Ford Model ‘A’ tractor found at Bear Creek auction
Being an avid reader of Gas Engine Magazine for over ten years, I have read stories of the search for old iron, extensive restoration and final uses by others. Stories usually feature: a friend told a friend about a tractor or engine; an owner who was not ready to part with his treasure that may have been sitting outside 40 years collecting rain; old iron out in the middle of you-name-it, cow pasture, ghost town, island or swamp; years patiently soaking frozen parts, making foundry patterns, welding, brazing and tinkering until at last it runs and looks like new.
Well, my tractor story has none of the hardship elements, but I hope you find it entertaining.
The first lesson I have learned is to keep eyes and ears open while traveling, and talking to farmers, neighbors and school bus drivers. Many tips are legends, old iron long ago scrapped, buried or destroyed, but a lead sometimes ends with some treasure. Trader bulletins and county newspapers are also good sources, which I soon found out.
While digesting the paper’s classified ads, my eyes fell upon an auction ad for an upcoming estate sale which included tools, Ford Model T and A and V8 motors, parts, transmissions and, as if typed in neon letters three inches high, a phrase like ‘Homemade Ford Model A Tractor.’ My mind’s wheels started turning, and I imagined everything from a cut down Model A car built by some resourceful farmer to a pile of parts that used to be a tractor. I didn’t really have a parade tractor in any condition in my collection of junk (old iron). I decided that I would go and see what the tractor was and what it brought at auction.
I left about an hour early to scout out the auction and the mystery tractor, and drove the five miles to the auction site. Bear Fork Road turnoff was on my route from work to home, and the auction site was within sight of the main road, but I had never been far up the road or knew a tractor lurked there.
There was a small crowd, but from their talk and the people I knew, this was a tool-buying, and Model A and T car parts bunch. So much for bargains, I thought.
I figured that the tractor would be up a hollow or in a brier pile, but there it sat, lined up with the other items. A once-over revealed that the engine was not stuck, no welded places or cracks, and it seemed complete. The tractor, though, drew a lot of attention from the Model A car crowd for the engine and transmission, so I thought my chances evaporated to buy a tractor versus someone else buying a transplant for some car. I figured I would still see what the shop tools brought and see how much the ‘engine transplant’ would bring.
As the auction started, I bought a few hand tools and other highly needed bargains, and kept eyeing the tractor. All my family auction training quoted from my grandfather to my dad to me was reviewed mentally. Nothing is a bargain unless you need it. Don’t show too much interest before the sale. Set your high bid before the item is sold and stick to it. Don’t bid too fast don’t bid too slow.
I set my high bid on the tractor as a parade vehicle and bided my time. I ended up with a truckload of junk, stuff, parts, odds and ends, a hydraulic press, a drill press, and a bolt bin before the day was over. During the process, finally the tractor came up for bid. I kept my head and kept bidding but was getting nervous as I was fast approaching my set limit, which I thought was a lot for a ‘pig in a poke.’ Finally, the auctioneer knocked the tractor off to me within $25.00 of my limit. I now owned a tractor that didn’t run. I was there by myself, and no way to haul it home. Now what, I thought?
Transport and rebuild
I had a friend watch my auction purchase pile so no one could add more junk to it while I drove to my mechanic friend’s garage, just up the main road. Keith ‘Peewee’ Ashby was there, and he agreed to help me get the tractor from the auction. We pulled it to the main road and then winched it onto his winch truck for our big two mile trip. Once at the garage, with the ignition points dressed and some gas in the tank, it ran within 10 minutes. We unloaded it with ramps and winch line for safety, as the tractor was high centered, high geared and with brake pedals on either side of the transmission, and with the regular Model A clutch pedal still mounted on the transmission. I knew that while unloading without the winch I did not have three feet to work all of the pedals at the same time. It was after I reached terra firma and we were admiring what appeared to be a ‘homemade tractor,’ bought originally in Ohio, that I got a modified form of buyers remorse ‘You bought it, what are you going to do with it?’
After pondering my purchase, I knew that the tractor would be a fun addition to the City of Spencer’s October Black Walnut Festival Parade, the biggest annual event in the county. I knew my son
Madison, my gas engine buddy then age four, would want to ride with Daddy, but I had a tractor with little foot plates, no fenders and a single implemented seat. Modifications from items on hand, or traded, included a pipe bumper filled with cement for front end weight, a van seat, fenders, floor board, and relocated brake pedals so my size 13 feet could work the pedals. Spray paint and tire dressing ended the restoration work with an ‘oogga horn’ for interest.
The night before the parade, I decided to run the tractor’s engine awhile for a shake-down run. It started fine, ran a while, then died starving for gas. Plenty of gas in the tank but none to the engine. Disassembly of the carb revealed that I had vibrated loose a layer of rust and dirt in the carburetor a quarter inch deep. What now? No other carb, no carb kit, no gaskets, no manual. With screwdriver, wrenches and carburetor cleaner, I cleaned the carb as best I could, put it back together and hoped for the best the next day.
I had Peewee haul the tractors to the Heritage Park area where I was grinding corn meal with an 8N Ford and a Meadows mill stone burr grist mill.
‘I thought this was kind of neat, ‘ is what we heard from by Rich Howard, Hysham, Montana 59038. ‘The roofing material covers a loading dock next to the tracks at the Emerson-Brantingham Farm Machinery Company building. The building faces Montana Avenue and is still occupied in Billings, Montana.’ Thanks for sending us this picture!
When the parade lineup time came, I loaded some tools, and Madison and I started down the road to the staging area. The rust bucket carburetor was slobbering gas as I went but no main jet adjustment would help. I would have to turn the gas on at the tank, fill the bowl, shut it off and turn it back on, before the motor died some feat! We found our assigned spot among the antique car section and waited to start. We gathered a crowd of admirers when we parked. I was not sure that the tractor would not overheat, stop dead or other -wise leave us stranded in the biggest county parade that had over one hundred units. It is hard to keep fingers crossed, feed the carburetor gas by the bowlful, and wave at the crowd, but we made it.
Most people know me in my regular vocation as a lawyer, and they would point, look at the tractor and then look up, see me driving in boots, bib overalls and ball cap and burst out laughing I know it must be the overalls!
We are waiting for the next parade, a float next year? One gentleman said the tractor was a SPEED EX brand and he had one on their farm as a boy.
Any information, pictures or stories would be appreciated.
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