My Farmall BN (Clifford, the Big Red Tractor) just sort of followed me home. I need it, as they say, like a hole in the head, but my kids like it, and it pulls a firewood wagon nice. The story goes like this: I was driving to work one morning, and spotted this rusty tractor sitting out in front of a neighbors barn about a mile down the road. Like most tractor guys I had to stop and look. I though.....hmmm....nice looking tractor..........nice size..........look at this rugged old technology.........oops, no hydraulics.....no three point hitch......bad looking rims.......cobbled wiring.......plus it's a Farmall.......I know nothing about Farmalls........just keep on going to work...... but....... it did have a narrow front end........ and nice sheet metal........ that would free up my Ford from some chores.......Cool........wife wouldn't be happy.....move on.
So everyday I kept passing it, and it seemed to call out to me. Truth be known, it really makes me nuts to see old iron sitting in the rain, no matter what brand.
I guess I was hooked, I just didn't know it.
A week or two later, while I was working in the barn, the BN's owner stopped in to see if I would be interested in buying it. I guess when someone sees you already have a really old tractor, I guess they figure you are a sucker for worn out old stuff. Seems the owner lost his storage, and he made me an offer. If I stored it in my barn, I could use it. Great! A tractor without a cost. Who wouldn't go for that? So with the help of another neighbor, we went down to rescue it. After a brief amount of coaxing, we got it to run. So far, so good.
We added a little air to the tires, and it was time to hit the road for the journey to my house. The valve seats must have been rusty, because she didn't have much power, so I started off in 1st gear. She started to lope along a little better, so I hit 2nd, and then third. I am sure I was smiling, but that was to be short lived. Since my parents taught me enough to know to come in out of the rain, and it was drizzling, I was in a hurry. Because she was running so good, I shifted into 4th.
Now a little Farmall will scoot right along in 4th gear. Everything was going good, until I noticed the ride was getting bumpy, but the road was smooth. Turns out the rims were rotted from having the tires filled with calcium, and one of the welded loops on the rim had just pushed through the rim making my ride a little wobbly. Darn! I shifted back down to a slow gear and limped her to the barn. I could see the calcium leaving a spotted trail down the road. Now I had a useless tractor needing a new rim taking up space in the barn. What had I got myself into?
About a week went by when the owner stopped and I told him I couldn't keep the tractor if it couldn't earn it's keep. Plus I was really cash strapped. We'd been doing a little home remodeling, and my wife wasn't gonna be happy if I bought another tractor. But my neighbor made an amazing deal for me, under one condition. After I got it restored, he wanted to drive it just one time. You can't beat that.
So I became a Farmall owner. It turns out it was a 1945 model, judging from the serial number (FABN 138648). If you have an A, B, or BN, the serial plate is on the left seat support bracket. My plate was painted over, but a little work with my fingernail revealed it. One thing about this tractor.......it didn't seem to have much wear on it. The transmission is tight, and so is the steering. I sure wish I knew how it's spent it's last 59 years.
What was I gonna tell the wife? She knows even a cheap tractor costs money. Now being a quick thinking male, I thought of a great idea. I'd told my 5 year old daughter she could have the Ford if she ever bought a place out in the country when she was grown up, so I told my wife the Farmall could be Andrews, my 3 year old boy. Mom's go weak when it comes to their kids, and she bought it hook, line and sinker. Genius! Plus we have Teddy, our almost two year old, so that would at least allow me to get one more someday.
Now it's funny how once you own a certain brand, you start paying attention to others of the same marquee. I'd grew up working for neighbors who farmed with Massey Fergusons and Allis Chalmers, and could tell you what model they were from a distance. But I only knew one farmer in my neighborhood who farmed with Internationals, and he had a few sons who worked hard, so I never worked there.
After watching the red tractors on the side of the road, I didn't seem to see many BN's around. Lot's of A's, and a few B's, H's , the mighty M's, but no BN's. Anyway, it was time to get this tractor working.
A buddy of mine gave me a tire from a Allis Chalmer's B, that he wasn't using. It said 9-24 on the side, just like what was on the old tire. I bought a new Rim and tube, and had them mounted up. Unfortunately, some of the size designations have changed over the years, and all 9-24's are not created equal. You can't really see the size difference in the before picture above , but the tire on the left with the new rim is a lot smaller than the tire on the right. I eventually bought the right sized tire, but the installer ruined the tube, so all in all that "free" tire cost me. Moral is, all tire sizes marked the same aren't.
The good news is she was mine, and she was working. I immediately put her on wagon hauling duty. I have about an acre of scrubby woods, and we started cleaning up some of the downed limbs. I was having my dad drive, when he hit the left brake, and something snapped. That brought things to a halt. The ground around my place is rolling hills, and you need brakes. I put her in my garage, and over a few nights, started repairing the brakes.
