The Story Behind The Tractor

Continental Engine

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Hickory Hillside Acres Rt 2, Box 84A California, MO 65018

I'm one of those folks who actually enjoys tramping around the country in my spare time looking up old tractors that someone has told me about. I think they call us 'Tractor Nuts'. Obviously I can't afford to buy them all, but there is always a thrill in tracking them down, identifying, and researching them. I really do love 'old iron,' and enjoy viewing old tractors any time I can. They are all different and there is always an interesting story at the end of each hunt.

This story started that way-looking up an old tractor someone told me about. In January 1989 a friend mentioned to me that he knew of a fellow who had an old tractor he might 'get rid of.' Those last three words caught my attention. I got a name and phone number from him. He didn't know what kind of tractor it was, but he knew it was on steel, awfully rusty and hadn't been run in twenty to thirty years. Hey, what the heck, this one was just down the road, only about an hour away from home, and near Sedalia, Missouri.

A few weeks later, I had a free Saturday so I called the man, Mr. Pat Kline, and made arrangements to meet him at his farm. We got there about the same time and pulled in the cedar studded lane of his abandoned farmstead. We parked and got out introducing ourselves. I was ready to view old iron and to have a good chat. I looked around for the old tractor and, not seeing any, I asked Mr. Kline where it was. He pointed to a cedar tree along the lane. I had just walked past the location, but sure enough, down there among the low branches was a pile of rusty iron, an old tractor.

The first thing I noticed was that the cedar was growing through the tractor, between the fenders, firewall and transmission. The tree was about 11 inches in diameter and about 15 feet tall. It completely covered the tractor and had grown through the steering wheel. A closer look revealed the tractor to be an Allis Chalmers. Her steel wheels had settled into the ground until the cast iron oil pan was resting on the ground. Mr. Kline said the tractor was a model 'U' and that his family had bought it new in the early 50's, but he didn't remember what year it was.

I noticed that the engine was a flathead and commented on that. Mr. Kline told me that his father had completely overhauled the engine in 1955, but that after the overhaul they had never been able to get it to start by cranking. He said they had tried a couple different mags and still the only way she would start was by pulling. He said they just parked it and used another newer machine rather than continue working on it. Mr. Kline said he remembered these events well, as they occurred in 1955 just before he left home for military service. The tractor was then abandoned in the fence row and never run again.

The tractor was in amazingly good condition for sitting out all those years. It had no paint, but most everything seemed to be there and in useable condition, except the drawbar. I reached down idly and engaged the crank not even expecting that it might turn, and was surprised and delighted when it moved. Mr. Kline had periodically turned her over for more than thirty years. I suspect that the cedar tree shelter, the down turn exhaust manifold, and Mr. Kline's periodic turning greatly protected the old girl.

Mr. Kline and I talked for several hours and had a great visit. He indicated that he wanted to sell the tractor, but I couldn't get him to put a price on it. I made a couple of offers up to and including all the money I had to spend. No deal, and still not priced. In the course of our conversations, Mr. Kline mentioned that he was going to buy a hay rake when he sold the tractor. I mentioned that I had a New Holland #56 rake that I had completely rebuilt and would sell. Mr. Kline said he would come and look at it sometime. Still no price, and no deal cooking, the day almost gone, I loaded up, thanked Mr. Kline, and headed home. Oh well, it had been an interesting and fun day viewing and talking about old iron-all was not lost.

The more I thought about the tractor and researched it, the more convinced I became that I wanted and needed it. After a little research I learned that it was a 1930 Model 'U' with the 'Continental Engine'. I found that only 7404 of these were built between 1929 and 1932. Some were United's and some were U's. Her serial number was #4824. I also realized that I had offered more for it than I possibly should have and still didn't own it. I dropped the idea from my head, another lost cause.

Several weeks later, I received a surprise phone call from Mr. Kline. He said he'd like to see my hay rake and was coming over. He walked around the rake once and asked me if I would even up for his tractor. I knew my rake would bring $600.00 to $700.00 at a farm sale and I also knew I wanted the U, so I said I guessed I would trade. I had to deliver the rake when I picked up the tractor. Now I was starting to get excited. I had really been wanting a wide front, steel wheeled tractor. The U would be a great and rare one to have.

In the latter part of February 1989 we had a beautiful Saturday-it was cold, about 15 degrees Fahrenheit, but bright and sunny. I made the arrangements and my friend, Miles Wolfe of Pilot Grove, Missouri, my son and I headed out to get the U home and the rake delivered. Our biggest concern was going to be cutting the cedar tree and digging out the steel wheels from the frozen ground so we could load her. I really felt I needed to get the U home safe in my control. When we pulled in the drive at the Kline farm, I couldn't believe my eyes: the cedar tree was gone and the U stood out starkly at the field's edge. She was beautiful, but kind of sad, too. Mr. Kline had not only cut the tree but he had also dug out all four wheels from the frozen ground. He certainly saved us several hours of hard work, but I often wish I had a picture of that tree growing up in the tractor.

