Hickory Hillside Acres Rt 2, Box 84A California, MO 65018
I’m one of those folks who actually enjoys tramping around
the country in my spare time looking up old tractors that someone
has told me about. I think they call us ‘Tractor Nuts’.
Obviously I can’t afford to buy them all, but there is always a
thrill in tracking them down, identifying, and researching them. I
really do love ‘old iron,’ and enjoy viewing old tractors
any time I can. They are all different and there is always an
interesting story at the end of each hunt.
This story started that way-looking up an old tractor someone
told me about. In January 1989 a friend mentioned to me that he
knew of a fellow who had an old tractor he might ‘get rid
of.’ Those last three words caught my attention. I got a name
and phone number from him. He didn’t know what kind of tractor
it was, but he knew it was on steel, awfully rusty and hadn’t
been run in twenty to thirty years. Hey, what the heck, this one
was just down the road, only about an hour away from home, and near
A few weeks later, I had a free Saturday so I called the man,
Mr. Pat Kline, and made arrangements to meet him at his farm. We
got there about the same time and pulled in the cedar studded lane
of his abandoned farmstead. We parked and got out introducing
ourselves. I was ready to view old iron and to have a good chat. I
looked around for the old tractor and, not seeing any, I asked Mr.
Kline where it was. He pointed to a cedar tree along the lane. I
had just walked past the location, but sure enough, down there
among the low branches was a pile of rusty iron, an old
The first thing I noticed was that the cedar was growing through
the tractor, between the fenders, firewall and transmission. The
tree was about 11 inches in diameter and about 15 feet tall. It
completely covered the tractor and had grown through the steering
wheel. A closer look revealed the tractor to be an Allis Chalmers.
Her steel wheels had settled into the ground until the cast iron
oil pan was resting on the ground. Mr. Kline said the tractor was a
model ‘U’ and that his family had bought it new in the
early 50’s, but he didn’t remember what year it was.
I noticed that the engine was a flathead and commented on that.
Mr. Kline told me that his father had completely overhauled the
engine in 1955, but that after the overhaul they had never been
able to get it to start by cranking. He said they had tried a
couple different mags and still the only way she would start was by
pulling. He said they just parked it and used another newer machine
rather than continue working on it. Mr. Kline said he remembered
these events well, as they occurred in 1955 just before he left
home for military service. The tractor was then abandoned in the
fence row and never run again.
The tractor was in amazingly good condition for sitting out all
those years. It had no paint, but most everything seemed to be
there and in useable condition, except the drawbar. I reached down
idly and engaged the crank not even expecting that it might turn,
and was surprised and delighted when it moved. Mr. Kline had
periodically turned her over for more than thirty years. I suspect
that the cedar tree shelter, the down turn exhaust manifold, and
Mr. Kline’s periodic turning greatly protected the old
Mr. Kline and I talked for several hours and had a great visit.
He indicated that he wanted to sell the tractor, but I couldn’t
get him to put a price on it. I made a couple of offers up to and
including all the money I had to spend. No deal, and still not
priced. In the course of our conversations, Mr. Kline mentioned
that he was going to buy a hay rake when he sold the tractor. I
mentioned that I had a New Holland #56 rake that I had completely
rebuilt and would sell. Mr. Kline said he would come and look at it
sometime. Still no price, and no deal cooking, the day almost gone,
I loaded up, thanked Mr. Kline, and headed home. Oh well, it had
been an interesting and fun day viewing and talking about old
iron-all was not lost.
The more I thought about the tractor and researched it, the more
convinced I became that I wanted and needed it. After a little
research I learned that it was a 1930 Model ‘U’ with the
‘Continental Engine’. I found that only 7404 of these were
built between 1929 and 1932. Some were United’s and some were
U’s. Her serial number was #4824. I also realized that I had
offered more for it than I possibly should have and still
didn’t own it. I dropped the idea from my head, another lost
Several weeks later, I received a surprise phone call from Mr.
Kline. He said he’d like to see my hay rake and was coming
over. He walked around the rake once and asked me if I would even
up for his tractor. I knew my rake would bring $600.00 to $700.00
at a farm sale and I also knew I wanted the U, so I said I guessed
I would trade. I had to deliver the rake when I picked up the
tractor. Now I was starting to get excited. I had really been
wanting a wide front, steel wheeled tractor. The U would be a great
and rare one to have.
In the latter part of February 1989 we had a beautiful
Saturday-it was cold, about 15 degrees Fahrenheit, but bright and
sunny. I made the arrangements and my friend, Miles Wolfe of Pilot
Grove, Missouri, my son and I headed out to get the U home and the
rake delivered. Our biggest concern was going to be cutting the
cedar tree and digging out the steel wheels from the frozen ground
so we could load her. I really felt I needed to get the U home safe
in my control. When we pulled in the drive at the Kline farm, I
couldn’t believe my eyes: the cedar tree was gone and the U
stood out starkly at the field’s edge. She was beautiful, but
kind of sad, too. Mr. Kline had not only cut the tree but he had
also dug out all four wheels from the frozen ground. He certainly
saved us several hours of hard work, but I often wish I had a
picture of that tree growing up in the tractor.
