Box 769, Millinocket, Maine 04462
My oldest son, Jeffrey, and I have been crisscrossing the remote woods areas of Maine with four-wheeler and float plane for the past several years, and have begged, scrounged, and bought several antique engines and tractors, but none have meant as much as the little Fordson crawler.
On a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon in August, 1979, Jeff and I landed at Chesuncook Village, a remote settlement located at the northern tip of Chesuncook Lake. We were met at the dock by Burt McBurnie. There are several summer residents at the village, but Burt and his wife are the only year-round residents.
I asked Burt if he knew of any old 'one-lunger' engines in the village and he told me that a collector had bought the only three that he knew about a while back. Jeff and I then asked him if he knew of any old steel-wheel tractors in the area and we immediately noticed his face light up.
'There is an old steel-wheel something down in the woods at the Frank LeRoy place,' he said. 'It is an old tractor that Alec Gunn used to own.'
Jeff and I practically ran in the direction Burt pointed, trying to find Mr. LeRoy. We found the man and he cheerfully showed us the little Fordson tractor. I couldn't believe my eyes. There it was sitting under the evergreens protected from the weather by a natural shelter. Everything seemed to be intact and the engine turned over easily with the crank. The radiator had frozen and split many winters ago and an 8-inch fir had grown up between the seat and the steering wheel.
For me, it was love at first sight, but Mr. LeRoy had other ideas. He knew no problem with me restoring the crawler, but he knew what the value was of old cast iron to a few nuts like me and he wanted to reserve the right to buy the tractor back from me in five years for whatever monies I ended up investing.
It took about two weeks and many flights to Chesuncook Village before I finally secured a bill of sale and exclusive rights to the little Fordson.
The easy part was over. How do you move a 2-ton hulk of cast iron down 20 miles of Chesuncook Lake? The most promising solution seemed to be a long wait until the lake froze over and then the tractor could be towed South the 20 miles to Ripogenus Dam. That is, until I talked to Mr. McBurnie again and he told me about a little-known tote road from the Great Northern Paper Company's 'Golden Road' 18 miles through the woods to Chesuncook Village-not a freeway, but passable.
The Saturday for the assault finally arrived, and our party started off on a combination picnic and tractor retrieving day. The group included my good friend David Moore, his wife Lin, our two boys Jeff and Shawn, and the family canine 'Smokey.'
We towed a 16-foot lowbed trailer behind a John Deere 550 crawler through the woods to the village. The trip went very smoothly and we had the little Fordson winched onto the lowbed and were ready for the return ride before lunch.
Except for a couple of short layovers in some of the larger mud holes, we made the trip back to the 'Golden Road' very easily, and had the Fordson home and in my garage before nightfall. It was the first time the old crawler had turned a track in 42 years.
Our Fordson crawler is a model 'F', serial #565497. It was built in Dearborn, Michigan in 1926. The tractor was bought new by Mr. Alec Gunn and operated by him from 1926 until 1937. The little crawler was used to tote supplies, mail, and people, to and from the remote village 12 months of the year. During the summer, the Fordson made two trips two times a week out to the Grant Farm over rough woods roads, barely better than foot paths. After the late fall freeze-ups, Henry's little tractor would pull a sled up and down the twenty miles of barren ice land known as Chesuncook Lake.
Eventually progress brought better equipment, and in 1937 Mr. Gunn retired the tractor. The Fordson lay quietly in the woods of Chesuncook Village from 1937 until we bought it in August of 1979.
Two weeks were spent getting the old tractor to run, and then it was completely disassembled and restored. Everything that showed any wear was repaired or replaced.
I think the finished product would make Alec Gunn as proud as we are, if he could see his little Fordson today.
Our tractor stable has grown to include several more Fordson and a very rare John Deere series 'P', but that first little Fordson crawler is still something very special to me.