A Tractor's Restoration
Little Red when purchased. Note bullet hole in gas tank.
Box 81 Cape Canaveral, Florida 32920
Once upon a time, a thousand dreams ago, I was a sprightly young thing, brightly painted, agile, quick to heed a master's commands, and all the while, purring like the happy farm cats where I lived. I know the engineering gods who made me were called IHC, and that my line was McCormick-Deering. IHC were the letters found on all my parts, but McCormick-Deering crowned the front of my graceful radiator housing. My makers intended for me to work in orchards and groves, so I was short in my wheelbase to make quick turns, had a draw-bar at my rear, a power take-off shaft there, too, rotating side drums linked to my braking system, and a bolt out front to tug while backing. The number 012-2500 was etched alongside my motor block just ahead of my gas pump.
My first master was a man in Florida who owned vast orange groves. There I arrived by freight train in 1937, and was used in the groves to turn the sandy soil, drag weed cutters, and sprayers. When the harvest was ready, I hauled wagons to be loaded with shiny fruit. As the years went by, my driver took good care of me, but he, himself was aging.
After a great war among the humans, he came back to see me. This time a younger lad rode with him. Soon the old man retired, and the young boy took over my care. He loved to drive me, and had me doing fancy capers I was never really designed for.
One day the young man went away to another war among the people, and I was replaced by a younger, smaller, but stronger tractor. I was moved out of the big shed, and parked behind it. Chickens came to roost on me, spiders made their homes in all my openings, and even mud-dauber wasps found secret lodging within me. Weeds grew up to my skirts; one of my tires lost its air, and other old junk to be discarded was tossed upon me.
Then one bright Florida morning, there was a great noise among the humans, and toward me came the young boy, now a man, who had gone off to the war. His father had died and I had been given to the young man. Now I would be cared for and have a new home.
So it came to pass that I was loaded on an old truck, and taken to a place where the boy and his mother would live. I was parked behind their modest home, and the young man spent his mornings trying to rehabilitate me.
He labored long and hard, but his knowledge and his tools were limited. He could not afford to replace damaged parts, and the days he neglected me increased.
As time went by so did the hurricanes, blazing sunny days; and rainy spells. Again, the weeds grew up around me. The air from all but one of my tires escaped. I could feel the deadly stiffness of rust-disease creeping into my engine-heart.
I was now completely abandoned. I became the habitat of field rats; palmettos grew up high about me and between my sagging frame. And I began to slink slowly into the sandy earth.
One fine day, the young man reappeared with a young dog. He tied the dog to my frame, and I became a shelter for the miserable animal. Even his howls of lament did not disturb my sleep. I had heard of what happened to tractors and humans when they get very old, but what I had heard was hard to believe. I would never really get old. I would always work, I was made of good metals by great engineers. How could I get too old to be useful?
An old face bent over me. His grimy fingers probed my connections, lifted the cover from my engine head.
To me, he looked like a prince. Finally, after some talking, my owner accepted some green paper from the old man. Then the old man made pictures of me.
The old man had to scramble beneath my transmission box to find and remove the plug that would drain my transmission. This required sliding around with feet and arms until he could loosen the drain plug. He was covered with sand and dirt, and whatever the dog had left before he was taken away.
During this activity the old man contracted a 'Florida Sand Worm,' which was indeed (though relatively rare) a dangerous pest. The treatment of the painful red itchy marks were a setback, but he was soon 'back on the job.'
The old man took me apart piece by piece. He found a broken cam support stand, bent push rods, and valves completely rested shut. He could not move my pistons. The cancerous rust had sealed them to my cylinders.
Still, all the while grumbling, and calling me names I had not heard in years, he soaked my cylinders in every liquid he could find, from Magic Oil, to Coca Cola; from gasoline to diesel oil. Nothing could be moved. Finally he poured Magic Oil into my cylinders again, and with a wooden block tapped on my stuck cylinders. And he tapped, and tapped, and finally with a heavy hammer, smashed wooden block after the other, but nothing moved. He worked day after day and left me soaking in oil over nights and weekends.
Finally, one day he attacked me with greater vigor than ever, and after much thumping saw a tiny space appear at the head of one piston. He moved from piston to piston, now thumping away, and finally, with great reluctance, the cylinders began to all move.
The worst was over.
Removal of my underside oil pan, revealed no extensive damage or rust, and no breakage. The old man was happier. Earlier, he had drained my crankcase, disgusted to see quart after quart of old water gush out. Finally some black oil.
With my transmission case, the same problem, a rush of water, then some heavy oil.
One of my big rear tires was still up, and partly full of air; the other was flat and rotten.
To my astonishment the old man jacked up each side of my rear end and removed the rear tires.
He obviously didn't know what he was about, nor how to accomplish the job, but he tried hard. The wheel with the good tire slipped off after he removed the hub nut and pounded form the inside while turning the wheel little by little.