We loaded up, no trouble, and hauled my new toy home. Now there
is something about an old tractor that won’t run that affects
us ‘Tractor Nuts.’ We must immediately get it running. As I
mentioned, the U was in pretty good shape, considering. We started
working and found the engine exactly as Mr. Kline had represented
it. It looked so good that we merely cleaned, adjusted and put her
back together. The mag was deteriorated beyond use. It wasn’t
the correct one anyway, so for the time being we stuck on an IHC
Within two weeks she was once again running after sitting for 34
years. The amazing thing was no major engine work other than
cleaning and adjusting was necessary. Of course, the steering wheel
was partially rusted away, the drawbar was missing, a radiator cast
tank was broken; various other problems would all need lots and
lots of attention.
My home show, the Missouri River Valley Steam Engine Association
of Boonville, Missouri, was featuring AC tractors for 1989, so I
had some extra incentive to get right to restoring the ‘U’.
Our show is the Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday after Labor
Day, so I had to move fast.
A good friend of mine, Fred Stoeklin of Boonville, Missouri,
made a reproduction of the steering wheel for me that would have
made AC envious. Mr. Kline found the missing drawbar tied to a
windmill tower leg where the gas barrel used to be on his farm. He
also found the original magneto complete with wiring loom and plug
wires in a shed on the property. The mag had been completely
rebuilt along with the engine, but was put back together to impulse
in the wrong direction. One small change and she worked fine.
Another friend, Byron Dillner of Pilot Grove, Missouri, assisted us
in straightening and perfecting the sheet metal parts. Between
Byron, my son and me, we spent several hundred hours working on the
Every piece was sandblasted, primed, painted, assembled and
painted again several times. The results of seven months labor were
starting to show. She looked and ran great. I still had a few days
before our M.R.V.S.E.A. AC feature show. I spent it detailing out
the restoration and following up on the research I had been doing
on the tractor. When I complete a restoration I have traditionally
named the tractor. I searched for a good meaningful name for the U.
I knew she was a gem, so I naturally thought of the best thing and
the jewel in my life (my wife), and immediately settled on the name
‘Ruby.’ What a fitting name!
Part of the fun of restoring a tractor is researching the
history of it. The following are some interesting facts and figures
about the model U. The model U was manufactured by AC from 1929 to
1953; 23,056 were produced over the period. The first 7404 U’s
built from 1929 to 1932 had the ‘Continental’ S-10 flathead
engine. This engine had 284 cubic inches with a 4? bore and a
5′ stroke. The later U’s after serial #7404 had the
‘UM’ Allis built valve in head engine. This engine had 318
cubic inches with a 4?’ bore and a 5′ stroke. Both engines
were designed to run at 1200 r.p.m. The Continental U on steel had
a 3-speed transmission plus reverse. Factory rubber tired U’s
had a 4-speed transmission plus reverse and could be roaded at
about 10? MPH.
Nebraska test #170 conducted October-November 1929 rated the
Continental U at 19.28 drawbar and 30.27 belt horsepower. The U
commonly pulled 3-14′ plows, a 28′ thresher or a 14′
combine. Weight was approximately 4125 pounds on steel and cost was
The U was the first AC tractor to bear the familiar AC Persian
Orange paint. All AC tractors prior to 1929 were painted green. In
1929 AC reproduced the orange color after Harry C. Merritt, the
Tractor Division Manager, saw a field of blaze orange poppies while
on a trip to California and thought the color would distinguish AC
tractors in the fields.
The U pioneered the use of rubber tires on farm tractors. Famous
race car drivers including Frank Brisko, Barney Oldfield and Abe
Jenkins were hired to race rubber tire equipped Continental U’s
in the early 1930’s. Progressive speeds of 15.00, 35.44 and
64.28 MPH were reached.
The grand finale was in 1933 when Abe Jenkins set the world
tractor speed record by driving a model U 67.877 MPH on the Utah
Salt Flats. This 1933 record still stands today. The U was the
first tractor offered with optional rubber tires in October
In 1928, the United Farm Equipment Combine was formed. This was
a company that marketed various makes of farm machinery. The United
Company needed a tractor for their line, and AC needed farm tractor
dealers, so a deal was struck. AC furnished their new orange model
for the United Company to sell.
These tractors were known as the United. AC made the identical
tractor for their own sales and called it the model U. The only
difference was the name cast on the radiator.
In early 1930, the United Company folded, ending the United
tractor; production of the U continued. In an effort to distance
the model U from the defunct United, the remaining 1930 model
U’s were dressed up with black fender and hood stripes, and the
AC Diamond logo on the firewalls. In 1931 this dress up was
discontinued. ‘Ruby’ is one of these special few late 1930
model U’s. The black stripes and diamonds were faintly visible
on her rusted metal when she was restored.
Ruby made her debut at the M.R.V.S.E.A. 1989 Show featuring AC.
She was sensational. As I unloaded her, I had a cash offer that
only a fool would refuse. My wife Ruby said, ‘Take it.’
Yes, I guess I’m a fool-she’s not for sale.
Ruby won four first place awards for restoration in four shows
that fall; and second place on steel at the Missouri State Fair
‘Best of the Best Show’ at Sedalia in August 1990. The
highlight of it all was when she was selected to be featured as the
March ‘pinup’ on the DuPont Classic Calendar and Video for
All the awards, honors and attention are very nice, but there is
nothing like the experience of restoring an old tractor to her
majestic grandeur and having folks admire her once again. It gets
I’m really working on a couple of possible ‘special’
tractors for next year. It’s been reported before that this
‘tractor nut’ is ‘a lover of old iron’. You can