This next picture is the right drive axle hanging from a hoist. It's nicely balanced at the flange where the fender bolts up. You can see the snapped brake band in the little picture. From the nearest I could tell, rodent droppings had plugged up the drain for this brake housing, and water had gotten in. The band was sitting in a puddle of water, and rusted through. If you have one of these little Farmalls, this is something to check.
I spent a fair amount of time cleaning the whole assemble, and then I put a new brake band in and bolted it back together. I decided to take a look at the other brake while I was at it. on the right side, you have to take a whole lot of stuff apart to get that drive assembly off, but the brake band was also in bad shape, so it was a good decision to pull it.
Instead of the brake band being mounted to the transmission, it's actually carried on the outboard end of the axle housings. That allowed the castings on the left and right to be the same.......ingenious. Here's a pic of the left side, if you want to see it.
This all happened in October of 2003. It was getting cold outside, and I had made the mistake of pulling it all apart in our garage, instead of down in the barn. Truth be known, I had a lot of stuff to do to get the house ready for winter, so I bolted it back together enough to get rolling, and towed it to the barn. I then proceeded to take off the sheet metal, and the radiator. I figured I might as well paint it in the spring.
Here's what it looked like all winter. I collected boxes to lay on the barn floor when I painted it. In the meantime, I read all I could about Farmalls on the internet. I also started thinking about how I was gonna paint it. Painting a tractor means a lot of different things to different people.
For example, at some point in this tractors life, somebody, probably a farmer, had painted it with a brush. Slopped it on good and thick. He even went fancy, and painted the lights silver, again with a big fat brush. Now normally I would have cringed at this kind of a paint job, but I know have a new respect for paint jobs of this sort. When you think about it, paint is there to protect the metal. The color and finish is just a bonus.
And this old farmers bad old pint job sure made my job easier. All the sheet metal was solid, and corrosion on this tractor was minimal. I got to thinking I wish someone had given the Ford a coat of sloppy paint somewhere in it's lifetime.
So through the winter, I tore into the carb, and cleaned up the magneto. I only cleaned the magneto, which as you'll see later, was regrettable. I also ordered a battery box, decals, a new grill badge, manuals, and a new oil seal for the front timing cover.
When springtime rolled around, I pushed the tractor out of the barn, and gave it a oven cleaner bath. You can get oven cleaner at the dollar store for a buck, so I foamed it up good, and hosed it off. This is a great way to get the majority of old paint off.
Next, I towed it up to the garage to take off the front bolster. You need to do this to get the front crankshaft seal off, and that seal was leaking like a sieve. The bolster is heavy. I hung the engine from the rafters and used a three point hitch boom off the back of the Ford to lift the bolster, and hauled it down to the barn for cleaning. I don't know how long that front seal was leaking, but judging from the mixture of motor oil, leaves, grass, dead mice (yes), and gunk, it might have been before I was born when it started leaking. Cleaning this bolster was tough! I'll bet I spent 8-10 hours getting it clean.
One thing about writing this story, is it makes you remember things you had blocked from your memory as best as you could. Cleaning that bolster was one of those things.
I removed the front cover off the tractor, and replaced the seal. No big deal here. While I had it apart, in one of those "duh" moments, I reached up and grabbed the magneto/ governor drive gear. "Hey neat, it comes right out!". Silly me, now I had to time it. Don't let this happen to you. Luckily, timing involves only lining up the dots on the crank gear and the cam gear, and lining up the other gears dots. The service manual shows it. Nice waste of an hour!
I decided to take the head off and look things over. I removed the carbon from the head and piston tops. I took the valve train apart and hand lapped in all the valves. Everything looked real good when I buttoned her back up. I went to clean up the manifold, and realized that there were holes on the exhaust side too big to fix. This tractor surely had Farmall's exhaust lift system. It's a system that used exhaust gas pressure to run a big air cylinder to raise implements. It had been removed at some point in this tractors life. The only thing left of it was part of a lever mounted below the tank, and the manifold that at one point had a valve built into it. A new manifold was ordered.
I also removed the front tires while I was at it. I had the tires removed, and ordered some new Firestone tires and and tubes. Cleaning up the rims was pretty easy. They were definitely galvanized, and that zinc really works at protecting the rims!
