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My Little Tractor - Ford Super Dexta
The rusty blue tractor caught my eye as my truck zipped by the farm implement business. It looked so fornlorn amongst the lineup of newer equipment. But it was just the right size for my small farm. I stopped in and asked the proprietor for further information. "It's a 64 Ford Super Dexta", he said. "It's a tough little tractor, although it's a hard starter being a diesel and all." He did manage to get it running, compliments of a can of ether. Once started it putted along pretty good. It had a bushog that went with the 'deal'. It seemed like what the doctor ordered so I bought it.
I always had trouble getting that little tractor to run. And it liked to overheat. I attributed the overheating problem to the grass and weed seed always getting stuck in the radiator as I bushogged. The hard starting I just lived with. My wife didn't like me to cut the pasture because whenever I needed to get the tractor started she would have to pull it with the van to the fire station down the road before it would fire and run on it's own. It was a yearly ritual that she loathed. But once started the little tractor seemed to go about it's business, albeit was kind of slow.
The tractor served me reasonably well for eleven or twelve years. Then, one day, while in the very back of the pasture, it decided to quit. A couple of hours later, I did manage to get it to run on one of the three cylinders; just enough to get it back to the barn. Diagnosis warranted an engine rebuild in the future. Unfortunately, it looked like that future might not be for a year or so.
I have a collection of older equipment that is used for my small excavating business. Every two or three years a piece is picked out to do a partial restoration, thereby keeping my fleet in reliable running condition. The tractor's turn had finally arrived.
In January of this year I fired up the wood burning stove in the barn and began the tear down procedure. All the front end parts were removed and placed on the floor in their proper order of disassembly. The engine was removed and placed on an engine stand. Further break down revealed the primary reason for why it was a hard starter all those years. The valves were burned to a crisp. In fact, one exhaust valve was half gone. It was a wonder that it had run for as long as it had. My plan was to do a complete overhaul on the motor. An engine rebuild kit was ordered from Ford. I sent the block, head, and crank out for cleaning, inspection, and necessary machine work.
It's funny how one thing leads to another. With the engine out I thought to myself, "I should go ahead and fix that steering gear box that is so hard to steer." With that unit sitting in pieces on my workbench waiting for bearings I thought, "Boy, I should check that three point hydraulics because it creeps down so much." In another hour that menagerie of spools, O rings, and gaskets was in pieces on a separate rolling table. Next I thought, "Those fenders should come off and be rewelded at the base. And while I'm at it I'll get those rims looked at because of the calcium chloride decay on the wheels. And, you know, those lift arms are really rough. I wonder how much those are new?"
I didn't notice how the pile of parts lining the walls, floor, and workbenches grew. I think it dawned on me when I couldn't find the woodstove. I scanned what I had done. Before me stood the naked iron casing of my tractor. My main workbench was stacked with miscellanous parts. To my left I had build a temporary workbench out of saw horses and a sheet of plywood. It was full of engine parts. Behind me stacked against the wall were the radiator, hoses, front end, tires, etc. Across from the stove were the sheet metal parts, seat, foot plates and three point parts. The fenders leaned against the barn door with buckets of assorted bolts stacked nearby. On my other side was the roller bench with the hydraulic system in pieces. I was surrounded! At that moment my son waltzed through the only seeable door. His eyes got big as he looked across the room and said, "Cool, dad, is it going to be done tomorrow?" It wasn't.
Believe it or not I had actually planned on doing a tractor restoration from scratch. (Circumstances seem to alter one's ability to rationalize, you know.) The next step was to clean, organize, and inspect the assorted parts. Fortunately, I have enough room in my barn that I was able to divide the overall picture into segements. All the engine parts were sorted, solvent tanked, painted, and the bolts wirebrushed and put into neat little assorted piles. Other sections had the same treatment and were stacked in appropriate rows for assembly. After a few more days the barn had been transformed into something that resembled an early Ford Assembly Plant. Now that all the grunt work was done I could relax until the machine shop work was done.
I got the call a couple of days later. "Hey, this head you brought it has a crack in in." That piece of information started the great hunt. Older tractors can be kind of testy to find parts for. Especially the English Fords. I spent some time surfing the internet looking for leads. Found a couple, but they were in Great Britain. I looked though some of the excavating booklets that I periodically get in the mail. They had some suppliers for the Perkins Diesel engine that I had in their advertisment listings. I was able to get some prices on a head and kit, but they were astronomical. I ended up networking some dealerships and older mechanics around town and eventually found a tractor parts supplier a few hours away. A day trip down to his 'lot' supplied me with not only a head but also a seat, steering wheel, and misc. body parts that had deteriorated beyond reasonable repair. I can't say too much for his prices, but they were better than waiting for a slow boat from the Queen.
I was impressed how many other parts were still available at my local Ford Tractor Dealership. Sure, some stuff was pretty high in price and had to be specially ordered, but it still came in. Other items, like the rims, which were irrepairably damaged, I was able to get at a local tire shop that dealt with truck and tractor tires. Shopping for prices amongst the stores saved me quite a bit of money. My local auto store also provided me with bearings, seals, and such at a cheaper price than the dealership. Another very valuable service my local dealer provided was to give me photocopies of the repair manual and parts idex pages that I needed for that little edge of information or security for hard to do areas of the tractor. It seems like the parts pages are the most valuable because one can see the overall order of installation for some of the more intricate areas of rebuild.
The engine assembly went quickly once the parts were all rounded up. Tractor assembly went equally fast since everything was clean, painted and laid out in order. Questionable parts had been updated or replaced: hoses, belts, and filters were purchased and installed. In another week or so my barn began to look more like the floor of a tractor dealership than a rebuilders barn. Finally the time for start up came. I put in the fuel, checked the various fluid levels again, bled the air from the injectors, checked the oil pressure and fired it up. It ran perfect.
Creating something 'new' out of something old gives one a great feeling of satisfaction. It not only preserves a piece of the past but, like an artist, gives an outlet for creativity that other people can appreciate. I now have a reliable tractor at a fraction of the cost of a new one that will faithfully serve me for years to come. And I don't have to get the van out to start it!