Farmall F12 Tractor Restoration

By Staff
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The "salvage yard" Farmall F12 tractor, which became the foundation for the final restoration.
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The "Bone Plain" F12, the original restoration project. Note the front wheels, which literally fell apart as the tractor was hauled from the spot where it had sat for decades. 
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Take one year, two-derelict Farmall F12s, and what do you get? If you're Duane Reynolds you end up with the F12 seen here, a stunning tractor by any measure. 
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Static display: Left-over parts from the F12 restoration project were pulled together to make this stationary statement.

I decided several years ago that I wanted to own a Farmall F12, as an F12 was the first tractor used on our family farm in Summerhill, N.Y. My grandfather, Homer Reynolds, bought that first F12 sometime between 1935 and 1937 when my father, Robert Reynolds, was still in high school. Dad remembers the day that tractor arrived on the farm and grandpa went plowing with it, and he remembers it was slow – he tells of passing grandpa several times with the sulky plow and three-horse hitch that the F12 was bought to replace.

That was the tractor I learned to drive on, and I spent many hours raking hay and doing other chores with it. I have a photograph of that tractor taken in about 1957, and I believe it’s the only picture of it. The F12 was traded off for a set of hydraulic cultivators for the Farmall M shortly after the picture was taken.

Another reason for wanting an F12 was that the John Deere B was built to compete against this tractor. The F12 was put on the market in 1932, the John Deere B in 1935. I collect John Deere Bs, and I felt that my collection wouldn’t be complete without a Farmall F12.

The Bone Plain Farmall

For 18 years I had admired an F12 that sat derelict alongside the Bone Plain Road between Dryden and South Lansing, N.Y. Dad says it was there when he sold the family farm to my brother, Gerald, 30 years ago. It sat about 20 feet from the road, and over the years had become grown over and more hidden with brush. Even so, it had become something of a local landmark, with directions to and from places in the area given in relation to their proximity to the “old tractor.”

On July 2, 2000, my wife, Jeannie, and I were out for a Sunday drive and were on the Bone Plain Road. As we passed the tractor I noticed a man getting into his truck at the house nearby. I stopped and asked him if he had ever considered selling the old tractor. He said yes. I learned later that I was not, by far, the first to ask this question, but I was, apparently, the first to receive this answer.

I had never had an opportunity to inspect the tractor before, and it was in sad shape. There was a hole in the side of the block that I could put my hand in, but given that it was in the water jacket I thought I would be able to patch it. I also found that the exhaust, which had been open to the elements for years, was full of water and moss, and the shift lever didn’t move. It also had an automobile steering wheel. On the plus side, it had a full set of F&H wheels (tires rotted off) and had a mounted mower attached. The deal also included a parts tractor, which turned out to be a 1930 Farmall Regular, s/n 105058, with mounted cultivators. The engine had been parted out on this tractor, but it still would have been the easier restoration of the two. Problem was, I wanted an F12. I finalized the purchase of the two tractors and had them moved to our house the following day, July 4, 2000, the front wheel rims of the F12 crumbling as it was dragged from its resting place.

Closer inspection of the F12 after I got it home showed that this machine had been extensively rebuilt before. Its fuel tank, fuel tank front support and engine were from an F14. The ID tag on the front fuel tank support was for F14 s/n FS146665. The rest of the tractor was F12. At the end of F12 production in 1938, International Harvester had ‘field’ converted 500 F12s to F14s and renumbered them FS155402 – FS155902. This was not one of those machines. The foot guard – or rest -over the belt pulley was missing, as was the belt pulley. The toolbox was totally rusted away, and while I was removing the draw bar with mower I found that the flange on the right rear axle spindle that the draw bar attachment bracket is mated to was broken.

After first removing the mounted mowing machine and drawbar as one unit, I decided to tackle the transmission first and worry about the engine later. One of the shift forks was rusted to the first and third slider gear and was broken, and both fork carriers were stuck to the detent shaft. I freed the fork carriers and then removed the detent shaft from the transmission in order to gain access to the broken fork so I could weld it. With these repairs finished, I had a working transmission and final drive. Next up was to see what the engine looked like inside.