On the internet I got a tip about Frank in Tallahassee's Restoration Site. This site turned out to have the ultimate restoration tip. It's the electrolysis paint and rust removal trick listed. Frank's site is a John Deere site, so if you got some kind of deep rooted green tractor prejudice, don't say I didn't warn you. Frank's got some real good info there that will save you money. Of course, if you are working green, you need to save all the money you can (did I say that? All in fun. Someday I want to get a little L like we had growing up). Thank you Frank! My 10 amp battery charger and a big rubber watering tub made getting the sheet metal paint free easy. The electrolysis takes time, about 24 hours or so for each fender.
I used a 4" angle grinder with a twisted wire brush on the main part of the tractor. This took a while, but worked great. It was during this time I had to keep the barn doors closed. I was worried that the kids might get lead poisoning. I wore a respirator made for lead dust as a precaution. Lead poisoning is a problem, and you want to avoid it. It's especially a problem for youngsters, and my kids are more important than anything to me. Of course they were curious during this process, and couldn't' understand why they couldn't go in.
A bonus of the electrolysis is that the paint that comes off in this process is suspended in water, not loose in the air. A little net from an old fish tank was used to separate the paint from the water and dispose of it.
Once it was cleaned up, I cleaned the barn good, and hosed it down. I was looking at what to do next to paint it. I wasn't going to brush paint it, or rattle can it. What I wanted to do was try my hand at using a spray gun. Every gun I looked at took a giant compressor. I finally saw that someone had painted their tractor with a detail gun. Low CFM requirements! Twenty bucks later, I had my painting tool.
Now.....what kind of paint? Why IH 2150 of course. It's the factory paint......right? Well it turns out some people think you need to spend 120 bucks a gallon to get a good paint job. I read and read and read, and the more I read, the more confused I got. I was ready to try hardener, buy a HVLP outfit, go with two part epoxy primer, etc. Supplied air systems for breathing, and on and on and on. Then I got thinking of the big fat brush used on this tractor during the last paint job, and how nice it protected the finish. And then I was thinking about the over restored tractors I'd seen at shows where every casting mark was smoothed out. Yuck!
I finally convinced myself that 2150 was the way to go. I'll keep her inside, and while she may get to a show, it's a working tractor. Being able to touch up rough spots easily is a big selling point on readily available spray cans and quarts of 2150. And hardener? I read the safety data sheets, and read others experience enough to scare me away. I didn't use any primer on the frame, just paint. My experience on the Ford let me to believe that I would be happier with just paint. I did prime the body work, though. My reasoning was that the original Farmalls weren't primed, and that paint had gotten way better on 60 years, and paint is better today than back then. I guess time will tell.
Armed with my tiny detail gun, and my small compressor, a respirator, and one very stripped tractor, I proceeded to paint it. With that little detail gun, I got a pretty nice finish. I don't think there is a run anywhere on the tractor. I will admit, that it was hard to keep a nice wet edge on the sheet metal, but I sprayed those separately, and the tractor looks great. Little parts like the air cleaner were also painted individually. I kept all the parts in my wood shop, and seeing the shiny parts all laying there was motivation to keep working.
Oh yeah....about that motivation. Here in Upstate NY the 2003-04 winter was a harsh one. And the spring was wet. We had a lousy, rainy summer, and time to work on this tractor was really hard to come by. My goal was to finish this tractor by the Canandaigua Pageant of Steam. The national Gathering of the Orange was at the Pageant this year. I have a lot of AC buddies, and I was hoping to see them. I know they would give me a hard time about having the wrong color, but deep down I think they would enjoy this little tractor.
Well, it wasn't to be. I hadn't even painted the sheet metal by the Pageant of Steam. I did take my wife and kids, and they really enjoyed themselves. There was mud puddles everywhere, and if that wasn't enough for kids, they got to ride on a steam engine!
Anyway, it was time to put it back together. I got lucky in that the previous owner had a new wiring harness which he gave me. One thing about the Farmall......parts are a lot more expensive than the Ford. I guess since old Henry only made one model, there are lot's of 2N's, 9N's and 8N's out there. McCormic Deering made Cubs, A's, B's, BN's, H's, and M's all at the same time, so while there are a lot of Farmalls out there, there are no where near the amount of one model as the Ford. That makes reproduction parts more expensive.
I saw some old pictures in a Farmall book of tractors being painted on an assembly line. It looked as if the just bolted them together, and shot everything. If you want a true restoration to original, I would guess that is what should be done. But I think that there are so many ways to restore a tractor, that I wasn't gonna try to fool any tractor police. If your sitting around a show critiquing some guys tractor for not painting his wiring harness, you got to much time on your hands. Anyway, I wanted to get some paint on the inside of most of the assemblies, like under the gas tank, between the brackets, inside the wheels, etc. So my technique was to paint all the hidden stuff, bolt it together, and then shoot it all as an assembly. The only thing I didn't do this way was the hood, and front grill. I painted the radiator black, and I didn't want overspray all over it, so I bolted that stuff on, and hand painted the bolts with a detail brush.
