulder County Fair in Longmont, Colorado to see the 'Yesteryear Farm & Home Show'! Our show gets a little bigger and better with each passing year. This year we had 50 or so tractors, among which was a 1907 Avery steam traction engine (22 HP) owned by the DeBacker family of Boulder, Colorado, and a 1917 Waterloo Boy owned by Harvey Nelson of Hygiene, Colorado. Each day we had a tractor parade, threshing demonstrations using the Avery and a 1926 Belleville separator, as well as a baling demonstration using a circa 1909 Missouri hay press, and ongoing displays of stationary engines, hog oilers, home and kitchen items from the past, and perhaps best of all, very good bluegrass music provided free by 'The Bluegrass Cornpickers.' Come join us!