Total Junk is the only description that fits. The inside was one big ball of rust, the governor was rusted solid, the connecting rods were rusted to the crank, the cam was rusted to its bearings, valve lifters were locked in place, the cylinder head was buckled due to freezing, the valves were rusted away, the tops of two pistons were rusted away, and a family of mice had moved into the radiator – the hole in the engine block was their front door! Since these engines are of wet sleeve design I felt it was still rebuildable, but this rebuild would put me way over budget – I didn’t want to exceed the cost of just going out and buying a running F12 by too much. With the condition of the engine, and considering the other parts needed, I decided the most cost-effective course of action would be to find another tractor with the parts on it that I needed. I ran down a few leads, but none offered what I wanted, mainly, a rebuildable motor. It was time to go see Dick.

The Salvage F12

Dick Stoyel, an avid collector of IHC products, lives just a few miles from me and has an extensive salvage yard. I took a walk through that yard on July 11, 2000, and in the process found F12 s/n FS30419. It was a total rust bucket – the manifold was rotted into three pieces, the rear fuel tank support was rusted through (as was the transmission cover), the top casting of the radiator was broken (but the fins on the core were straight and all there), but most importantly it looked and smelled like its engine could be salvaged, and all of the other parts and pieces that I needed were there as well. It was love at first sight.

Dick and I worked out a deal in which he kept the steel wheels off the salvage yard F12 (he already had someone interested in them) and became the owner of the Farmall Regular (with parted out engine). I became the owner of F12 number two in as many weeks, but not without Dick commenting on the fact that, for a John Deere collector, I had a lot of red hanging around me all of a sudden, and he wondered whether or not my wrenches would work on them. When my grandson, Dane Dittmann, heard that his grandfather had gotten another tractor, he ran around yelling, “Grandpa’s got another John Deere! Grandpa’s got another John Deere!” We had to explain to him that it wasn’t a John Deere. With a worried look on his little face he asked, “But it is green, isn’t it?” Does moss count?

After getting this latest acquisition home, I surveyed what I had and came to a difficult conclusion: as much a I wanted to bring the Bone Plain F12 back to life, it was more practical to use it for parts and restore the salvage yard machine. The engine, frame, transmission and final drive from that tractor would be used, and almost all of the smaller parts and wheels would be from the Bone Plain tractor. My brother Gerald had an F12 manifold with exhaust pipe and a drawbar that were left over from his F14 project of several years ago, and these were added to the parts on hand. I could use the extra draw bar since I had removed mine still attached to the mowing machine.

The engine freed up and tore down well. I found water in two of the cylinders, but it clearly had not been there long – Dick told me he had sold the hood off this tractor only a few weeks before I bought it. Only one cylinder had any pitting, and that cleaned up during honing. Generally, there was very little wear on the rest of the engine, and by using parts from both tractors I was able to pull together what I needed. After a quick going over, the magneto from the Bone Plain F12 was alive and well again. I used the F14 fuel tank from the Bone Plain tractor, because when I poured gas tank sealer into the F12 tank from the salvage yard machine, it went right on out onto the ground. Experience has taught me this is usually not a good sign.

On July 28 I fired the engine for the first time, taking a short test-drive with Dick’s steel wheels on the back and a bent rim without a tire on the front. I had either forgotten, or had not noticed years ago, just how loud an F12 is, as there is no provision for a muffler – the exhaust pipe ends about five feet in front of the operator’s face. It’s no wonder that so many of the old farmers are deaf. Even so, the smile on my father’s face when he heard the familiar sound of that old engine was more than enough payment for the time and money I had put into this project.

My brother suggested I should make an effort to get my F12 to the Pageant of Steam in Canandaigua, N.Y., in August, as International Harvester was the featured tractor for the 2000 show. Tempting as that idea was, time was just too short and I had other commitments. I needed to ready my Standard Twin so it could be delivered to the antique tractor display at the New York State Fair on Aug. 23, and then have my Associated Chore Boy ready for the Southern Tier Antique Gas & Steam Engine Show in Maine, N.Y., the next day, where Associated was to be the featured engine.

