6548 Lipscomb St. S. E. Salem, Oregon 97301
I only wanted an easy tractor restoration project. You know, the kind where you clean a little dirt off, put on some paint and then say, 'Look at the tractor I restored!' What I got was as far from this as the east is from the west, but it was much more rewarding.
It all started in October 1996, when I was visiting Don Weber's place in Portland, Oregon. Don is a fellow member of EDGE&.TA Branch 15 and I was picking up an old Kultor-King walk-behind garden tractor. I was seeking my easily restored old wheel tractor at the time, so I asked Don if he knew of any such opportunities. He said, 'Sure! I've got three in my backyard!' With anticipation I followed him out back where I saw three of the most derelict piles of junk you ever saw. They were so bad that even the scrap man might be tempted to turn up his nose. As he was showing them to me, saying there were enough parts there to make one, maybe two tractors less the mag, I was busy making positive sounding responses, but looking much more at the clouds and other things, for I was thinking to myself, 'This is NOT what I wanted!' I told him I'd think about it. Yeah, right.
But then the high iron content in my blood got the better of me. Against all reason, logic, common sense, and after discovering I had a mag which would do the job, I made another trip to Portland the following day to have a look at the 'tractors' seeing as how I didn't even really look at them the day before. As half of me was screaming 'idiot,' the other and more powerful half was saying, 'We can do this!' I cut a deal with Don and I was the owner of three former tractors, two McCormick-Deering 10-20s, one I-20, and a pile of rusty various shapes of steel and iron which I was told went with them.
I had to make three more pilgrimages to Portland, one per hulk. My truck broke down on one of these trips and that could be a whole other story in itself. I had to end up replacing the distributor. It's amazing what we'll do for old iron.
When I finally got all the junk home on November 2, 1996, I decided I'd use the I-20, Hulk#1, for the foundation of the tractor I hoped someday to complete. Having already been partially converted to an agricultural model, it had rear steel wheels with angle iron lugs. Also, the main frame casting date was August 21, 1925, making it the oldest of the three. The transmission seemed okay and was the original industrial type. The fenders were also in okay condition and, although not new, looked like they'd work. But it had no engine.
As I started to check out the front end, things were not so good. The king pins were so worn that the poorly done cut-off wheels were about to fall off. I found that Hulk #3 had the best front end, so I swapped it over. Seeing as how I was now building an I-20, I was wondering where I'd ever find a set of I-20 front cast iron wheels. I resigned myself to using the not-so-bad French and Hecks rubber tire wheels I had gotten with the hulks.
About that time I started working on the engine. It was in the pile of parts I had received from Don. It had been taken off Hulk #3 sometime in the past. Don told me that he and his neighbor, and fellow Branch 15 member, Harry Cruchelow, had gotten it to turn over by removing the head, cleaning the rust spikes out of the cylinders, filling them with kerosene and lighting it on fire. After the fire burned out, they apparently had taken dish soap and worked it down the sides of the cylinders and were then able to turn the engine over. However, it had frozen up by the time I started working on it.
I was able to locate an Ensign model 'JA' 15-30 carburetor at the Fordson House which fit the manifold I was provided. The manifold I got in my parts pile was a 447DB with a huge crack in the back side. Knowing that this would have to be fixed, I took it to a local machine shop. After rooting through the parts pile, I found a couple heads, one which looked better than the other despite a couple valves being nothing more than rusty bumps. I hammered the valves out and had to destroy one. There were only four usable valves. I ordered another four with a gasket set from Rice Equipment and took the head to another machine shop. Later, the machine shop called and said the head was no good, having both external and internal cracks. The other head wasn't cracked but was so rusted, it was no good either. So I added a head to the list of parts I needed.
Then there was the issue of the front bolster springs. The older I-20s have a bolster assembly between the main frame casting and front axle with four coil springs. Two of these were broken and I searched all over for another pair. Being unable to find any anywhere, including from spring supply houses, I had four custom made.
I rented a 3000 PSI hot water washer to clean the main frame and inside of the transmission. What a mess! I had to throw out my clothes and it literally took a month to clean up the area after that. Fifty-year-old HOW gear oil sticks to everything.
Meanwhile, I had located a tractor wrecker right here in Salem, Tractor Specialties. Just so happened they had a newer I-20 with the original front cast iron wheels! And its engine had a rebuildable looking head! Enter Hulk #4. Wayne, at Tractor Specialties, made me a good deal on the front wheels and he pulled and rebuilt the head for me. It, too, had four bad valves, so I donated mine to the effort.