Now bolting a tractor back together after a year apart has got to be one of the most fun parts of a restoration. To be sure I was still working on stuff that was dirty and greasy, like the radiator, but the really dirty part was about over. I usually figure a few pairs of old pants and a few T-shirts will be sacrificed to the tractor gods during a restoration, but once you turn that corner and start putting her back together, trips to the barn aren't quite the grease wrestling cage match they are at the tear down stage.
I asked Helen, my 6 year old if she thought I'd ever get it back together, and matter-of-factly she said "I don't think so daddy". Even I was starting to wonder. When I refurbished the Ford, I had a parts manual, and that made putting it back together easy. But in the interest of saving money, I did this one through memory. Well, sniffing some of that oven cleaner must have fried a few memory cells. Luckily, when I went to the Pageant of steam, I took my camera, and snapped a bunch of pictures of a nicely restored A. It was all I needed. That and the original Farmall B manual reproduction I got. If you don't have one of these, you need one.
The battery box I bought was a disappointment. I had to fabricate a mounting plate for it. this seems to be common with these battery boxes. After I got that done and painted, I had everything there to start it up. One thing you got to love about a magneto is that you bolt it on, hook up the wires, and you got spark. Unfortunately, when I went to start it the first time, I got nothing. Not even a pop. I was sure I timed it right, and I sure didn't want to take that bolster off again to check it. Duh. Turn the gas on. Immediately she roared to life. I immediately turned her off. I felt like going up to the house and waking up Helen, but I decided not to.
My son Andrews birthday is on September 11th. So while for most it's a sad day, I focus on it as being the anniversary of one of the best days of my life. He had really been trying to help me put it back together. He's at the question a second stage of his young life, and he amused me a lot while we put it together. So my new goal was to put it together by his birthday. I bought him a nice little cast Farmall A at the Pageant of Steam. What would really be nice is if I could take him and all his little birthday buddies for a ride.
On September 10th, I was up until 1 am putting the finishing touches on it. I have heard that originally my BN had decals that said McCormick-Deering on them. I got the new ones from a popular supplier of decals, and they were wrong. Oh well. I put the McCormick only ones on. I didn't even loose any sleep. The tractor turned out great. I parked it outside our kitchen window. In the morning after breakfast I had him pull the shades. "Happy Birthday buddy boy!" He decided to name it "Clifford, the big red tractor", like the big red dog.
After that the only thing left to work on was the lights and the charging system. I had bought a new battery, and considered just using my 6V Battery Tender to keep the battery up, but the tractor turned out so nice, I decided to make it as original as possible. One of my neighbors tried to convince me to convert it to 12 volts. I know people do that all the time, but I knew with a little maintenance, a 6V system can work down to 15 below zero.
About the generator......it was worn out. The shaft was squealing really bad. I stopped over to my neighbor Al's house. He's a Farmall guy who owns an H, M and a 460. We were talking like guys do, when the subject of the generator came up. He said "hold on...." and disappeared for a minute. He came back with generator in his hand and handed it to me. He said it came from his H, which he had converted to 12V years ago, and thought it worked. I knew even if it didn't, it was in much better shape than mine. The front pulley was different, so I took the one from my BN and put it on the new generator. Back on Yesterday's Tractors web site, I learned the a gentleman named Bob M was the Farmall wiring guru. Using his wiring diagrams and troubleshooting diagrams, I got everything working. I even cleaned the old four position light/ charging switch up and got it all working.
While all this was going on, I took those lights apart, stripped all the old paint off and shot them. New nuts, washers, and rim screws, and they were ready to bolt on. All the old wiring clips were salvaged from the tractor, and I used them to tidy up the wiring. Incidentally, the original owners manual gives a good description of the wire routing and where the clips go.
I had it all on and working, but I couldn't get the system adjusted right. The four position switch is allows for Bright and Dim lights, and a high and low charging rate. I adjusted the third brush in the generator to get a good charging rate, but when I would put on the lights, It would discharge. I fooled with it a fair amount. One day while I had the Ford and the BN out at night, I became aware that the BN's lights were much brighter than the 2N's. I finally looked at the bulb numbers, and they said 1188, instead of the 1133's that are the factory bulbs. I put in three new ones, and while the lights are dimmer, they are fine, and best of all, I found the charging sweet spot.
What's next? I'm thinking of making a big stake-body box to fit in between the left fender and the tranny. It could hold my gloves, pruner, chain saw, etc. I'll let you know.
This site was last updated 12/15/08