Good as New: 1950 John Deere Model M

By Staff
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Here the main frame of the tractor is all painted. I had to remove a lot of the parts to get to all of the areas to paint. The cleaning took longer to do than the painting. This is the original exhaust manifold on the tractor-in tough shape.
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This is the author in proper dress, and his tractor out to their first show. It was June 1982 at Norwich, Ontario. Note all the rain in the background and mud. The all-brass extinguisher took awhile to clean and looks real good against the green.
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The final product, Robert Hamilton's restored John Deere tractor looking new, after years of intermittent restoration marred by numerous setbacks.

I guess I have liked and will like old tractors all my life. Many times I have been reminded that my first word was “tractor.”

One Sunday afternoon in the fall of 1975, my Dad asked me if I wanted to go for a ride to get some geese from a friend. As we pulled into his yard I immediately noticed a tractor sitting beside a barn, with boards, gravel and rocks piled beside it. Forgetting about the geese, I went over to take a closer look. The owner noticed I was looking at it and yelled over an “AS IS” price. Looking around the yard I noticed a two-furrow plow, cultivators and a set of disc. The tractor looked as though it had been outside all the time. It hadn’t run for a couple years and needed work. It had been used mostly for odd jobs. He told me that they used it to run a hammer-mill, for it did a better job than the bigger tractors would. I noticed certain items on it: truck steering wheel, big headlights (not original), angle iron seat, flat tires. It was missing half a muffler and the bottom part of the air cleaner was gone too. It sure was rough. The tractor carried serial number 40054 which showed a 1950 John Deere model “M”

Over the next couple of months I thought about the tractor a lot. Whenever the owner came to see my Dad and I would ask about the Model M, making sure it was still for sale. I decided to buy the tractor for my 13th birthday in March 1976.

By this time the disc and cultivators had been scrapped. The cultivators were the undermount type for which I’m now looking. The plow was still there which I think was sold with the tractor when new.

The owner threw a chain around the hitch and I jumped on the tractor to steer it out. Slowly the tractor rose from the ground. Meanwhile I was trying to turn the wheels but they weren’t turning. It seemed that there was an awful lot of slop in the box. Too much. He stopped pulling and we took a look. The stud in the gear box which rides in the worm gear was broken. Later I found out that this was a weak point of these tractors. We pulled the tractor to one side of his yard. My Dad and I decided that I would come back later to fix the steering. Over the next few weeks I went over to the farm and worked on the tractor, getting it ready to tow home. The owner’s brother helped me, which was surely needed. I got the original owner’s manual minus front cover and a few pages inside. I think the tractor came from Welland, Ontario, when new.

Soon after, my Dad and I went to our local John Deere dealer for the first of many trips. I took the steering shaft to be welded and bought a few parts. I think at the time I was the only customer they had to look over the counter and down to see.

I found a friend’s father who was a tractor mechanic who agreed to haul the tractor for $10.00 – sure made me happy. So the next Saturday, Mr. Taylor followed my Dad and me in his truck and trailer out to the farm to get my tractor. As fate would have it, his power winch broke down so my Dad had to turn the pulleys by hand while my brother and I steered the tractor onto the trailer as it had no steering. Slowly, the tractor went on. Luckily, the man from whom I brought the tractor from had a tractor with a front-end loader at the farm that day; so he loaded the plow. We arrived in our yard and unloaded my tractor.

My brother and I pulled my tractor into our barn with my Dad’s tractor. I took the front sheet metal off and started to work. I didn’t have a hand crank so I made one up. The first attempt to turn the motor over, it broke the crank I had made. Next I tried a pipe wrench – no luck. The motor was well seized up. From the look of the muffler I could see why. Water for years must have filled the cylinders. So my Dad got his 8N and we tried to pull my tractor and turn the motor over. Just about stalled out his tractor. While we were pushing and pulling my tractor back in the barn, the steering broke again.

My Dad suggested that I remove the oil pan and push out the pistons. When I drained the oil pan I got three parts water to one part oil. This made me think. Meanwhile, I was soaking the rest of the tractor, cylinders, for everything was rusted tight. I put a jack and a long rod under the pistons (bosses) and lifted up the front of the tractor, wheels off the ground. The tractor sat like this for a week. Nothing moved. Removing the jack, we then carefully removed the cylinder head bolts for I was sure that they would break off- but they didn’t.