We loaded up, no trouble, and hauled my new toy home. Now there is something about an old tractor that won't run that affects us 'Tractor Nuts.' We must immediately get it running. As I mentioned, the U was in pretty good shape, considering. We started working and found the engine exactly as Mr. Kline had represented it. It looked so good that we merely cleaned, adjusted and put her back together. The mag was deteriorated beyond use. It wasn't the correct one anyway, so for the time being we stuck on an IHC F4.

Within two weeks she was once again running after sitting for 34 years. The amazing thing was no major engine work other than cleaning and adjusting was necessary. Of course, the steering wheel was partially rusted away, the drawbar was missing, a radiator cast tank was broken; various other problems would all need lots and lots of attention.

My home show, the Missouri River Valley Steam Engine Association of Boonville, Missouri, was featuring AC tractors for 1989, so I had some extra incentive to get right to restoring the 'U'. Our show is the Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday after Labor Day, so I had to move fast.

A good friend of mine, Fred Stoeklin of Boonville, Missouri, made a reproduction of the steering wheel for me that would have made AC envious. Mr. Kline found the missing drawbar tied to a windmill tower leg where the gas barrel used to be on his farm. He also found the original magneto complete with wiring loom and plug wires in a shed on the property. The mag had been completely rebuilt along with the engine, but was put back together to impulse in the wrong direction. One small change and she worked fine. Another friend, Byron Dillner of Pilot Grove, Missouri, assisted us in straightening and perfecting the sheet metal parts. Between Byron, my son and me, we spent several hundred hours working on the sheet metal.

Every piece was sandblasted, primed, painted, assembled and painted again several times. The results of seven months labor were starting to show. She looked and ran great. I still had a few days before our M.R.V.S.E.A. AC feature show. I spent it detailing out the restoration and following up on the research I had been doing on the tractor. When I complete a restoration I have traditionally named the tractor. I searched for a good meaningful name for the U. I knew she was a gem, so I naturally thought of the best thing and the jewel in my life (my wife), and immediately settled on the name 'Ruby.' What a fitting name!

Part of the fun of restoring a tractor is researching the history of it. The following are some interesting facts and figures about the model U. The model U was manufactured by AC from 1929 to 1953; 23,056 were produced over the period. The first 7404 U's built from 1929 to 1932 had the 'Continental' S-10 flathead engine. This engine had 284 cubic inches with a 4? bore and a 5' stroke. The later U's after serial #7404 had the 'UM' Allis built valve in head engine. This engine had 318 cubic inches with a 4?' bore and a 5' stroke. Both engines were designed to run at 1200 r.p.m. The Continental U on steel had a 3-speed transmission plus reverse. Factory rubber tired U's had a 4-speed transmission plus reverse and could be roaded at about 10? MPH.

Nebraska test #170 conducted October-November 1929 rated the Continental U at 19.28 drawbar and 30.27 belt horsepower. The U commonly pulled 3-14' plows, a 28' thresher or a 14' combine. Weight was approximately 4125 pounds on steel and cost was about $850.

The U was the first AC tractor to bear the familiar AC Persian Orange paint. All AC tractors prior to 1929 were painted green. In 1929 AC reproduced the orange color after Harry C. Merritt, the Tractor Division Manager, saw a field of blaze orange poppies while on a trip to California and thought the color would distinguish AC tractors in the fields.

The U pioneered the use of rubber tires on farm tractors. Famous race car drivers including Frank Brisko, Barney Oldfield and Abe Jenkins were hired to race rubber tire equipped Continental U's in the early 1930's. Progressive speeds of 15.00, 35.44 and 64.28 MPH were reached.

The grand finale was in 1933 when Abe Jenkins set the world tractor speed record by driving a model U 67.877 MPH on the Utah Salt Flats. This 1933 record still stands today. The U was the first tractor offered with optional rubber tires in October 1932.

In 1928, the United Farm Equipment Combine was formed. This was a company that marketed various makes of farm machinery. The United Company needed a tractor for their line, and AC needed farm tractor dealers, so a deal was struck. AC furnished their new orange model for the United Company to sell.

These tractors were known as the United. AC made the identical tractor for their own sales and called it the model U. The only difference was the name cast on the radiator.

In early 1930, the United Company folded, ending the United tractor; production of the U continued. In an effort to distance the model U from the defunct United, the remaining 1930 model U's were dressed up with black fender and hood stripes, and the AC Diamond logo on the firewalls. In 1931 this dress up was discontinued. 'Ruby' is one of these special few late 1930 model U's. The black stripes and diamonds were faintly visible on her rusted metal when she was restored.

Ruby made her debut at the M.R.V.S.E.A. 1989 Show featuring AC. She was sensational. As I unloaded her, I had a cash offer that only a fool would refuse. My wife Ruby said, 'Take it.' Yes, I guess I'm a fool-she's not for sale.

Ruby won four first place awards for restoration in four shows that fall; and second place on steel at the Missouri State Fair 'Best of the Best Show' at Sedalia in August 1990. The highlight of it all was when she was selected to be featured as the March 'pinup' on the DuPont Classic Calendar and Video for 1991.

All the awards, honors and attention are very nice, but there is nothing like the experience of restoring an old tractor to her majestic grandeur and having folks admire her once again. It gets really addictive.

I'm really working on a couple of possible 'special' tractors for next year. It's been reported before that this 'tractor nut' is 'a lover of old iron'. You can believe it!