Fordtrac Rides Again: T is for Teamwork

By Staff
article image
Model T tractor: Ray Schulz in plaid, Merle Offerdahl in dark sweater.

Rt. 2, Box 474 Elk Point, South Dakota 57025

This restoration of the Model T tractor is a far cry from
today’s Crown Victoria or a 70 Series Genesis tractor.

During the winter of 1994-95, Merle Offerdahl and Ray Schulz of
Vermillion, South Dakota, recreated this Model T tractor, sometimes
called a Fordtrac. These retirees turned a shop full of parts and a
lifetime of experience into a vintage vehicle with smooth sounding
motor, high back wheels and polished wooden rack.

Back in the good old days, cars and tractors were user friendly.
Most farmers could adapt, repair and overhaul them on the farm. By
the 1920s magazines advertised a conversion kit by which a farmer
could transform his Model T car into a workweek tractor.

About 15 years ago, Schulz purchased a disassembled Model T
engine, a conversion kit with high lug wheels and small cogs, and a
stockpile of parts at an auction in Fort Pierre, South Dakota. He
says that it’s difficult to determine the age of the vehicle
they’ve built because the Model T parts span several years; the
newest part is a 1926-27 transmission.

They remember looking at the parts last fall. Nothing was
attached. Each piece was separate. Schulz, who had worked with
Offerdahl on two previous restorations, had asked, ‘Can we
build it?’ Offerdahl replied, ‘If you’ve got enough
parts, we can put it together, but I’m not sure it will
run.’

Rebuilding the transmission was a major challenge because
neither man had ever seen the inside of one. They used a service
manual with exploded pictures to assemble the 26 clutch disks in
the proper sequence. ‘We started with the flywheel and worked
backward following the illustrated order. All the pieces were
there, we just put them together,’ remembers Offerdahl,
who’d last worked on a Model T in 1936.

Throughout the rebuilding, they often ‘played it by
ear.’ Listened for the buzz coil to buzz at the proper time.
Wired by guess. Brushed and cleaned the crankshaft until
‘we’d found what we thought we were looking for’ the
Ford name in script. Magneto. Gears. Generator. Radiator. Starter.
Everything fell into place. ‘It was surprisingly easy,’
says Schulz.

When the time came, they tried the engine. According to
Offerdahl, ‘As the second piston came up, the engine started.
They passed another milestone with the test drive a rough, jolting
ride over frozen ground. This first ride prompted them to replace
the lugs with rubber tread.

Each man credits the other with providing what was needed:
mechanical expertise, shop space, sources of information,
stockpiles of parts, ideas, equipment, tools, and hours spent
cleaning, preparing, adjusting, designing.

The paint job was done by Schulz’s son-in-law, Jerry
Schmitz, and a neighbor, David Fallen. This is Schulz’s fifth
restoration project.

Back in the 1920s, most fanners repaired their Model Ts with
‘form know-how’: common sense, common tools. Now in 1995,
Schulz and Offerdahl bring back a sense of that history by
recreating this World War I era Model T tractor shown pulling an
International P O 2-14 plow formerly owned by Walter E Schulz, the
plow Ray Schulz learned on as a boy.

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