My Farmall A last use was as a boat tractor in the Marlborough Sounds. Prior to this it was most likely used in the tobacco growing area of Motueka. The Farmall A was popular in the region and well suited to this type of work with the offset driving position know as ‘Cultivision’ which is unique to the Farmall tractors.
There is a range of matching implements although these are now hard to find. It will pull a single furrow plough. This model is designed to start on petrol then run on kerosene. It has an extra petrol tank under the bonnet as well has a different manifold.
Purchased in Feb 1999 from Templemore. The restoration was completed in 12 months. The process was assisted by finding a wreck from which many parts were obtained for use on this tractor as well as swapped.
It has proven to be a lot of fun and used at Christmas Parades, kids birthday parties and at club rallies. Starts easily (off the crank).
In 2016 I finally managed to get all the parts required (took about 10 years) to add a matching plough so the next use will be to get it in the paddock to turn some soil.
Awarded Wiren Trophy for Best Presented Wheeled Tractor at Nelson Vintage Engine & Machinery Club Shows 2000 & 2002.
McCormick-Deering Farmall A
Year of Manufacture: 1944
Serial No: FAA 99110
Bore & Stroke: 3 x 4 inches
Displacement: 113 cubic inches
Compression Ratio: 5.33:1
Weight: 1870 pounds
Number produced: 117552
Tyre size 8.0 x 24
1st: 2 ¼ mph
2nd: 3 mph
3rd: 4 5/8 mph
4th: 9 5/8 mph
Rev: 2 3/4 mph
The story of the restoration was published in Tractor & Machinery magazine. Here it is!
The story of a Farmall ‘A’ Tractor restoration.
The humble Farmall A. While it is part of the well recognised Letter Series stable from International and the big brother to the ever popular Cub it is not what we would call a glamour tractor. There were lots made and to their credit many of them are still in work. It doesn’t feature often in magazines or vintage machinery books so here is my attempt to put the record straight.
How did I get started.
After having got myself off a number of committees and other groups, plus my study commitments and house renovations coming to a end, it was time for another project. A banker by trade my mechanical/engineering skills were to say the least non existent although always willing to pull something apart to have a look and try to fix.
It was never going to be a tractor but after a trip to the Leeston A & P show in 1998 the seed was sown. Dad was after a Cub and as they were supposedly plentiful in this area from the tobacco days it was my task to find one. Advertisements in the ‘Sell Buy Swap’ bought no response but it gave me a lead.
For Sale Farmall Rowcrop – Offers.
I was of the opinion that something like this was too good an opportunity to miss so with some haste I followed up this lead.
Well, it was a Farmall (because it still had the badge on it) but otherwise I was none the wiser. With some video footage and notes of numbers it was back to base. The video was posted off and then to surf the net for some research. None of the numbers I had gathered meant anything to anybody. They only confirmed that they were part numbers so I was still none the wiser. It is surprising the number of enquiries that crop up on the net for people trying to identify tractors so I was not alone. A breakthrough came when I found out where the serial numbers were hidden. The mystery was at last solved a 1944 Farmall ‘A’ Serial No 99110.
Dad in the meantime decided that while it was a Farmall it still wasn’t a Cub and that he would pass up on this project. The Cub is another story.
While this was going on negotiations were concluded and it was purchased for $450.00. The general opinion (of the vendor) was that it was a goer but try as we might it wasn’t going to happen. With the aid of a convenient digger and Rooster’s ( a most helpful friend to whom I am indebt due the number of things I borrow from him) help we managed to get it on the trailer and home. With more earnest attempts to start it failing I decided to bite the bullet and the dismantling project began. A mag with no spark and 3 stuck valves did not help the cause as I was to find out later.
Now that I had committed myself to becoming a tractor restorer it was time to make a few valuable contacts. First stop, join up the Nelson Vintage Machinery and Engine Club. These people are a mine of information and they are all jolly clever at sorting out all sorts of problems in the tractor and engine line. My first point of contact was with Club President Roger Horrell. At first I think the concept of a new member is a bit of a shock but it’s a matter of becoming involved and giving a little before being ready to take. I’m sure that most club members got a shock as I had my two bobs worth to throw in at the monthly meetings. Through the club I was able to meet others who owned similar tractors and get a handle on how to attack the issue.
