Fordtrac Rides Again: T is for Teamwork

Model T tractor

Model T tractor: Ray Schulz in plaid, Merle Offerdahl in dark sweater.

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Rt. 2, Box 474 Elk Point, South Dakota 57025

This restoration of the Model T tractor is a far cry from today's Crown Victoria or a 70 Series Genesis tractor.

During the winter of 1994-95, Merle Offerdahl and Ray Schulz of Vermillion, South Dakota, recreated this Model T tractor, sometimes called a Fordtrac. These retirees turned a shop full of parts and a lifetime of experience into a vintage vehicle with smooth sounding motor, high back wheels and polished wooden rack.

Back in the good old days, cars and tractors were user friendly. Most farmers could adapt, repair and overhaul them on the farm. By the 1920s magazines advertised a conversion kit by which a farmer could transform his Model T car into a workweek tractor.

About 15 years ago, Schulz purchased a disassembled Model T engine, a conversion kit with high lug wheels and small cogs, and a stockpile of parts at an auction in Fort Pierre, South Dakota. He says that it's difficult to determine the age of the vehicle they've built because the Model T parts span several years; the newest part is a 1926-27 transmission.

They remember looking at the parts last fall. Nothing was attached. Each piece was separate. Schulz, who had worked with Offerdahl on two previous restorations, had asked, 'Can we build it?' Offerdahl replied, 'If you've got enough parts, we can put it together, but I'm not sure it will run.'

Rebuilding the transmission was a major challenge because neither man had ever seen the inside of one. They used a service manual with exploded pictures to assemble the 26 clutch disks in the proper sequence. 'We started with the flywheel and worked backward following the illustrated order. All the pieces were there, we just put them together,' remembers Offerdahl, who'd last worked on a Model T in 1936.

Throughout the rebuilding, they often 'played it by ear.' Listened for the buzz coil to buzz at the proper time. Wired by guess. Brushed and cleaned the crankshaft until 'we'd found what we thought we were looking for' the Ford name in script. Magneto. Gears. Generator. Radiator. Starter. Everything fell into place. 'It was surprisingly easy,' says Schulz.

When the time came, they tried the engine. According to Offerdahl, 'As the second piston came up, the engine started. They passed another milestone with the test drive a rough, jolting ride over frozen ground. This first ride prompted them to replace the lugs with rubber tread.

Each man credits the other with providing what was needed: mechanical expertise, shop space, sources of information, stockpiles of parts, ideas, equipment, tools, and hours spent cleaning, preparing, adjusting, designing.

The paint job was done by Schulz's son-in-law, Jerry Schmitz, and a neighbor, David Fallen. This is Schulz's fifth restoration project.

Back in the 1920s, most fanners repaired their Model Ts with 'form know-how': common sense, common tools. Now in 1995, Schulz and Offerdahl bring back a sense of that history by recreating this World War I era Model T tractor shown pulling an International P O 2-14 plow formerly owned by Walter E Schulz, the plow Ray Schulz learned on as a boy.