The reverse engineered tractor
This week’s Interesting Iron is a tractor that took “reverse engineering” quite literally, and became a Farmall BN forklift! It sold last Saturday, October 10, in southwestern Michigan and was listed with one of our auction partners at TractorZoom.com!
Weird things come from Michigan. I’m from Michigan, so this should come as no to surprise to any of you. At the same time, though, amazing things also come from Michigan! This little Farmall BN forklift is where those circles intersect!
The diagram below provides a highly scientific representation of this relationship.
Honestly, these little forklifts aren’t all that weird. Like most products, they were developed to meet an emerging need. In this case, fruit and vegetable growers in West Michigan needed a small, highly maneuverable forklift for loading wooden boxes on trucks out of the fields and orchards.
Enter John Syzmanski (I think I got his name spelled right, but don’t hold me to it – information is a little sparse with some of this stuff), and his company, John’s Manufacturing.
The company was located just east of South Haven, Michigan, and they literally “reverse engineered” and turned small tractors into forklifts during the 1960s and 1970s. I’ve been told that they started with Allis Chalmers WDs, but later learned that it was lot easier to reverse a Farmall BN than anything else.
From an “internals” perspective, all you’d need to do is crack the rear axle open, flip-flop the ring gear and carrier assembly, and put it back together. Once the innards were reversed, John’s would essentially rotate the driver’s position 180°. They then put the seat on top of the gas tank with all of the controls basically sticking out of the back of the platform.
Incidentally, that whole ring gear flip would be a hilarious practical joke to play on a buddy with an old tractor. (You didn’t hear that from me. But if you do it, I want to see video; my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
John’s built these in both narrow-front as well as wide-front models. Options included 8-, 10-, and 14-foot masts, with the bigger models having a bit more lifting capacity. They’re pretty darn handy, and they work great for moving 1,000-pound apple boxes around, too!
We actually have an identical Farmall BN forklift on our farm to use in the orchard. I don’t know if we bought it new or not, but I know we’ve had it since the mid-late 1970s … maybe earlier. We still use it all the time, too! This particular auction tractor lived on a South Haven blueberry farm, and it’s in a LOT better shape than ours.
Here’s a panorama from the back of my family’s farm. Those apple boxes are about 4 feet tall, for frame of reference. They weigh nearly 1,000 pounds when they’re full of apples! (They’re empty in this photo.)
John’s Manufacturing converted somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,200 of these tractors, give or take a few. Most of them were Farmall BNs. The narrow-front tractors are a fair bit less common than the wide-fronts. It’s often said that it’s hard to find small Farmalls in West Michigan because John’s bought them all and converted them! Here’s the craziest thing, though: There’s a ton of them that are still in active service. Because of that, they don’t change hands very often, either. I’d be surprised if any have been up for auction in the past five years!
This is a better photo of one of our apple boxes. We don’t paint the apple on all of ’em, but this one looks pretty nice, huh?
Hi! I’m Ryan, and I love tractors. It doesn’t matter if it’s a showpiece, an oddball, or seen its share of life … if it’s unique and it’s listed by one of our auctioneer partners at Tractor Zoom (tractorzoom.com), I’m going to show it off a little bit! This equipment is all up for auction RIGHT NOW so you can bid on them! I think they’re cool, and I hope you will, too. This is Interesting Iron!
You can find a wealth of equipment for sale at https://tractorzoom.com.