There were no books or manuals that I could find on how to restore a tractor. This project has been a big learning experience not only about the workings of tractors but of all things mechanical. I am definitely no petrol head or know much about engines but this was one way to learn.
Slowly but surely things started to come off the ‘A’. Little by little it became a pile of parts and a bucket of nuts and bolts. One must know ones limitations and knowing when to spend a dollar and get things fixed correctly. As part of making the right contacts for example you find someone who can recondition magnetos and a specialist in vintage carburettors.
The use of a steam cleaner gave all my parts a de-grease and I was feeling quite good about my dismantling ability and progress to date. Of concern was the long list I had made which was of all the other things I needed to finish the project and have the tractor as close as possibly to its original form. Another advertisement in the ‘Sell Buy Swap’ for a Cub brought an interesting response. The caller said “I have a Cub but it’s been in a fire and would only be good for parts”. Well, it was worth a look. What a mess. It wasn’t a Cub but an ‘A’ and on the face of it there were a few useful parts on it. (Starting petrol tank (quite rare), Front Grill, Wheel weights, Drawbar, crank pulley, second gear, radiator shutters, supply of nuts & bolts). I was also able to earmark some parts for other club members and do some trading. It became a very worthwhile investment. In the end I was able to sell off all the surplus parts and no doubt they will get a few bits and pieces out of the pile. I had a view that it would go in the scrap heap so I was pleased they found a new home and would be of use.
This purchase ended up costing a little more than anticipated and it created a few dramas in shifting. Thanks to Frank Scotson and his forklift skills. I was not too popular on the home front when this mess arrived and it was an eyesore stuck in our front yard. The dismantling and shifting of this pile of parts was top priority. It was easier second time around knowing how things came apart and as it was there were quite a list of items that I could use on the ‘good’ model.
In July 99 I had come to what I thought was a reasonable place to stop. Dad came to visit and check progress. Well, was I wrong. His words were “while we are this far we might as well do……”and the list went on. So off came the front wheels, the block and the yoke. While off I went and still more parts went into the pile and more nuts and bolts in the bucket.
This bucket created some concern how would it all go back together again? Another chance meeting when I went to have a look at another tractor. While I didn’t buy it the owner mentioned that there was a manual with it. He was kind enough to let me copy it. This became my bible with its exploded parts views and descriptions. It has been surprising how often I have had to copy this book for other tractor colleagues.
It helps to have the right gear for the job so I managed to borrow a block and tackle and gear pullers to remove a few tight fitting bearings and pulleys off both tractors.
I have found that the key to progress is to keep as many people as possible informed of what you are up to. It is surprising the contacts you can make and the help that others can give to the project which may not be much to them but gives you good start.
Next stop the sand blasting, priming and putting back together
The put together weekend was arranged and Dad was able to come up for a weekend to aid on the technical side. As with most things there was a mad rush to get all the necessary bits and pieces together. The vintage tractor parts specialist in Auckland was able to deliver all the necessary parts ex stock and the local sandblasting firm dealt with a lot of pieces. One small hiccup was the temporary loss of one piece although it surfaced in time. An unfortunate side of the blasting and priming process is that the primer was a baby pink colour. While it was to make the painting easier it was not a very masculine tractor colour meantime.
The putting together process was on reflection significantly easier than anticipated. My potential fear of not being able to find all the right nuts and bolts did not come to fruition although having an extra set from the wrecked model made life easier. As long as I was able to assemble all the parts from the manual I was reasonably happy and just put the jigsaw back together.
So after applying ourselves Friday, Saturday and Sunday the bulk of the work was done. It was a matter of attacking a section at a time and slowly but surely it began to look like a tractor again. This was also reflected in my sons opinion (aged 2). He came to inspect and all he could say was “wow, wow, wow” when a tractor had risen again in the garage.
