Submitted by Donald Sell, Rt. 2, Box 15 Perry ton, Texas 79070
The dream of restoring the only tractor of its kind in the United States began in 1987 with a lot of talking. It came true on April 16, 1991, when Donald Sell of Perryton, Texas towed the massive 1911 Hart-Parr 40 out of the work barn, and fired the engine that had lain crippled on the Montana prairie for decades.
'It's my pride and joy,' Sell stated after seeing the two-year project through-a project that has spanned two countries, countless road trips, and a few wild goose chases looking for missing parts. 'As far as we know it's the only one in the United States in full working order, and one of three in existence in the world that has been restored.'
Talk about restoring the tractor first surfaced at the Sell house in 1987. A 1989 trip to North Dakota, where Sell met antique machinery enthusiast John Tysie, put the plan into motion.
'The tractor was originally found in Glendive, Montana, out on the prairie where it laid in shambles,' Sell said. 'It was donated to the Culbertson, Montana Antique Machinery Show by the owner, and John had traded for it. He had a Hart-Parr 30 already, and I traded him parts for his Hart-Parr 30 in exchange for the 40 model.'
Tysie had gathered bits and pieces of information on Hart-Parrs and where they were once located for close to a quarter-century.
'I first heard about the tractor in the early 1960's', Tysie said. 'We tracked it down and found it in pieces out in a field near Glendive. Later the Culbertson Show people pulled it in, but there was no possible chance for them to fix it. At the time I didn't realize there was any difference between the 30 and 40, but since then we've found many small things that are different between the two models. Thirty models of the Hart Parr 30 were manufactured and about 200 of the 40 models were made. Both of these tractors are very rare.'
Sell went after the tractor last winter and unloaded it at his Texas Panhandle home on March 1,1990. He had already enlisted the help of two skilled antique engine restorers to begin rebuilding parts from scratch.
'We made several trips to Canada to hunt parts,' Sell said. 'We also went to the museum in Saskatchewan, Canada, in January of 1990 to measure and photograph parts. I met with Clyde Hall, a machinist in Fillmore, Saskatchewan, in 1989. He agreed to begin working right away, making castings and the belt pulley. We made several trips to North Dakota through the summer that year looking for parts.'
Over one-third of the engine parts have been made by hand. The tractor chassis was in fairly good shape when the restoration project began.
'It sure wasn't a case of driving in and out of farm yards and finding parts,' Clyde Hall said. 'We needed solid leads of where this type of tractor had been used in the past. We checked on sites in Moosejaw, Rock Glen and Piapot, Saskatchewan. We were lucky and found a really good set of rear fenders and some other small parts there from an antique collector named Dale Friesen. But still, for the most part, if we needed a part we just had to make it.'
After the part trips concluded, Sell and his machinists had a big order of large and complicated parts to reconstruct before the tractor could begin to be restored to its original condition.
'A few small parts are just lost to history because there is no example left and no drawings in the old parts books,' Hall said. 'We just had to decide what they must have done or built to perform a certain function in those instances.'
Still, the dedication to original condition restoration continued.
'When Clyde made the castings, he even put the Hart-Parr part numbers on each one. We used some of John Tysie's parts for patterns and got a lot of measurements from him,' Sell said. 'The other man who made this whole project possible was Jerry Abplanalp of Wichita, Kansas. Jerry specializes in iron castings for antique engines. Both he and Clyde deserve a lot of the credit for this restoration. They are true craftsmen, and they really did the hard part.'
The two dedicated machinists took their part in the restoration seriously and began work immediately. Both worked over six months, and everyone involved in the restoration has been dedicated to putting the machine back into original condition.
According to Abplanalp, the cast iron craftsmanship is an art few have mastered.
'For 35 years, all I have done is work on cylinder heads and blocks,' Abplanalp said. 'To do the cast iron work so that the repair work is not obvious to the naked eye takes a tremendous amount of time, and the entire piece has to be red hot during the entire repair process.'
It took Abplanalp six hours of steady welding to repair the tractor's shattered crankcase.
