That ‘Open-Geared F-20’

By Staff
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The H helps the regular along, using a little belt power.
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The Regular as we found it.
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Brian pounding the pistons free, his cousin looking on.

7223 Highway 42’57, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin 54255

One day last summer, a month before our local Thresheree, we got
a call from Scott Weckler, a friend of ours who paints cars and who
wanted to try his hand at restoring a tractor. He was interested in
a faded red Farmall F-20, and had worked out a trade with the owner
‘If you paint my WD-9,’ the man said, ‘I’ll give
you both those cripples.’  He pointed to the red one and a
much older, rusty one sitting next to it. And so the WD-9 got a
shiny new finish, and Scott got what many would consider nothing
more than a couple heaps of scrap iron.

Scott had never tried restoring a tractor before, and called
Brian Schultz and me to see if we wanted to take part in the
project. My boyfriend of three years grew up living next door to
his grandfather, Carl Sixel, who is one of the better-known antique
power restorers around Door County. Brian naturally took on the
hobby earlyas young as four he was seen driving the little John
Deere H in local parades and helping keep the gas engines running
at the Thresheree. In the last three years, he’s even gotten me
hooked on tractors. At 21 and 19 years old, he and I are some of
the younger antique power enthusiasts around here.

Scott was more interested in the newer of the two, so he offered
the older one to Brian in return for some expertise. Brian thought
there wasn’t much hope for the old tractor, and didn’t know
if it would be worth fixing, but we needed a project. And we knew
if worst came to worst, there would always be some readers of GEM
in need of some spare parts. He accepted, and the next evening, we
had two old Farmalls in our back yard.

The ‘old F-20’ had been sitting idly in the man’s
field for over a decade. It was a strange one, considering it had
open steering gears instead of the usual enclosed gearbox. The man
told us that between the two of them, the older one would be worth
more fixed up, but it looked so far gone that nobody really wanted
it. What was left of its sad hulk had all blended into one shade of
pitted, rusty brown. Its front spindle, wheels absent, had sunk
into the ground over the years. The rear wheels were once all
steel, but like so many other steel wheels, they had been cut down
and welded to pitifully small rims. The magneto was gone, and
milkweeds grew so thick around the tractor that the rest of it
almost disappeared as well. At first glance, it seemed the only
reasonable place for the tired beast was on the back of the
scrapper’s trailer. And after experiencing a troubled and
expensive fixing of a 1949 Farmall H (a story in itself!), we were
having doubts about plunging headfirst into a new basket case.

One evening, while wondering about how much it would cost to fix
what we knew the tractor needed, I was looking at a book about
Farmalls. I came upon a tractor that I had never heard of the plain
old Farmall, commonly known as the ‘Regular.’ It was the
very first Farmall in fact, it was the first production row-crop
tricycle design to ever hit the market. From this first
9-horsepower design evolved the F-20s that are still abundant
today, along with the rest of the popular F-series (not to mention
the whole Farmall line, remaining essentially the same from 1924 to
the late 1950s!). This tractor exhaust pipe came out on the bottom
of the massive manifold into a bulb-shaped muffler, instead of the
usual stack through the hood. There was a small tank holding
gasoline for easy starting mounted behind the main kerosene tank.
The air cleaner was much smaller, the carburetor was made of brass,
and only the later Regulars had Purolator oil filters. And when I
saw the open steering gears, I looked no more I showed Brian, we
ran to the backyard as fast as we could, and sure enough, that
rusty thing was no F-20! It was a Farmall THE Farmall.

The engine was tight, but that could be expected of a tractor
that hadn’t run in who-knows-how-many years. Anxiously we took
off the engine’s inspection plates, and to our relief, the
connecting rods were immaculate. Not a speck of rust could be seen.
There were no more ifs and buts about it that tired old beast was
going to run again no matter what!

The next morning, we took off the head, carved a hardwood block
to fit the cylinder walls, and Brian and his cousin pounded on the
pistons with a sledgehammer. An omen of good things to come, they
loosened in a short but hard twenty minutes. (Between the Regular,
Scott’s F-20, and Brian’s grandpa’s McCormick-Deering
10-20, we helped loosen three stuck tractors that week, all now
running fine!) After it was loose, we hooked a long belt between
the pulleys of the H and the Regular, and with some careful
clutch-work, got the rusty beast spinning again. This cleaned it
out and re-seated the rings.

After studying the tractor and digging through the tool box for
small parts, we saw that it was actually quite complete. We picked
up a junked F-20, on which we found a hot mag and everything else
we needed. Of all the pieces that are unique to the Regular, the
only thing missing was the pipe that runs from the air cleaner to
the carb, which can be made. Everything else we needed came off our
parts tractor. With the mag in place, we hooked the H back onto the
pulley and tried to coordinate enough spark to make it pop. While
we were tinkering with the mag, gas was dripping from the leaky
carb on the other side of the tractor onto the frame. We found out
quickly why, on later models, the exhaust went up. When the tractor
finally did puff, a huge tongue of flame shot out of the
downward-pointing manifold and ignited the gas that had collected
on the frame! I was halfway to the extinguisher when the fire went
out. I could only imagine what would have happened if we had been
in a barn full of dry hay instead of a garage with a concrete
floor.

After that adventure, virtually all we had to do was throw in a
gasket set, put the head back on, and with a little tinkering with
the timing, start it up! Unbelievably, it doesn’t smoke a bit
and has good compression. A lot of primer and some elbow grease
filled in the pitted sheet metal. A few shiny coats of charcoal
gray automotive paint and a set of John Hiniker’s decals
suddenly brought new life to the rusty old beast. We polished all
the brass and copper on the tractor, including the old-style grease
fittings, the carburetor, and the valves and fittings of the
sediment bowl, and we had ourselves a nice little tractor. However,
we had one major problem: it had no wheels!

Even though F-20 wheels fit, we’ve heard it’s almost
impossible to find front steel for this tractor (for a decent
price, anyway). The previous owner had found the original front
wheels for us, and though they were cut off like the back, we used
them and put tires on the front. But there was no way we were
putting those dreadful rims on the back! We learned that Tim
Soukup, our John Deere friend down the road, happened to have a
pair of F-20 rear steel that he was thinking of cutting down to fit
the hubs of his beautifully-restored John Deere GP. With a little
fun jabbing at our ‘mighty Farmall with no wheels’ (the
friendly Green vs. Red competition never ceases, of course), he
sold us his wheels to complete the restoration.

This year for the Thresheree, we loaded both the Regular and
Scott’s pretty red F-20 onto a trailer and pulled them with the
H the fifteen miles to the event. Even though the weekend turned
out to be pretty rainy, I was still happy as we proudly displayed
our resurrected 1926 Farmall. This one’s definitely a
keeper!

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