With most of the right bits in the right places all was taking shape and I was well pleased with progress. After the putting back together weekend we had a brief but unsuccessful attempt to get things started. Back to the drawing board. Expert help was required to at least eliminate a few areas of concern. A call to the nearby president of the tractor club had him around for a bit of a look. What a look it was too…. Roger was able to identify that the governor gear was out by 180 deg and that we had a weak spark. The timing gears were duly altered and the mag was off and back to the expert. Problem found, more timing issues. Everything back again and into the shed. An evening of tractor work was prompted by a friend calling and wanting a progress report. Nothing to report I said but plenty of work to do. So in to it. Mag back on and correctly timed. Early cranking attempts were abandoned and the starter installed. The moment of truth arrives. The button pushed and with a degree of surprise the old girl fires into life. No puffs of smoke or spluttering and I was both surprised and pleased with the achievement.
The next goal was to get it moving.
The front rims after years in the shed and exposure to the sea had rusted them quite thin and required some work to weld up and some filling with fibreglass to get a smooth finish on the inside for the tube and tyre to fit neatly. The rims front & rear were deposited with the spraypainter for the silver coloured galvanised treatment and collected at the end of the week. Also sought out the best deal on a front tyre and this was duly ordered. Calling into the tyre retailer at 4.45pm on Friday and getting told that the tyre had not arrived was not well received and a couple of calls found one in Richmond (15 kms away) for an extra $30.00. I was caught between a rock and a hard place. Buy it and get going or wait another week. The temptation was too great and arrangements were made for someone to call in and collect it as they were going to be closed on Saturday and Friday night traffic would not have allowed me to get there in time. While frustrated the tyre people did take pity on me and their charges for fitting, tube puncture and new tubes was I think quite reasonable so no complaints.
Saturday morning and a definite goal in mind. Get going and still make the afternoon rugby match. Good progress, all wheels on, everything lubricated (20lts of transmission oil on hand) and by lunch time away we go. I had taken the precaution of registering the vehicle as we were to be let loose on the public roads.
The cul de sac we live in roared with the sound of the mighty ‘A’ and although it stopped a couple of times we (me & the kids) enjoyed the first drive experience. The only disappointment was when the time came to head back to the shed it had run out of the magical ingredient – petrol. Even all of the neighbours lawnmower tanks were empty. Off to the local service station for a top up and we were away again and back in the shed.
Next objective the local A & P Show 20 Nov 99.
Preparation was interrupted by a two week holiday so the option of getting it painted was discounted although this proved to be a blessing in disguise. As it sat undisturbed for 2 weeks all the oil leaks and drips gave away their hiding places. Unfortunately or fortunately there were only about six. So with some attention to new gaskets and a couple of nuts not tightened sufficiently most of the mess creating embarrassing leaks were fixed. The starter motor was abandoned and the manual approach employed and this to date works quite successfully with the minimum of effort.
The show approached fast and by the Friday night all was in order and ready for take off on the first major adventure early Saturday morning. It is somewhat like taking a leap of faith as you embark on the 15 kilometre journey from Nelson to Richmond (15 min by car). The family took on the role of support vehicle and we leap-frogged our way to Richmond. No dramas and no stopping. The kids got quite a kick out of seeing Dad hurtle his way to the show. It is quite amazing the looks and waves you get from those passing you. I have decided that they are all impressed with the skill and effort that went into the restoration as opposed to the novelty of a vintage tractor on the main road.
It was quite a thrill to have the efforts of the last 6 months labour lined up and to be part of the team. A good weekend was had by all.
The trip home was embarked on with a little more confidence, apart from a splutter a mile from home which was resolved with the use of the crank handle and the amusement of passing motorists.
With the Show out of the way it was time to fix up all those other little problems and fine tuning issues. Through either good luck or good management I was able to meet a farmer in the district who still uses Farmall Super A’s and has the remnants of at least five scattered about the farm. With my list of parts you cannot buy I was able to do a deal (trading parts from the wreck plus beer) on a few essential parts to complete the ‘originality’ picture.
Next objective over Christmas was to resolve all those fine tuning tasks (Brakes, clutch, cleaning) and to prepare for the paint job in January and the local Club Rally at the end of the January.
The paint job although the last job on the list has always in my mind been the most important. Get a good finish and the right colour. Some research over the net determined the right colours. Unfortunately these were American codes and made very little sense to painters in New Zealand. By chance I lucked upon a paint shop that had a selection of old colour charts and lo & behold New Harvester Red was the best match to an old colour. For what it’s worth it took 5 litres of paint.