While all this was going on, I had been working on the lower end of the engine. Originally, I was going to do a total disassembly, but I could not get the setscrew on the starting crank lug off the nose of the crankshaft. In retrospect, I'm glad I didn't. I hammered all of the pistons out, honed the cylinders, re-ringed the pistons, put them back in and adjusted the bearings. I also took crocus cloth to the camshaft to clean off the rust. I cleaned the oil pump and replaced the pan after taking it and a few other parts down to the car wash (I wouldn't have wanted to be the next person to use that stall).
Next I had to focus my attention on the clutch. The engine I was rebuilding had a flywheel compatible with the old-style multi-plate clutch, but the only clutch I could find in my pile of parts was a new style one. 'Uh-oh,' said I. Then I got to looking at Hulk #2 from where the clutch apparently had been removed. The engine, still in this tractor, had a flywheel compatible with this new style single plate clutch. So I dragged Hulk #2 to my shop, pulled the engine, and pulled the flywheel. Just the items in this last sentence took two days to accomplish. After getting this flywheel back from the machine shop, I put it on the engine I was rebuilding. 'I hope this all fits,' I thought to myself.
After putting my new front iron wheels on, which included new outer races and bearing donations from Hulks #2 and #3,1 was ready to put the engine on the frame. I had also used the rear engine mount from Hulk#2, so I had to do a little bit of filing to get the alignment pins to match up with their holes, but it was great to finally see the engine on the frame. After swapping around some head studs between this and my parts engine, I put the head and water manifold on, then the push rods, rocker arm assemblies and cover. Next, on went the manifold which had spent the last six weeks at the machine shop. It had finally been brazed, the only thing they could make work. To it I added the carburetor and throttle linkage.
I had just picked up the rebuilt clutch plate from a local brake reliner, so I took it, the pressure plate, and all the little shaft pieces which I had figured must connect the clutch shaft to the transmission, and darned if it didn't all fit! The original firewall was so rusted out that I threw it out and used the one off Hulk #2.1 replaced the I-20 style of rear fuel tank support and put on the I-20 tank after mending several holes in the bottom with fiberglass and sealing it with tank sealer. I noticed that the steering column was a bit loose and it turned out that the steering post casting was broken inside the transmission. I pulled the entire assembly off Hulk #3.
Then I started the radiator. I'm glad I had two to work with because, between the two, I was able to build a pretty good one. I used the bottom, sides and core off one and the top tank off the other, turning the better looking core side forwards. Subsequent to putting my newly assembled radiator on my creation, it actually started to look like a tractor! However I soon found that every liquid I placed in the tractor, water, oil, and fuel, leaked. I put in several rounds of block sealer for the head gasket and radiator leaks, tightened the drain cocks for the oil leaks, and resealed the tank with JB Weld for the fuel leaks.
Finally the big day came, Good Friday, 1997. My dad was visiting and I had just received my excellently reproduced 853 D muffler from Rosewood Machine in Ohio. I cleaned up the original spark plugs and made wires, also wiring in a kill switch that could be worked from the seat. We pushed the tractor outside, primed it, cranked it and it actually started! We drove it back and forth a bit and then parked it. Five months into the project, but being far from done, I had found new energy because I had actually seen and heard it run and had driven it! I kind of felt like Dr. Frankenstein.
For the following two months I focused on the floor panels, the fenders and the hood; cleaning, straightening, and priming them. The side curtains were too far gone, so I didn't use them. The overall cleaning and painting took six weeks. I used DuPont Dulux applied with a brush. This was probably the most tedious part of the entire project, but as I progressed I started saying to myself, 'This thing is starting to look good!'
The day arrived that I could say I was done, around the middle of June. Actually at that point the mode of work changed from constructing to tinkering and I suppose the latter mode will last for a while yet. I was able to drive it around my field and do a few final things and take some pictures.
My new tractor was received at its first show quite warmly. I took it to the 27th Annual Great Oregon Steamup at Western Antique Powerland, Brooks, Oregon where Branch 15 and eight other clubs have their annual show. It was worth the more than seven months of work to see the expressions on people's faces when I showed them my 'Before' picture and then they looked at the finished product. It was also very fulfilling and fun driving it in the 'Parade of Power' all four days the show was running.
I christened my I-20 'The Pieces of Eight' because it was built from four hulks with pieces and parts off another four tractors. I'd like to thank those who helped me find those various parts and pieces. Rice Equipment in Pennsylvania supplied most of the NOS and reproduction parts. I probably placed over ten parts orders with them throughout the project. The Fordson House, in Michigan, supplied the head and front cast iron wheels. I also worked with four local machine shops and many other local businesses, too numerous to list.
I won't be tackling another project as aggressive as this one for some time. However, I did pick up another gas engine at the show to restore. It's a 1923, 3 HP Fairbanks-Morse Z and it's in brand-new condition in comparison to my I-20 when I got it. I'm sure it'll provide a leisurely rebuild experience which I could use about now!