When he got to the wheel with the flat tire, he jacked up that side and tried the same maneuver. While astride the wheel with one foot on my frame and the other on the ground, he tapped with great force. Finally the wheel started slipping loose. He pounded harder until the wheel was barely hanging on.
Then it popped loose and fell with a thud, landing on the inside of the old man's leg. The leg was very sore, but not broken.
Finally, when he could turn my crank and the pistons worked right, he gathered up his tools, covered me with a tarpaulin, and went away. The little black dog had gone the first day the old man saw me, and I was once again lonely through the night.
The next morning, the old man came through the high brush with another man as old as he, and they looked at me and shook their heads. The old man made some more photos of me, and the other man drove up his tractor with a trailer beside me. After great maneuvering they finally got me aboard the trailer. Then the second old man, whom I heard the first man call 'Shorty', drove off down a narrow road, with my master, (whose name I now knew, because Shorty had called him 'Bert') trailing along after us in his little truck.
They parked the trailer at the rear of Shorty's property. There were several other large tractors sitting around. They were called Case, and it appeared that Shorty had them under repair. They were painted an orange-red and looked pretty to me. None were young, but I knew that I was the oldest lady of them all.
Bert took more parts off me. With each part, he diligently removed all the rust, crumbling paint, and dirt. Bert tried hard to get the old paint and rust off my big wheels but couldn't get the rims loose.
So, after a discussion with Shorty, he laid them out flat and poured muriatic acid onto the metal.
After several days of soaking, all that came off was dirt and old paint.
Shorty put in two new tubes and aired them up. Bert washed the wheels clean, dried them, and brush painted them red with silver edge trims and black hub ends.
After the paint dried, Shorty, with his new tractor and a hoist, put my hind wheels back on. Bert painted my iron seat a bright green. I wonder why? My steering shaft and wheel he painted black. With touches of black and silver here and there, I was ready to be put together entirely.
With parts strewn about, he removed the head from my engine, loosened the valves, reground them and reset them properly, straightened my push rods, flushed out my crank case, took the big cover plate from my transmission case, and flushed me out.
He and Shorty were delighted to see no damage within, only a slight yellowish mark where the water had sat for years. Then began the rehabilitation.
Bert covered all my parts that were to be repainted with a green liquid he called Ospho. Then he carefully brushed on each piece a beautiful bright-red paint. Could I have breathed, I'd have heaved a mighty sigh of relief. Never had I had such wonderful care. He's either mad or in love, or both.
Now on all four wheels and painted pretty, Bert photographed all his grandkids in my seat. Some weeks of this kind of treatment and I became a truly spoiled brat.
The two old guys found a truck radiator to put on me because Bert hadn't found a replacement for the original radiator I once had and he wanted to see if my engine could run. I was re-assembled, oiled up, watered, and left to rest for the night.
In about two hours, Shorty phoned Bert. Water was pouring out of my spark plug holes. Something radically wrong! They came to my rescue the next morning.
Seems the head was warped a bit. The gasket not good enough and maybe more. Off came my head to a machine shop.
I had to wait about a week while the experts machined my head flat, reground the valves and reseated them while Bert waited for the arrival of new gaskets.
Shorty kept reminding Bert that I didn't have much compression. Maybe my rings were stuck? Finally, when the head came back, Shorty, the tractor engine doctor, took out my pistons and foundsure enough rings rusted tight to the pistons. So, back to the supply house for rings and new spark plugs.
In a couple of weeks, new rings arrived and Shorty carefully put them onto my pistons. Bert got busy with some other important matters and when Shorty called him about a week later, the pistons were in, the head on, all stuck, bolted and screwed back together, and I was ready to fire up.
Bert came over and put my substitute radiator on and the old guys gleefully sent for a can of gas. Shorty's boys came by and they all took turns cranking. Right away I came to life, then gasped and quit.
Shorty removed my carburetor and found the float wouldn't float. It was concluded the reason was that the small push pin was sticking in the gas channel leading to the bowl. Shorty cleaned and buffed the tiny pin and cleaned out the gas channel.
After checking the gas pump and putting water in my radiator, they tried again. Shorty's lads had departed with blistered hands.
At the first crank, I fired. Then for another try, after adjusting the air and gas intake crews, Bert tried the crank and I fired up and ran steady for the first time. Shorty's paw came across the engine and grabbed Bert's, at long lastsuccess! Bert shouted, 'We'll have a bottle of champagne on that!'
Shorty drove me around. Everything worked. 'Thanks, men, you've brought me back to life!'
Roaring around, resplendent in my bright fire-red paint, with all the neighbors waving at the old men and at me; perhaps I am again, the 'Belle of Merritt Island', like when I was rolled off the railroad siding at Cocoa, Florida, many, many years agoonce upon a time.
(There will be a new ending to this story as soon as Bert gets a proper radiator for me and some decals!) Plus one final photo ...