A visit from the spray painter gave the plan of attack to prepare the tractor for painting. What a shock. While I was prepared for a good paint job the list of parts that had to come off got longer & longer. So it was off with fenders, seat & supports, air cleaner, manifold, radiator & fan etc.
These were duly masked off as required and delivered for paint treatment. Summoned to collect the tractor it was a shock to the system, crikey it was bright. On to the trailer and tied down. A trap for the unwary is that it takes time for the paint to completely dry and harden. So as the tie down straps came off so did all the paint. Most frustrating but as it was on the cast parts the finish is not critical and this was easily resolved.
The jigsaw was put back together again. I had under-estimated my new-found mechanical knowledge and abilities (a wet weekend also helped) it was back together again in two days. The moment of truth arrived and despite many attempts to get this fine looking piece of engineering started it would not fire. Well, there is not much you can test for on these machines. Yes there was spark and yes there was fuel. The problem was were they getting together at the right time. So the Mag was on and off more times than I want to recall but still no action. It had worked every other time I had timed the engine?? I admitted defeat and a phone call for help was required. Here is where I learn all about 4 stroke engines, the power of the thumb and exhaust & compression stokes. And what a valuable lesson it was too. With the compression stoke identified (with the thumb over the spark plug hole) yes the timing was out 180 degrees. Bother, bother, bother. That was quickly fixed and with the usual one crank of the handle everything came together like a well oiled machine and there was much rejoicing and relief.
Five days to go before the official launch and the local rally and I was feeling reasonably confident that my entry would look the part and be finished to the best of my ability.
The last jobs to do were another day back at the spray painter to fix up those annoying transport mistakes plus the putting back together bits and pieces. Some engine fine tuning and the decals and it’s done.
The final countdown was.
Wednesday- Collect tractor back from painters.
Thursday- Final pieces put back on and decals applied.
Friday- Finished and delivered to the Show grounds. Nothing like leaving things to the last minute. All and all I was proud of what ‘we’ had accomplished.
The day dawned wet and miserable and it stayed that way all day. There were over 50 tractors on show and we managed a couple of parades for those who braved the elements. Sunday was back to normal Nelson weather fine and calm.
Being new to the club and this being my first tractor rally I was taking it all in and making a few contacts on the way. I was proud of my work and the general consensus was that it was not a bad job. The club has a number of awards that it makes at the rally and the presentations were Sunday afternoon. On checking out the competition I thought that a 2nd or 3rd would have been an achievement. The presentation of the Best Wheeled Tractor. 3rd to a John Deere Lanz, 2nd to a Case 730 both of which I thought were very good looking machines. Let me cut to the quick and first place to yours truly and the 44 Farmall A. All concerned were delighted and surprised.
Therein this tale comes to an end. I have a couple of pieces to find which in my mind will ‘complete’ the restoration. I have made good progress on finding these and it may require a purchase via the States but for my piece of mind it will be worth it.
My hunt continues for a single furrow trailing plough and learning the art of ploughing but that’s another story. Until then it will fill up space in the garage and on occasions be put into productive use at school fairs, parades and next summer the Shows start again.
I have just acquired a 53 Cub together with Mid Mounted Mower, Plough and Leveling blade. The plough has been restored to the point of the final coat of paint. The problem here is that you cannot get the right colour in New Zealand. The problems we face in the antipodes!!!!
I hope to be able to report on this project plus my foray into ploughing!!!
In reflection and my two bobs worth to others considering a restoration project.
The use of specialists cannot be overlooked. While they may come at a cost they make life and the restoration process easier in the long term. I used the services of an engineer and these people get a job done (and properly) without too much bother. Panelbeating is another example with dings in the air filter, sump, bonnet and front grill, rust in the fenders it was worthwhile getting a tradesman in on the job. The results they were able to produce were amazing. On reflection I would suggest taking a lot of before and after photos as the memory fades and it is difficult to remember what you started with.
The other key is to be bothered to get it right. Don’t be satisfied with putting something back on that is not straight, not even close to original or has imperfections. Take the time to research the model and find out as much as you can. This knowledge adds value to the restoration process and when talking to vintage tractor colleagues. Use the library, local clubs, the internet, get on to mailing lists and don’t be afraid to ask even the daftest questions. There are some very clever people out there only too willing to help new people to the vintage machinery scene.