By Gene Logsdon

If American business is really interested ¡11 satisfying my needs, I haven't seen a whole lot of proof. I never needed or wanted these gas-hogging, chrome-laden, corner-lurching monsters Detroit built for ine for so many years. For their error, our car makers had to watch Volkswagen take all that money away from them with an ugly little car Detroit thought Americans were too dumb to buy.

The tractor makers haven't learned their lesson yet, it seems. I don't doubt that those new 20 to 30 horsepower tractors that appear to be tailored to the homestead are worth $6,000, or at least have $6,000 worth of parts and labor in them. But many of the refinements on those tractors aren't necessary or affordable for the homesteader whose aim is not to generate cash profit from his food production. The tractor 1 need does not have to be a powerhouse that can do everything except brush my teeth. For instance, it doesn't need rubber tires. Iron wheels would be just fine and would never go flat. I'm not going anywhere with this tractor except back and forth across my little 20 acres, slowly. I don't need a dozen forward speeds. Two will be adequate—and one reverse. My tractor needs no expensive shock system. Any bumps on my place I intend to engage at one or the other of my two forward speeds—slow and slower. I do not need a bucket seat, cigarette tighter, twin-beam headlights, dashlight, radio, cab, high-capacity hydraulics, double-plate clutching, syncromesh gears, hydrostatic transmission, or power steering. All I want is something that will pull as much as three horses and just as quietly.

Can't American technology come up with a long-lasting, easy-running, air-cooled engine so we can dispense with radiators once and for all? A motor that chugs easily along like the old two-cylinder John Deeres would be wonderful. And speaking of old John Decres, why can't my ideal tractor have an easily turned Hywheel crank so I can dispense with high-priced batteries that always seem to be dead when you need them most?

Lastly, is it too much to ask for a tractor which even a mechanical simpleton like myself can take apart easily? 1 don't mind buying new parts for a piece of machinery if only I could replace them myself. It seems to me that a simple tractor that takes the place of three horses should come apart with any good set of wrenches so that you can get to any broken piece in less than an hour.

The real reason I haven't seen the tractor of my dreams might be that it wouldn't make enough profit for the manufacturers and dealers. Several years ago, I was involved in an article about how farm equipment companies were coming to the aid of underdeveloped (how I despise that word) countries. I don't know if anything came of their praiseworthy plans, but in the course of talking to one executive, he described to me what his company had in mind. They intended, he said, to build a low-cost tractor with a four to six horsepower engine that would still pull the tools similar to, but improved over, those which draft animals traditionally pulled (which our 15 horsepower lawn tractors won't pull). The tractor would be so simple and durable it would rarely need repair work, but when it did, even a mechanical ignoramus could fix it most of the time.

I gasped, genuinely impressed. "That's the kind of tractor I'm looking for," I exclaimed. "Why don't you sell it in the United States?" He laughed. No, Americans wouldn't huy that kind of tractor. Market analyses showed Americans buy for status and would reject a truly economical tractor, he said. Then, seeing disbelief written all over ray face, he weakened in a moment of candor. "Actually," he said with a grin, "we're afraid to market that kind of tractor here. It might capture too much of the market where our more profitable models are doing nicely now."

Another aspect of the company's plans for a simple tractor was even more significant. The plans called for a very small tractor not only because of cost and simplicity of operation, but also so that it would not give one small fanner any competitive advantage over another. The idea was just to replace the fanners' present power unit—draft animals—not to make it possible to farm more land. The tractor was intended not as a machine for aggrandizement which would eventually put the land in the hands of fewer people and destroy the present social structure, but which would only relieve some of the toil of primitive farming, redirect more food from draft animals to humans, and improve production because the tractor implements work the soil better.

I don't know whether replacing hand and animal power with machine power is right for underdeveloped countries in the long run, but the thinking of the equipment company is revealing indeed, and certainly a step in the right direction. Someone evidently realized that what we have done in the United States might not be the best way to develop a country. The tractor never replaced the horse in this country; it replaced the farmer. The more powerful the tractor, the more fanners it replaced. At no time were the promises of the Machine God fulfilled except temporarily to the survivors in the get-big-or-get-out race. Each improvement in machinery meant more farmers out of business, so that today less dian 5 percent of the United States' population produces the food and owns the land. What a shame.

