An Easy Restoration Please…
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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!
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