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Ageless Iron: Your Guide to Antique Tractors
Old tractors are the antique cars of the farm. They conjure up fond memories of childhoods spent farming with Dad. They hail back to simpler, easier times. And they satisfy a machinery-lover’s mechanical soul.
They also tell the story of America’s industrial and agricultural development through the last century.
Ageless Iron Almanac
You can find the latest news, history, humor, and restoration tips about those old tractors in Successful Farming’s Ageless Iron Almanac.
The Ageless Iron Almanac pages are filled with step-by-step restoration and repair advice along with ideas for organizing your shop and reviews of the latest tools. The cartoon “You Know You’re a Tractor Nut When...” will make you chuckle, and you can revel in in-depth histories of unusual makes of tractors and rare finds.
You can also see what your fellow collectors are up to, with personal stories of collectors and collections.
John Deere history sets the stage
Of course there is plenty of John Deere history to be found in the Ageless Iron Almanac. Did you know the slogan “Nothing Runs Like a Deere” was first used to sell snowmobiles? Or that only nine corporate leaders have sat at the helm since the company began 175 years ago?
From its meager beginnings in a blacksmith’s shop, John Deere has been the story of the American Dream. But it has not been the smooth sailing the rose (or green)-colored glasses of hindsight might lead you to believe.
The company has survived four economic depressions and multiple attempts at hostile corporate takeovers.
It was 1912 when John Deere dealers realized sales of plows and other implements were not enough, they needed a tractor to complete the line, but even that wasn’t an easy sell to the decision makers.
And not every tractor model has been a success. But an insistence on quality and customer service has paid off. Today, John Deere claims its place as the leading agriculture machinery company in the world.
John Deere tractors are popular
Deere’s steady approach has proved successful, but it can’t claim to have always been on the cutting edge. Its first line of diesel tractors was developed in response to the popularity of International Harvester’s WD-40. Planning began in 1936, and it took nearly 14 years to complete. The result was the model R, introduced in 1949, a machine that set fuel economy standards and excelled at pulling a heavy load. It was also the first JD equipped with a live independent power take off, and the first to offer an optional factory cab.
The R laid the groundwork for the 70 and the 80, Deere’s workhorses of the mid-1950s. By the introduction of the 730 and 830 Diesels in 1958, John Deere claimed its place as the diesel engine state-of-the-art.
A major milestone in the development of the John Deere Company was the purchase of the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company in 1918. With the company came the Waterloo Boy, a simple, rugged tractor that was cheap to build, and cheap to sell, making it an affordable option for farmers. The tractor provided a prototype for several subsequent models, and the Waterloo, Iowa, factory provided the base for the company’s operations in future years.
The International Harvester Company
While John Deere was establishing itself as an industry leader, the International Harvester Company (IHC) was providing ample competition. In 1919, IHC introduced the first commercial application of a power take off on a tractor. In 1924, it introduced the first row-crop tractor, the McCormick-Deering Farmall Regular. The year 1929 brought the first tractor-mounted corn picker.
When it’s torque amplifier (TA) hit the market in 1954, it was a revolutionary development in transmission engineering. With the TA, the tractor driver could shift gears on the go, even pulling a load, without having to throttle down the engine. That meant a farmer could easily downshift through a rough patch in the field while tilling. It essentially doubled the number of available gears.
History hasn’t been kind to some IHC innovations. The 2+2 hit the market in 1979 and sold 3,000 tractors in its first year but has been often maligned since. Collectors are just now starting to appreciate the uniqueness of the two-wheel drive machine that placed the cab behind the articulation joint, and the engine ahead of the front axle, providing increased traction. Using existing technology and components from previous models made the tractors cheaper to produce. The two-wheel drive offered enhanced versatility and maneuverability and gave four-wheel drive models of the day a run for their money.
But the 2+2 couldn’t solve the company’s financial woes. Labor issues and the Farm Crisis presented obstacles that were insurmountable. In 1984, IHC’s ag division sold to Tenneco, who merged it with Case, its machinery branch. Case IH went on to introduce its Magnum line, one of the most popular lines of high-power machines today.
Other notable antique tractors
John Deere and International Harvester’s success is backed by a host of other innovative tractor manufacturers. Today’s antique tractor rides through the countryside are a parade of color and artistic detail merged with pioneering technology and mechanics.
In some cases, those old tractors are extremely rare.
In 1932, Emil Johnson and his sons of Wyoming, Minnesota, followed the lead of the Roosevelt New Deal and began experimenting with their tractor. They took a Ford Model T engine, transmission differential and frame, parts that could be salvaged or economically reproduced, and created the New Deal tractor. Today, only two of the estimated 50 to several hundred machines produced still exists.
You might see more old Olivers on those tractor rides, but in the 1950s they were found where they were most at home, working in the field. Farmers wanted more horsepower, and Oliver responded, led by the Super 99 with 71.5 hp., one of the few tractors of the time to produce more than 60 hp.
Restoration tips for your prized possessions
Restoring those historic machines is an art in and of itself. Achieving that factory-level colorful finish requires starting at the bottom, with the right primer. A healthy array of available products does not make the quest any easier. An epoxy primer may be needed to protect the raw metal. That’s followed by coats of filler primer and a sealer primer.
If you need to brush up on your painting technique, get a high-volume low-pressure spray gun and practice with water. Once you have mastered your use of the spray gun and your technique without dripping, you’re probably ready for paint.
It can also be helpful to use a primer that is the opposite color of the paint to more easily assess coverage.
Your paint dealer and the Ageless Iron Almanac can provide more detailed advice and answers to your questions, so your finished collector tractor will be the pride and joy of your dreams.