The only practical solution I found was to look for an old run-down tractor and repair it. You know the old saying, "They laughed when I sat down at the piano." Well, my friends absolutely roared when I sat down under an old junk tractor and said I was going to make it run again. I can't blame them. As my wife would put it, 1 have just enough native mechanical ability to unlock a door—if someone turns the key for me.

But to tend my 20 acres, I had to have a small, farm tractor. Something that would pull a seven-foot sickle mower, or an eight-foot disc, or a two-bottom plow. Twenty-five horsepower would do just fine. And naturally I wanted a tractor that wouldn't cost much.

That meant finding a junk tractor and burying myslf in grease and gasket glue for a month or two of weekends, a prospect I did not find inviting. But wasn't I the one who was always pointing out that the homesteader who could not be his own handyman and mechanic was headed for failure? It was time to practice what 1 preached.

Hydraulic improvisation

Witk a bit of ingenuity, tractors can be modernized like this old Farmall F-12. The owner installed a hydraulic lift system, covered the steel wheels, and now prefers this tractor over his many others for alt his farming chores.

Hydraulic improvisation

Witk a bit of ingenuity, tractors can be modernized like this old Farmall F-12. The owner installed a hydraulic lift system, covered the steel wheels, and now prefers this tractor over his many others for alt his farming chores.


The used tractor market is a never-never land of intrigue and mystery, I soon discovered. In no sector of our economy dot's free-enterprise capitalism flourish so vigorously. Demand is the whole game. A tractor that ten minutes ago was worthless {which means priced under $300) suddenly rises in value to $950 because a couple of what the tractor salesmen refer to as hobby farmers showed interest in it.

In the horsepower range 1 was looking for, old Fords, Fergusons, Ford-Fergusons, and John Deeres with three-point hitches are in biggest demand right now. Such tractors in good running order will sell for over $1,000 (1975 price). Comparable tractors without three-point hitches go lor around $700. If in poor jhape, both kinds of tractors could be as much as §400 lower. So, for one of the less desirable modeh in poor shape, you might pay around §300 and put it in running order for as little as §200 more, not counting your labor. But even if you had to shell out another $200 for repairs, you'd still have a good bargain.

I didn't really need the convenience of three-point hitch equipment, so I decided on one of the less desirable old tractors. I selected a WD Aliis-Chalmers made about 1950, For one thing, I could get it cheap, and second, the owner was an especially nice fellow who let me use his tools and helped me with the overhauling. Third, the WD is a fairly simple tractor to take apart and put together. Fourth, it has a reputation of running even for hammer-head mechanics like me. Fifth, the WD has a power lift system almost as convenient as the three-point hitch. And finally, the tractor has both a band and a foot clutch, which gives you the equivalent convenience of live power take-off found on modern tractors.

My son and I have the tractor running well enough to work our wheat field and mow tiie fall pastures,, and it only cost me $500. There's more work to be done, but I have all next winter for that and I figure l'r\ still ahead with my old junk, Before long it will he as good as new.

Old steel wheels are kept from the junkyard by bolting rubber treads over them.

But I'm not the only one who prefers the older models. "I farmed my 132 acres in my spare time for about 25 years with tractors in the 20 to 30 horsepower range," says Harrell Noble from Xenia, Ohio. "Mine were old tractors when I bought them, and I still use them. I don't think it makes much sense for a part-time fanner to invest $5,000 to $7,000 in a new tractor. On my kind of farm, plowing li/2 acres per hour with my older tractors seems more sensible than plowing four to six acres per hour at five to ten times the investment."

This old Farmall is like just another member of the family.

Noble's first tractor back in 1952 was an Allis-Chalmers WC, which with an old disc, plow, manure spreader, and row planter (the tools you almost must have at the start) cost him around $700. Next he bought an F-20 International (1989 model) so that both he and his son could work in the field at the same time. His third tractor, a rebuilt 1942 Farmall H, he still refers to as his modern tractor. He's had two more over the year—another F-20 made in 1935 and a Farmal! M which wotdd pull a three-bottom plow.

"One advantage of buying older tractors is that you can afford more of them," says Noble. "Having several tractors can be very handy. At haying time, for instance, you don't have to !:eep hitching and unhitching tractors. We could leave the mounted cultivators on the H, rather than having to take them on and off for other pulling jobs. We'd use the Allis-Chalmers to pull the mower, one F-20 to rake, and the other F-20 pulling the baler. With the hay all mowed, the Allis-Chalmers was free to pull the wagons back and forth from the barn to the baler in the field."

