Are You Guys So Talented … or Just Plain Fast?
1508 River Road New Hope, Pennsylvania 18938
Hardly ever does an issue of GEM go by that I am not amazed at
how quickly many restoration projects are completed. The story goes
something like: ‘I picked up this rusty, broken, half-missing
beauty in January and had it show-ready by May! Either you guys are
retired, exceptionally talented, or just plain fast! All three
As for me and my 1940 John Deere H Serial #18825, let’s just
say we took the long way around the barn. Back in 1987 my
father-in-law surprised me one day with a recent find of his that
he thought would be a good first time project for me. For one
hundred dollars I was the proud and happy owner of my first John
Now, we’ve all heard of the proverbial basket case. Well
this worn out and very tired H was literally delivered in baskets,
all but the frame, main case, axles and wheels, that is. I had old
metal milk crates filled with broken parts, brackets, springs,
pistons, valves, bearings, bolts … you name it. Thank God almost
everything was there. Now, that’s the good part. The bad was
that the head was broken, the block was split, the crankcase was
full of mud, leaves, water, bearing pieces, maple seeds, and greasy
muck. Three out of four tires were bad, the two front rims were
broken, the radiator was full of mice, and well, I could go on and
To make a long story a little shorter, by around 1990 I had the
little two banger poppin’. Oh, what sweet music! We recorded
the first start up and have enjoyed this tape over and over.
We used the tractor for a couple of years to pull a small disc
and a few wagons, then shut her down and got serious with the final
restoration and paint job. By spring of 1995 it was time to start
her up again. I remounted the magneto and carburetor and pulled her
over. Only thing is, she wouldn’t start. Lord, help me!
I had fuel, spark, timing and she would fire now and then and
sometimes backfire through the carburetor, but would not run. I
tried everything possible for about a week to no avail. After
almost giving up (temporarily of course) on a Saturday afternoon,
pow-pow, she exploded to life sending pieces of smoldering cloth
high into the air from the exhaust stack. Here was my answered
Because of mice I had stuffed a wad of soft cloth into the
intake manifold when the carburetor was off the engine. As you can
imagine, the rag got sucked to the valves, part way into the
cylinders and fouled things up until eventually burning up enough
to pass through the exhaust. Oh well, I guess it’s things like
this that make this hobby interesting.
So to all you slow but sure restorers out there, keep at it,
never give up, and watch where you put those shop rags!
I would like to thank Joe Gonyo for selling me his extra hood
and grilles and also Ben Sr. and Ben Jr. for countless hours of
help and inspiration.
The sign in the photo was a ‘just for fun’ summer
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