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The Value of Vintage: My First Tractor

Back in 1989 my wife had an old friend and her little brat visiting. We all went to a Steam Engine and Tractor Show nearby that weekend. A perfect place to lose myself ! In the parade at the show I saw all these guys tooling around on tiny old tractors. How COOL is that! I had to get me one of them tiny tractors!

At the time I had a job that involved rambling around two rural counties. After the show whenever I was going by various transfer stations I'd stop and search for a tiny tractor. I found it! I found the bottom half of a tiny tractor that was once a metallic blue self starting riding mower! It had flat tires, a mangled and frozen front end, but gee whiz, the steering linkage and transmission were still there, and the transmission worked! I dragged it from the pile and took it home sticking halfway out of the trunk of my Suburu.

At the time I was living in a semi-rural setting in a apartment building, My wife wasn't enchanted with the idea of spending money on a pile of scrap metal I'd dragged home from a dump. I promised I wouldn't spend more than $100. I kept that promise! I found a one and one half horse power Clinton engine attached to a concrete vibrator at a barn sale for three dollars. I found a “David Bradley” Hood, the metal seat and a car steering wheel at other dumps. I paid a guy with a metal shop twenty dollars to free up and unbend the front end Fortunately the worn out tires still held air so the most expensive item was the drive belt.

I'd driven big tractors when I was young working on a tobacco farm. Plowing snow around barns was kind of fun, though I found moving giant propane tanks a bit scary. Yet the first time I drove that little tractor was magical! Now I was tooling around on a tiny tractor!! Rides were fun and very popular with the neighborhood kids but otherwise it was just a toy sitting in the back of the car port.

Then we moved to an area that used to be a popular Summer destination for city folk. It was pretty depressed at that time. Out behind the house buried in the woods a quarter mile away were several abandoned houses. My wife found the bottom half of Hoosier kitchen cabinet, the top having been destroyed when the ceiling fell in, but how to get it home? The road was long since blocked by saplings so I used the “David Bradley” and a tiny trailer I'd made to haul it home through the woods. At 24 inches wide I could easily weave my way through the trees! After I fixed up the Hoosier my wife was happy we had a little tractor that could lug through the woods!

I don't know what a restored Hoosier is worth. It's now built into my kitchen. What would it cost to buy three feet of cabinet with drawers and wire storage racks and a breadbox that keeps bread fresh? I'd say the tractor had paid for itself with that one job.

I cobbled together a plywood “snow plow” but the tractor just couldn't push more than two inches of snow off the twenty foot long double wide driveway at the house we were renting. At 150 pounds there's no traction in snow. If I can get traction it'll pull 500 pounds. Sadly at a tractor show I lost every tug of war I had with smart Alec kids and their cobbled together restorations. Yet I had a guy buy a ride who tooled around the show for about an hour with a big smile on his face. Priceless!

Of course in the thirty years since I've spent more money on the “David Bradley”. $100 to replace worn out tires, tubes and front wheels. $150 when the Clinton engine fell apart. Who knew that horses were so much bigger back then? The new “three horse” B/S engine wasn't quite as powerful as the Clinton. The new engine lasted nine years until alcohol fuel, then I couldn't keep a gasket in it! The first time it quit I spent the fifty dollars to get the thing cleaned out and the gasket replaced. (It's funny, when I showed up to get it the tractor wasn't in Leigh Ware's yard. He had to hide it from neighborhood kids who were sneaking in to play on it!) A year later the gaskets did the same thing so I gave up on that engine. I spent another $150 for a new engine from the same series. Now apparently a horse power is equivalent to a Shetland pony. Yet however weak the engine is with a different pulley the tractor still does its job lugging anything and everything and it's still fun to drive! Whats would be the cost to my worn out body if I tried moving massive amounts of soil, saplings, sand, gravel, firewood, and junk with a wheelbarrow in the far flung narrow ways in the woods and between the buildings on the farm? I'd say that little tractor has paid for itself many times over!

What's it take to keep it going? When the oil seals went on the trans axle the numbers on it were useless. I once posted it's photo here on MTF but no one then knew what it was. I filled the trans axle with grease and it's been fine ever since. I found an appropriate steering wheel, have painted it a couple times over the years, but otherwise a plug and grease job yearly, oil change every two years and air filter when needed. In the Winter it's stored without gas and just a teaspoon of oil in the cylinder.


Photograph Product Wheel Tread Automotive tire
 

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Now that is a great story, and a great tractor!
Good job on keeping it in service and posting the story and photos!
 
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