Restoring a 1945 John Deere Model B tractor

Rough but running


| May/June 1998


When I was a kid back in the '50s, from time to time I'd help a local farmer. In fact, I'd help any farmer who'd let me on his tractor. One particular farmer had two late model John Deere Bs and a brand new G. I'd happily give up girls on Saturday night in favor of running one of those Bs in the Illinois River bottoms.

I never forgot how easy it was to run those little tractors, and how versatile they were. Each was equipped with a mounted cultivator, pulled a two-bottom plow, a three section harrow and a four row planter. In the winter we mounted a buzz rig on the front of one of them and cut wood. The Power-Trol hydraulic system seemed like magic to me.

One day in the spring of 1996 I noticed two Bs for sale on a local sale bill. One, a 1936, was partially restored. The other, a 1945, was listed as "rough but running." The next day I was the proud owner of "Old Rough but Running."

A couple of weeks after the sale, I called a neighbor and he agreed to haul it home for me. The day of the sale, it started right up so I thought, no problem. Wrong! When we got there the battery was dead and no one was home. So we dug out a chain, I switched the fuel selector to "G," we pulled it and it started and ran about two minutes. We hooked up the chain and pulled it again. Same drill. I looked into the little tank and I could see gas. What I couldn't see was about an inch of crud in the bottom of the tank. Finally, I sniffed gasoline in the main tank, switched it to "F," we pulled it the third time, it started, we loaded it and hauled it home.

I charged the battery, filled the tractor with gas and for the rest of the summer I used it to rake hay. But there were some mysterious sounds from deep inside and, boy, did she smoke! By the end of the summer I had decided to 'fix it.' I had no idea what I was getting into.

During the winter I ran into Don Zenk who lives just south of me. Don is something of a local legend when it comes to tractors and engines. Only problem is that he has this Ford fixation. Green and yellow makes him surly, but he got over that, and finally one day in January when the sun was shining, he called and said, "This would be a pretty good day to bring that darned thing over to the shop." It took me ten minutes to get it started and in his driveway!