After the head was off, I got two surprises. First, the cylinders were full of rust and looked bad; also, I noticed a crack in the block along the water jacket. This made me a little upset. The motor now would be coming apart for sure. So I cleaned a corner of our barn out for a workshop for me and my tractor. Without a hoist, crane or block and tackle, I removed the engine from the tractor by blocking under the transmission and pulling the engine onto a small bench by hand. What a job!

Working after school, nights, weekends and holidays, I slowly took the engine apart. My Dad was a great assistance to me. When it came time to remove the pistons, I had a heck of a time. First, I cleaned the cylinder wall with emery cloth. A 2 x 4 would just break. Then I tried to remove the pistons using a heavy hammer. So with a long rod, I tapped the pistons out, hitting the wrist pin bosses carefully. Slowly I worked away and the pistons came out in one piece. The rings were stuck.

We finally found a place to get the block welded. The man said it took 13 pounds of welding rod. He was surprised that I owned the block and was paying for the work done at my age (now 14). The block was resurfaced too. I had to get a coarse 9/16 tap and clean the holes out of the block. Again they welded over 2 water jacket holes so they had to be drilled out.

Meanwhile, I was busy at the John Deere dealer ordering parts. I also went to a welding shop and got the steering shaft welded again. This time they used a MIG welder, wire feed, and it has held to this day.

By this time it was winter and working in an open barn on a cold cement floor isn’t a joy, so I started to build a workshop around my tractor. All the rad hoses and belts were rotted so I got new ones. I easily got a new steering wheel. In fact, I was able to get a lot of parts. The John Deere people were kind enough to lend me their shop manuals for the model ‘M’.

In July of ’78 I took the crankshaft to the local McKerlie Millen outlet in Brantford and got the crankshaft ground. Got a new set of bearings and gaskets. Slowly, I cleaned the block and all the parts and started to assemble the motor. Winter came and the work slowed down a bit.

The cylinders were a bit pitted but not bad enough for a rebore-I rented a hone and a ridge reamer to clean up the cylinders. I started work on the cylinder head-the valves were rusted tight so it took a while to get them loose. Carefully, I removed the exhaust manifold for I was sure a bolt would break, but I was lucky.

Then, I broke both my legs in a dune buggy accident and spent the next three and a half months in the hospital. Another set-back! But I was determined to get the John Deere running as by now it had been three years since I had gotten the tractor. After recuperation I took the head to the McKerlie Millen outlet in Bran-ford where they found two cracks in the head between the seats. The repair would be in the neighborhood of $300.00. I phoned a local tractor wrecker who wanted $300.00 for a head “as is.” So I phoned Mr. Taylor again and he said he would send it to Toronto to get welded.

About this time I noticed a very small crack in the top of one of the pistons. I looked all over the place for one, but nobody could help me, so I ended up using it. It has held to this day. A few weeks later we picked up the head with the cracks welded, four seats installed, valves and seats ground and the guides knurled for a lot less that I was quoted elsewhere. Now I was working furiously after school late nights for I was getting close to having it running.

Mr. Taylor was kind enough to lend me his torque wrench. By now the engine block was all painted.

I worked all day, October 8, 1979. I started in the morning with both pistons out and by late night the motor was together. Filling the gas tank, oil pan, and rad for the first time in a long time, I tried to start it.

The motor was hard to turn over so I used the starter. After tinkering with the carb and timing she started and ran. The timing and carb were out a bit and she was running not too smoothly, but she was running! I think the noise shook the barn. Boy, was that ever nice to hear. After all those years, work, money, time, setbacks – she was running. That’s the reward for all the work you put into it.

Next Saturday rolled around and with more adjustments I drove it out of the barn on its own power. First thing I noticed was how hot it ran. Even today after it has been broken in, it still runs 210°. Many John Deere collectors tell me this is normal. These engines use no water pump. With the engine running half the battle was over. Now it was time to paint the whole tractor. During the winter I started to scrape all the dirt and grease from the tractor. A leaky hydraulic system acted like a magnet for all the dirt, but underneath the paint was like new.