'There were three men working during the welding process to keep everything red hot,.' he said. 'Donald wanted it in its original condition and we managed to get it that way. A lot of people won't mess with the cast iron work because there is no money in it, but I became interested in it after I attended an antique machinery show about 12 years ago in Kansas.'
Between the three men and Sell's restoration crew in Booker, the Hart Parr now boasts showroom quality.
'The tractor and its engine are as good as brand new,' Sell said. 'Several people had inquired about restoring the tractor years ago, but backed away from the idea feeling it was impossible. There is really a lot of satisfaction seeing it completed. I knew if we could find someone to make the castings, that it could be done. It's a really good feeling to see it all finally come together.'
'We wanted this tractor to be substantial, and we tried to do things so it would be ready to go out and go to work like the day it was first manufactured,' Hall said.
Sell's wife, Faye, who Don says has been a bit skeptical of some of his over 200 restoration projects, has been on the Hart-Parr bandwagon from the start.
'Faye's been asking every day lately if we got the engine fired up,' Sell said. 'The whole family is excited about this project.'
The tractor will be featured at the Golden Spread Antique Machinery Association's 14th Annual Show in September, and promises to be the hit of the event.
'We will be honoring Oliver and Hart-Parr tractors at the show this year,' Sell said. 'Machinery collectors will be amazed at the workmanship Jerry and Clyde have done. They are both perfectionists.'
The logistics of the restoration boggle the mind of even the machine-illiterate. The crankcase is cast iron, over one and one-quarter inches thick. Ac-cording to Sell, many crankcases were damaged while used to break out sod on the prairies. The engine rods would come through front of the case, and most farmers would just patch it.
'Clyde built the clutch, planetary gears and belt pulley by hand,' Sell said. 'The crankshaft bearing was poured, new wrist pins were made, and the cylinders have been re-sleeved. The steering arm is just like the originals, and the cam shaft, manifold, carburetor and oil pump have also been completely re-made from scratch.'
Hall considers this project one of the most challenging he has faced.
'The clutch, reverse planetary were the toughest part for me,' Hall said.
'They are big, very complicated parts. There were virtually no small parts left on the engine at all. The manifolds were missing, the cooling pump was gone, the cam shaft and valve gear train were missing too. The tractor's shift mechanisms and most of the steering was all built by hand as well.'
Sell and his two right-hand men, Craig Holt and Raymond Roth, of Booker, Texas, worked many months in the Texas Panhandle rebuilding the chassis, transmission, and assembling the parts as the machinists up north completed them.
Hart-Parr tractors were extremely popular in the early 20th century. The 40 model was advertised as the modern farm horse model of simplicity, and its two-cylinder engine was fueled by kerosene.
According to Tysie, who has spent over 40 years restoring old tractors, the Hart Parr 30 and 40 were built for small acreage farms with lots offences, where the field work called for frequent sharp turns. Hart Parr was also the first successful manufacturer of gas tractors and was later bought and consolidated with the Oliver Company.
'The three-wheeled Hart Parrs are much shorter tractors,' Tysie said. 'That is why the cylinders are vertical and there is a single wheel up front. It is a totally different type of tractor design. They also were designed to handle some road work, but as it turned out, the design was not nearly as successful as their bigger tractors.'
The tractor will be featured as the star of the 1991 Gold-en Spread Antique Machinery Association Show held near Perryton, Texas on September 21 and 22. It will be permanently housed at Country Time Antiques and can be seen by appointment by contacting Donald Sell at 806-435-5872. More information may also be obtained by writing Sell or the association at HCR 2 Box 15, Perryton, Texas 79070. Country Time Antiques and the Association Show location is at the Donald and Faye Sell farm located 10 miles east of Perryton, Texas on High-way 377, and five miles south on High-way 2711.
And what will be the encore to Sell's love for restoration of the old and unusual?
'I don't know yet,' Sell said. 'But you can bet I'll find something else to work on before long. This came together a lot faster than I had expected.'