But having an extra tractor can repay its cost in more than just convenience. "One year, one of the tractors broke down when we had a lot of hay ready to bale. The repairman coiddn't get it fixed until the following week," recalls Noble. "1 quickly hooked another tractor to the baler, with still a third one free to haul the loads of bales to the barn. Just as we finished, a rainstorm struck and the weather remained wet for a week. Having that extra tractor saved 50 tons of hay, in those days worth $1,000. We literally paid for two of those tractors in one day."

Jerry and Jean Harper in Indiana also have two tractors, which they refer to as "His" and "Hers." J*His" is a Farmall H, 1952 vintage; "Hers," a Massey-Harris of about the same age. The Farmall needed a complete overhaul when they bought it. Harper tore it down, took the head to a machine shop for valve grinding. He put in new pistons, rings, sleeves, rod bearings, and crankshaft bearings at a cost of about $100 plus labor.

When I was overhauling my WD Allis-Chalmers, after I got my tractor torn down, I found just about everything was worn out, so while new parts are still available from the company, t went whole hog and had a mechanic rebuild almost everything. Now I have a fairly new 25-year-old tractor at a fourth of the cost of a similar-sued new tractor. An additional benefit you sometimes gain from keeping up a vintage tractor is that it begins to accrue antique value after awhile. Restoring old tractors has become almost as hot a hobby as restoring old cars.

Another thing—get the service manual for your tractor if at all possible. On most makes, they are still available if the company is still in business. Extra-proper care is necessary for old tractors, and you just can't know everything you should do without the manual.

"By all means, get the service manual," seconds Bill Bennett in Wisconsin, who owns an older Ford 8N. the most popular homestead tractor of all. Manuals for most major models of tractors (AUis-Chalmers, David Brown, Case, Deere, Ford, International Harvester, Massey-Ferguson, Minnc-apolivMoiine and Oliver), both new and old, are available from I & T Shop Service, Technical Publications. P.O. Box 12901, Overland Park, KS 66212. Bennett began homesteading in 1972 on 40 acres. "About 37 acres were under rental contract to another operator the first year, so we could handle three acres with our big tiller," he says. "But when the 37 acres came out from under the rental, we knew we had reached beyond the tiller stage.

"Some folks opt for the big suburban garden tractors, mistakenly, I think. They are fine for a couple of acres, but not for a small farm—and they cost as much per pound as a Cadillac."

First, Bennett checked out the moderate-sized new tractors on dealer lots. "They are exciting machines with many improvements over older tractors, but cost at least $5,000—hard to justify on a not-so-commercial farm." So he started out on a quest for the simplest, cheapest, used rig in the real tractor category.

"We narrowed our search to the Ford models 8N, 9N, and 2N (depending on year of manufacture^, 1939 to 1952); Massey-Ferguson models 20 and 30; the John Dee» B; the Allis-Chalmers WD; the Farmall A, C, and H models; and the Case C and D. Fords seemed less rare than the others, so we tried to find one. Finally opportunity knocked. A machine repair shop in the township oilered a shining SN, overhauled, restored, repainted and guaranteed for $1,600. With it was a useful, hydraulicaHy operated front-loader, said to be With another $400. The tractor also had a two-range transmission, which means you can gear down and creep in difficult pulling situations. That provided eight forward speeds, as contrasted with the usual four on a model 8N—an accessory »aid to cost $200. So we figured the tractor was a good buy and have never regretted our purchase."

The earlier model, 9N (1939 to 1947) offers three forward speeds, while the 8N (1948 to 1952) has four. "You can't pull much of anything in fourth gear," «(plains Bennett, "but it allows you to speed up to twelve miles per hour over the road, handy for tooling over to the local garage for a tune-up."

Both these popular old Fords are rated at 23 horsepower. They are heavy and rugged and will handle a one- or two-bottom mounted plow, or an eight-foot disc, mounted or trailing.

New parts for old tractors are obtainable through the dealers who sell that make of tractor. New parts, even for older tractors, are not cheap. You can sometimes save appreciably by shopping the huge used tractor and junk tractor centers located all over the Midwest. Ask farmers or mechanics in your area for the supply centers closest to you. Some of them are: Worthington, MN 56187; Wenger's Farm Machinery, Inc., South Race St., Myerstown, PA 17067; A1 Galloway, St. Johns, MI 48879; Wiflard Equipment Inc., St. Rt. 99N, Wiliard, OH 44890; and Central Tractor 1515 East Euclid, Des Moines, IA 50313. I've gotten parts at Wiliard. There are thousands of junked tractors there. It's a tractor restorer's paradise—or maybe nightmare. Dealers seem to have a pretty good idea of what they have in all that mess, so it pays to call ahead. But it pays to go looking in person, too.

