Restoring a 1938 John Deere Model A Tractor

By Staff
1 / 2
Before restoration.
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After restoration was completed.

After more than eight years we finally got our John Deere Model A tractor running. It is serial number 461,754 and was built on July 28, 1937, and shipped to Covington, Indiana. I didn’t rush into this one as we already had an open front Model A tractor.

I bought this one from Kedrick Newton, of New Ross, Indiana, the same day that I bought my good 1937 Model A. I bought it for parts. It was in very bad condition, but I hate to see an old tractor go to the scrap pile.

The engine was stuck, I mean stuck! No matter what I did, nothing worked. I removed the block, pistons, and rods in one unit. I cut some old cedar posts into about 16 inch lengths and cribbed them up in log cabin style, and set the block on these with the rods down. I filled the combustion chamber with a mixture of diesel fuel and gasoline and let it soak for nearly a year. I used WD-40. That is supposed to loosen anything, but that didn’t work. I then cut a round block 5-1/2 inches in diameter to fit the bore in the block. I hollowed the center so it would not drive against the head of the pistons, and drove them out with a 12 lb. sledge hammer.

The pistons were in surprisingly good condition, but the block was very much pitted. I debated whether to rebore it and get over-sized pistons or get a new block. I bought a new block from Albert Warner of Rantaul, Illinois. I also bought a used gas tank from him. The rings and many other parts came from our local John Deere dealer.

Then came the job of removing the many parts which needed replacing, and hours and hours of scraping, wire-brushing, washing and painting. We are always told not to use gasoline due to the great danger of fire. I don’t smoke, and was careful not to drop any tools on the cement floor that would make a spark. The tractor looked like it had set out in a hog lot and was well coated with the mud and you-know-what from possibly years of splashing and baking.

The tractor had been upgraded to an electric start, complete with battery ignition and battery seat box. So a trip to Lynchburg, Ohio, produced a flywheel, crankcase and transmission covers, a set of wheels, and lots of smaller parts from Jerry Baughman. The seat assembly came from Bernard Hatchett of Nashville, Indiana and the drawbar came from Dave Reed of Otto Gas Engines of Elkton, Maryland. The seat itself came from our son who operates a scrap business at Cochranville, Pennsylvania and came off a scrapped Wheel-Horse riding mower.

The rear wheels were F&H steel cut down and 38 inch rims welded on. The tires were worn smooth and were 99% full of fluid. The rims were extremely rusted out. One wheel had the splines broken off. I removed the wheel clamp, then removed the three spline pieces, then began prying off the wheel. I moved everything away so I could let it fall flat on the cement floor. I was not about to walk that heavy thing around. But there was one 5-gallon metal bucket that I didn’t move quite far enough away. Just about the time the wheel fell to the floor my wife came out looking for me to call me to supper. She heard the wheel hit the bucket, sending it crashing against our old two-bottom Oliver gang plow, and several other things before it settled down. She found me sitting on another bucket laughing.

The other wheel was not broken. I tried jacking it off, and again I tried everything. Nothing worked. Then I made a homemade wheel puller. I took three sections of threaded ? inch rods, fitted with washers, and a nut on each end of the rods. I put these through the holes in the wheel hub, then through the holes in the wheel clamp with a piece of 5/8x2? inch strap iron against the end of the axle. Then I just tightened the nuts on the threaded rods and the wheel came off ever so slowly. When the hub got to the end of the axle I used large washers and nuts to pull against until the wheel was off. But these were 12 spline wheels found only on the 1938 and 1939 Model A tractors.

Jerry Baughman was parting out an old 1939 styled Model A with a Belham 5th and 6th gear added. The unstyled 1938 and styled 1939 Model A tractors are identical except for the front frame, radiator, hood, grille, and wheels. The rubber tired 1938 Model A usually had round spokes and the 1939 usually had flat spokes on the rear. And those 12 spline rear wheels are quite hard to locate. The rear wheels which I bought from Jerry were not mates, but they did not look bad, after all. Most people didn’t notice the difference. One was a one-piece wheel with 18 spokes ? inch in diameter, part number HC-381-D. The other one has a bolt-in hub with 20 spokes 7/8-inch in diameter. It was a F&H wheel, part number F&H-625. Both had narrow 6 inch rims. I have since bought another A-2994-R bolt-in hub from Dean Miller of Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, and a matching F&H-625 wheel from Harold Chilcote, so I now have matching rear wheels. I bought new Firestone rear tires from our local Esserman Tire Service store.

The front wheels were a real challenge, too. One was a factory round spoke that needed slight repair. The other was a hub with a later slotted pressed steel wheel. To loosen the six lug bolts I used a regular “Guaranteed” socket and breaker bar. I would jump up and down on the breaker bar. I broke two sockets, so I bought an impact socket to finish the job. Again, my taps came in handy to clean rust from the threads. I used new lug bolts.

Again, Jerry’s parts tractor yielded two front hubs and solid pressed steel wheels.

After I had removed all the broken parts and the electrical equipment, cleaned and painted what was left, the old tractor began to look mighty good. The first part that I added was the oil pan on the bottom of the air cleaner. I had gotten this from Danny Thomas, one of the members and an officer in our local Clinton County Antique Machinery Club. The carburetor came from a GEM advertiser, and the magneto came from Central Tractor Parts Co., another GEM advertiser.

To say that I ended up with a cheap tractor would be far from the truth. By buying the parts over eight years is like cutting a cat’s tail off a little at a time so it won’t hurt so much.

The hood and tool box came from a good friend, Bob LeFever of Peach Bottom, Pa. The sediment bowl and fuel cut-off valve came from Dave Cornett, another local Club member. The decals came from John Deere dealer, Farmers Service and Equipment Co. The badly worn steering shaft was built up and turned down to fit by Colver Machine Company just before it went out of business. A practically new cylinder head came from a man just west of Dubuque, Iowa.

Some of these old tractors have a slightly narrower front frame which is notched out to fit the engine block, and this was one of them. Our John Deere dealer had to separate the tractor to get the new block in. I had tried every which way to put the block in.

The BIG day came on Memorial Day, 1990. Our son gave it a couple turns and it went right off. He drove it around for a while.

The last item added was the tall air stack which was obtained from Bob LeFever at the Rough & Tumble Show on August 18, 1990 and applied after the accompanying photo was taken.

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