The tractor again sat in my workshop until the winter of 1980. I then started to dismantle the tractor and clean more of it. I scraped and cleaned and scraped and cleaned by hand. I spent countless hours cleaning and wire brushing parts. I sanded all the metal with sandpaper. I sanded, scraped, cleaned and sanded, scraped and cleaned!!! This seemed like an endless job, but now it was ready to paint.

I put together a small homemade air compressor for my spray gun. Since I had never painted before I studied magazines and books on the subject. Carefully, I started to spray paint my tractor. First of all I was surprised how easy it was. When I painted the yellow on the wheels I ran into a problem. The paint was too dark. So I phoned John Deere. They said it was the industrial yellow and that they carried a lighter yellow for the tractors. (The industrial yellow is almost orange.) So I got a quart and sprayed it on. It was too light-almost a fluorescent yellow. I phoned John Deere again, they couldn’t help me. Has anybody run into this before? I mixed the two together and got what is now on the tractor.

On the sheet metal I put a primer coat underneath . I sprayed six coats of gray on. Between coats I sanded with fine paper. The results look very good. Winter came and I assembled the tractor back together. May of 1982 I put the decals on. With the decals on, the tractor looked entirely different.

The fire extinguisher on the side of the hood was black when I got it. Took me two months spare time during the winter to clean it. This was on the tractor when new. Haven’t seen another John Deere with one on. June ’82 rolled around and a steam show was being held at Norwich, Ontario-I wanted it there. This would be the first show for the tractor and me. So I called up my friend Mr. Taylor. He agreed to move it. When he came to pick it up he was impressed and I drove it onto the same trailer that moved it home six years ago. Got a lot of nice comments. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.

The original exhaust manifold was in tough shape and I wanted a a good one for the Milton Show. So about one week before the show I phoned all the wrecking yards in Ontario, and finally found one at a local wreckers’, but when I went to get it, nobody knew anything about it. He found me one in a field. The back was full of cracks, but it had a good muffler mount. I paid for it and went to work.

When I started to glassbead it I got a bit angry. The few cracks I saw at the wrecking yard were only a small portion of what was there. So I spent all day Saturday brazing them up. Got it painted and didn’t look too bad. Then, I went to bolt it on. My blots (7/16) would not fit the holes. I had picked up a manifold for an earlier model tractor which uses 3/8 bolts, so I drilled the holes out to 7/16. Got the manifold on and a muffler too. Looks good and doesn’t leak.

Next problem

I had no trailer to move the John Deere to the Milton Show, but I finally found one to rent. On the way to Milton my truck, and the trailer with the tractor on it stalled at the top of a very steep hill and wouldn’t start. Then it started to rain. Also, it was the Labour Day Weekend and I was holding up traffic. Finally a man in a loaded dump truck stopped to help me and did I ever need his help. He pulled my truck and trailer to the side of the road. It started up and ran fine. I thanked him a lot and started down the road again. When I reached about 40 to 50 mph I could hear a clanking noise coming from the carb and muffler pipe on my truck. I pulled over to the side of the road. By this time the dump truck stopped again. I told him I needed a tow truck. I was two-thirds of the way to Milton so I figured to keep going AT ANY COST. Two hours later a tow truck showed up. When we arrived in Milton he was pulling my truck with the trailer on with the John Deere on the trailer. This made quite a long wagon trainload. I unloaded my tractor and went home.

Saturday at Milton, the weather was good and I had a good time. I met old friends and made new ones. Since I had no wheels I hired a guy to move my tractor home Monday night. Monday night he showed up four hours late, and he was drunk, Needless to say I was a little upset again. The ride home was very eventful, so I adjusted the bill accordingly.

The original owner has seen the tractor since and was surprised. The amount of money, time, setback is unreal for one tractor. Would I do it again? Sure. It’s a bad disease. Can be fixed only one way. In fact I can’t wait to get another tractor even if it’s in worse shape than this one. All the cuts, burns, scrapes, pulled muscles, bad luck makes it all worthwhile. At times I was ready to give up, but to know what the end results would be made it seem promising. The tractor now sits in front of my workshop covered up. It generally starts first time with a quarter turn of the crank-to hear it run now pays for all the work and blood I put into it. It waits to be taken to steam shows and generally showed off to friends. If anybody has any comments feel free to write me.

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