A Promise Made is a Promise Kept as a Rare Fordson-based Trackson Crawler Returns to the Field
Ken Dinse's Fordson Trackson working the woods last winter. Best guess puts the Fordson base of this unit as a 1926 Model F.
On a warm summer day in mid-June 1997, my family and I stopped to visit Melvin Schultz, a retired farmer and long time friend. Melvin's wife had passed away some years earlier, but Melvin, even though he was in his late 80s, had remained on his farm, living alone.
Melvin invited us in to visit, and at some point I mentioned restoring old tractors as a hobby. With that Melvin said, 'I have an old tractor, it's a Fordson. Bought it used in 1937, used it for a few years. When I bought the SC Case in 1942 I parked the Fordson, and it hasn't been run since. It's out there on the north end of the hog barn if you want to see it.'
Fifty-five years is a long time for a tractor to sit outside, so I was only mildly interested by Melvin's remark. Even so, as we got ready to leave I told Melvin I would go take a look at his old tractor. Foraging around the barn I couldn't see any sign of a Fordson, but after pushing tall grass and brush aside I found it. I had envisioned a standard Fordson wheel tractor, but to my surprise what I found was a Fordson on tracks. I had seen a dozen or so Fordsons on tracks, most of them at tractor shows, but I had never seen one like this, looking very much like a military vehicle. Need I say that my degree of interest was changing rapidly? It was too late in the day to go back in the house and talk to Melvin about possibly buying it, and I decided that if it had been there 55 years, it would probably be there at least another week.
The next weekend I went back to see Melvin, and I bought the Fordson. I promised Melvin that when I got the Fordson running he would be one of the first to hear it run, and perhaps to put my promise to the test he reminded me he would be 88 years old the next month.
A few days later, on June 28, 1997 (the importance of this date will become obvious later), two friends went with me to help me get the Fordson. The Fordson had settled in the ground about six inches, so we jacked it up, put planks and rollers under it, winched it on the trailer and strapped it down. With a goodbye and a reminder of my promise to Melvin, we were on our way back to Green Bay, Wis., the Fordson in tow.
Once I got the Fordson home I did a little research, and I found out it was a crawler conversion called a Trackson, built by Full Crawler Co., Milwaukee, Wis. Full Crawler built the Fordson Trackson from about 1924 to 1930. According to Robert Pripps' book, Vintage Ford Tractors, Full Crawler built an estimated 88,000 Tracksons before being bought by Caterpillar Tractor Co. in 1930. Full Crawler bought the power unit (basically a Fordson without wheels) from Ford and mounted it on their own carriage.
The Fordson Trackson as found, being readied for transport. Gerald Thirion (left) secures timbers for loading the Trackson as Melvin Schultz looks on.
The restored Fordson Trackson and Melvin reunite on June 28, 2001, four years to the day from when Ken bough the Trackson from Melvin.
There were two models of Trackson crawlers, a 2-ton and a 3-ton. The 2-ton had a short track that stopped even with the front of the tractor and was direct drive from the rear axles, whereas the 3-ton (also known as Model D) had a longer track and a reduction drive. It is my understanding that the 2-ton was less expensive, more popular, and built in greater numbers. Mine is a 3-ton, and I have discovered two more like it in the last couple of years, one in California and the other in Maine. My engine has no serial number, and I wonder if the Fordson power units were delivered to Full Crawler without a serial number.
I started by taking the Fordson completely apart and sandblasting everything. Not surprisingly, after 55 years the elements had taken their toll on the Fordson. The original gas tank was rusted through, and the track pins were rusted, which meant I had to make new ones - all 42 of them. The front bolster was rusted through, so I made a new one (this required fabricating eight pieces of iron and drilling 192 holes for 96 bolts to hold it together), and there were numerous other parts that had to be made, as well. The engine, luckily, was mostly okay. Three of the cylinders still had a film of oil on them, but moisture in the number one cylinder damaged the wall badly enough I had to have it bored and sleeved. Fordsons, by the way, didn't come with sleeves.
There were some pleasant surprises, however. The magneto, which is on the flywheel just like a Ford Model T, was still hot, and after cleaning up the points all four of the buzz coils still worked. Even so, I ended up replacing two of the coils because they were weak.
I was still working a full-time job when I started this project, and that made it hard to keep at it. But even with that, a few years and many hours of work later, I felt 1 had a tractor that was looking pretty good, especially considering what I started with. The time finally came to see if it would run, and after a couple of twists on the crank she came to life. Boy, what music after over half a century of silence. That was June 27, 2001, and what I didn't realize at the moment was, it was one day short of four years from the day I had loaded the Trackson up in Melvin's yard. That realization didn't come until later in the day while looking at a picture of loading it up in Melvin's yard on June 28, 1997. With that, I turned to my wife and said that we would be going for a ride the next day. I told her of the promise I had made to Melvin, that he would be 92 in July and that I didn't think I should keep him waiting.
By that time Melvin had moved to an assisted living home, so with address in hand I set out the next morning to find him. As I pulled up in front of the home I spotted Melvin sitting in the warm morning sun. I parked the truck, walked over to him and said, 'Melvin, do you recognize that tractor?' Melvin looked at me and said, 'By the time you stopped your truck, 1 knew it was my old Fordson.' Melvin was in a wheelchair, arthritis having taken its toll, so I wheeled him over by the tractor, climbed up on the trailer, gave the crank a couple of turns and she purred like a kitten.
Melvin had something in his eye, might have been a twinkle, maybe a tear, but there was no mistake about his smile - it went from one ear to the other. While the tractor was running I snapped a few shots of Melvin next to his old Fordson, and after letting it run a few more minutes I shut if off. 'You really made my day,' Melvin said to me. I hadn't planned it that way, but it was exactly four years to the day that Melvin waited to see the old Fordson run again. I mailed Melvin a copy of one of the photographs, and he kept it on his nightstand.
As I write this, it is Tuesday, April 8, 2003. Melvin passed away Friday, and I went to the funeral home to pay my respects to a nice man and long time friend. As I stood there reflecting on the past few years, I was pleased by the thought that I was able to keep my promise. I have taken the Fordson to a few tractor shows, but 1 haven't found anyone yet who has seen one like it. This past February I took her out to the woods and skidded some logs, and she seemed to enjoy it as much as I did.
Contact engine enthusiast Ken Dinse at: 1012 Royal Blvd., Green Bay, W1 54303.