I had just finished my antique Craftsman lawn
tractor, which took first place in the Turner parade and second
place at the county fair, when I decided I wanted to restore a
David Bradley walk-behind tractor. I had bought a box of old Gas
Engine Magazines and a David Bradley tractor inside took my eyes,
and didn’t let go. I had to have one.
I decided to put an advertisement in the local paper, and within
two days a man called and said he had one that had been sitting in
his shed. My Grandpa, who is the best storyteller in the world, has
always told me stories about tractors and farming. He went the 50
miles with me to pick up the 1946 David Bradley, Model 917-5751,
When I got home, I noticed all that was wrong with it. The hood
was rusted so bad it was pitted and one of the grille bars was
missing. I spent about 50 hours working on the engine, but I wasn’t
too disappointed when I couldn’t get it running, because it wasn’t
The first thing I did was pull the hood off and take it to
school to restore. I started by sanding and using paint thinner to
cut the old paint. It made a mess, but took off most of the paint.
I painted it with rust converter and over the next three weeks
applied body filler to all the dents and pits, and sanded until it
was really smooth. I painted the letters gold then took grease and
covered them so when I painted it red, the letters would stay gold.
That’s a trick I learned from my dad.
I pulled the wheels off because one of them was rusted pretty
bad. Except for the gas tank, the tractor was completely
disassembled and it was time to sand, repair and paint. Without a
shop to work in, winter weather in Oregon can be uncooperative.
Luckily the weather was nice and my David Bradley was sitting on a
fender set up off of an old riding lawnmower. Am I a hillbilly or
what? Later I got some jack stands from my dad, which worked much
I took the gas tank and bracket into the shop so I could repair
them. I sprayed them with paint thinner and to my amazement the
paint came off like hot butter. The tank was beautiful, except for
a minor rust spot and the sediment bowl setup. Luckily, I had an
extra sediment bowl off an old Lauson engine.
I also took the wheels into the shop and bragged to everyone at
school about how I had the original knobby tread tires from 1946
with almost no wear on them. Unfortunately the wheel on the left
side was rusted so badly it was falling apart, which required
taking the tire off of the wheel. I decided to advertise for a set
of wheels and also a Briggs & Stratton Model N engine, which
was the original for the 5751.
While waiting for my ad to come out, I decided to try to repair
the rusted rim of the wheel. I got a restoration magazine from
Roger Welsch, author of Old Tractors and the Men Who Love Them,
that showed how you can clean and build-up the rim by welding on
it. My dad said I should repair it by building it up and then
lining the rim with rubber strips to protect the new tube from
rubbing against the rough rim. I used a wire brush to take off the
heavy rust flakes and I put some muscle into it, which did it
I brushed on rust converter and sprayed the inside of the rim
with rubber undercoating to make it even. The hole where the stem
comes out to air up the tube was rusted so bad it was crumbling
away. I took a heavy-duty washer and decided to weld it on to
create a new stem hole.
For the frame, I tried engine de-greaser, carburetor cleaner and
gasoline, and none of them took the grease/dirt mixture off. My
friend and I scraped for three hours a day for a week and still
didn’t get it completely off. I decided to try oven cleaner, but it
proved too expensive, so I settled for grease remover, which
I also cleaned the nameplate with toothpaste and a toothbrush. I
primed the frame gray, sanded it smooth and painted it with three
coats of Rust Tough red primer. After lightly sanding with 600-grit
paper, I painted the body Radiant Red and the axle Metallic Silver,
followed by two coats of clear coat.
No one responded to my advertisement for a Briggs Model N
engine, so I decided to use an old Briggs I had laying around. I
cleaned the grease off, and to my surprise it had a David Bradley
logo on it! All this time I was looking for an engine and I had one
the whole time. I cleaned the points and got a spark, but I needed
to replace the plug wire because it broke. The carburetor was
really corroded and I didn’t have compression.
I took the carburetor off and put the parts into a coffee can
full of gasoline and carburetor cleaner. I call it the “poor man’s
solvent tank.” I sandblasted the shroud and painted it with
high-resistant, semi-gloss Ford black paint. I pulled the flywheel
and the magneto plate, exposing the engine’s internal organs. I was
relieved the crankshaft and camshaft looked in really good shape. I
didn’t want to pull the cylinder head off due to the fact that it
would have ruined the head gasket and I couldn’t have found a new
When I got the engine back together, I noticed the points were
not opening and closing like they should. I realized the old style
points are timed differently, and after I timed them and put a new
plug wire on, I installed a NOS Champion J8 spark plug and had
excellent spark. I put it on a tiller frame to test start it. It
wouldn’t start. I noticed gas was leaking through the carburetor.
Because of time, I pulled the carburetor off another David Bradley
tractor I had. It still wouldn’t run. I put it all back together,
put a new plug wire on, tried three other spark plugs and still no
spark. I came to the conclusion that the coil was dead. I pulled
one off another old Briggs engine, which sparked about three times
before I lost it. I pulled the whole thing apart and realized the
flywheel key was sheared. Once I replaced the key, it started right
Now in working order, I started it and lifted the drive lever. I
hadn’t tested to see if the transmission or the clutch worked. I
lifted the lever and the tractor took off! I nearly lost it. This
was a learning experience for me, which gave me a terminal case of
“Rusty Iron Fever.” After this restoration, I am now addicted to
the David Bradley garden tractor. I just bought a 1951 DB “Super
Power” at the Great Oregon Steam-Up. It’s in terrible shape, but I
plan to do an even better job on restoring it.
Contact 18-year-old restorer Tony Morrical at: 8424 55th Ave.
S.E., Turner, OR 97392.