Even though Canandaigua was out of the question, there was a chance, a slim one, that I could show the F12 at Maine. The thought became an obsession.

My wife and I went to Canandaigua on Aug. 12 to see what we could find amongst the many vendors. I found and purchased a new set of rims to weld onto the new bare spokes of the front F&Hs, a fuel pump diaphragm and a set of F12 decals. My shopping list also included tires and an original owner’s manual, if I could find one. Because of the rain, most paper goods were not displayed, so a search for a manual was put off unit a later date. I did find one later, at the Cortland County Antique Auto & Tractor Show in Little York, N.Y. The price of tires, plus the distance to haul them, was such I decided to wait until I got home and buy them locally, and I ended up buying them from Pete’s Tire Service, a shop located on the Bone Plain Road about a mile west of the spot where the Bone Plain F12 had languished all those years. The folks at Pete’s had wondered what had happened to the old beast.

On Aug. 23 my Standard Twin was delivered to the fair as planned, and that afternoon and on into the night I welded wheels. My son-in-law, Dave Sabol, ground the welds smooth, my brother mounted tires, my brother-in-law, Ray Chapman, helped get the steel wheels off and the rebuilt F&Hs on, and grand-daughter Daniel Sabol asked many, many questions. Finally, on the afternoon of Aug. 24, the Bone Plain/ Salvage Yard F12 was rolled into place on Tractor Row at the Southern Tier Show in Maine, N.Y. – unpainted, but in one piece. It was paraded each day of the show and it powered my brother’s ‘Bellsaw’ sawmill for a while. One spectator asked, “Will it be red next year?” If only he knew what this tractor had been only seven weeks before. I had wondered about the proper color for this tractor myself, and had asked Dick Stoyel about it. He told me that International changed from gray with red wheels to all red on Nov. 1, 1936. My tractor is a 1935 Model. So, my answer to the spectator’s question was no, this one is going to be gray.

Another visitor to the Maine show told me he had a set of steel wheels for an F12, so in the week following I looked him up and purchased those wheels from him. This would allow me to return Dick’s wheels to him and conclude that deal. In the meantime, I decided to assemble all of the unused and broken parts into a static display that could be used as a lawn ornament and the wheels were to be used for that purpose, but could still be switched out for the F&Hs on the good tractor if the mood struck me. I then put the F12 to work plowing the garden, using my 1934 John Deere Model “51” 1-16 tractor plow.

During the winter months that followed I refined many of the things that had been done hurriedly in order to get the F12 to the show in Maine. First on the list was to get BOTH brakes working. The left side brake still had the shoes frozen to the pivot pin and the linings were gone. Finding the correct gray paint became more difficult than I had planned, as well. I went to several suppliers that are listed in various data books along with their respective paint numbers, only to be told that particular paint had been discontinued. What to do? I know, go see Dick! Dick sent me to the NAPA store in Moravia, N.Y., where part #99L, code #8711 was blended for me. Thanks again, Dick.

I then had to sit and wait out the winter so the ambient temperature would get to a point that painting could take place. I spent most of this time scraping and sanding, and scraping some more. My brother got to thinking it would be nice to have some paint on his F14, and his daughter, Juli, mentioned she would like to see her 1935 John Deere AR freshened up a tad, as well. Did I mention the Lawn Ornament F12? Well, that meant that I was waiting for the weather to warm up so that I could paint four tractors! I got all of the painting done by mid-June of 2001 so I could say that the F12 project had been concluded in less than a year.

At this writing the 2001 show season has wrapped up in this part of the country, and engines and tractors are being stored away for another winter. The personal highlight of this year’s shows was having the F12 as part of the New York State Fair Antique Tractor Show (90 units exhibited) and being able to take part in the daily parade with it.

But, I guess it’s time to look around for another project with which to busy these idle hands. There is a Taylor vacuum engine that has been stuffed under my work bench for about the last six or seven years while I have been trying to locate all of the parts necessary to put it together. I think I found the last needed part at the steam pageant in Canandaigua this past summer. I guess the only way to find out is to dig it out and start tinkering.

Contact engine enthusiast Duane M. Reynolds at: 14286 State Rt. 90, Locke, NY 13092, or e-mail at:

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