"One place that sells the gamut of vintage tractor parts on a mail-order basis is the Tractor Supply Co., 7910 L Street, Omaha, NB 68127." says Bennett. "The comp&uy issues a big catalog annually and also has stores in farm towns in 27 Midwest states." Surplus Tractor Parts Corporation, P.O. Box 2125, Fargo, ND 58102, ships worldwide, and has a catalog available for $1.

An English-based company, the Vapormatic Company Ltd., P.O. Box 1, Budleigh Salterton, Devon, EX9 6jB, England, also specializes in tractor replacement parts for all major models. It lias associate companies in several countries around the world, including Australia, Ireland, France, Holland, South Africa, Northern Ireland, and the United States.

Finally, where do you find the tractors? This is one time when the classified ads can be most helpful, especially in rural newspapers. Or even more especially, rural trading papers that are nothing but classified ads.

The second best place is at farm sales. Look at the sale announcements in your papers. Farm sales are usually on Saturday, and the notices always list the machinery to be sold several days to a week early. The third best place is at dealer lots. Even when dealers don't have the old equipment you need, they sometimes know where some is available.

I'm forever griping that the farm machinery manufacturers don't make tools to fit the two- to 20-acre homestead. But every time I wonder out loud "why don't they make such and such,'* sure enough 1 soon find out someone is making such and such.

Those of us familiar with the old Allis-Chalmers model G tractor remember its passing with tears in our eyes and terrible envy for those still lucky enough to have preserved one. The G is the ugliest tractor ever built; it looks like an arthritic spider trying to do push-ups. But there is no handier cultivating machine ever made for the large truck garden. It will turn sharp enough to turn itself inside out, and can be maneuvered (from the seat hovering over the plants) so easily that you could tickle the potatoes in their hills without harming them, No machine is designed to take attachments easier or can be repaired with less trouble. The G doesn't wear out—and the only way to get one is to inherit it.

But G lovers don't have to eat their hearts out any longer. There's a new small tractor on the market that looks and acts a lot like the old G. It's called Tuff-bilt, made by Tri-Tractor Manufacturing Co. (Rt. 1, Hwy. 19 North, Cumming, GA 30130). When i first heard about the tractor, the rumor going around said that the company was so small you could order your tractor in any color you wanted. "Well, that's not quite true," says Jerry Gravitt at Tri-Tiactor headquarters in

Cumming. "That story got started because all the other machinery companies who wanted to sell the Tuii-bilt wanted it painted in their own colors. So we painted 'em orange, blue, or green depending on whom the order was for."

The tractor runs on a 16 horsepower, air-cooled, Lawson Tecumseh engine witli all-gear drive and individual left- and right-hand brakes. It uses only about a gallon of gas an hour and has plenty of high clearance so you can cultivate over corn and other crops with ease. Cole and Brinly-Hardy tools fit the tractor, and there are all kinds of other attachments too—mower, 12-inch plow, 26-inch disc plow, cultivators—the works. The price is just under 52,800, which isn't bad considering that this is about all the tractor you really should need for handling 20 acres or so. "With a complete set of toots, you're talking about $4,200," says Gravitt, "which is quite a bit less than just the basic price on a regular small tractor."

Another company to bring back a version of the Chalmers G is John Blue with their Model G-100CL It's a bit larger and heavier than Tuff-bilt but the design is right there. With the engine mounted on the back, there is better traction and the front is left with clear visibility. Implements attached to the front let the operator watch with greater ease and drive with greater accuracy.

The Blue G-1000 had a slow start when it came out four years ago. "It was a novelty and folks were skeptical," reports Cecil Walker of their Bowling Green, Ohio, plant. But now it is really catching on with weekend farmers and garden folks—the garden implements are going with it. Surprisingly enough, sales have really taken off in Chicago.

Hefty has two models of the old-style G, a 27 horsepower, rear-mounted unit and the Hefty Hi-G. The Hi-G was particularly designed for nursery and agricultural applications where 36 inches of clearance and unrestricted visibility are required. __

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