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By Staff | Jul 9, 2010

Reviving an old tractor is similar to volunteering for headache research.

“Thanks for helping us with our head pain study,” says the man in the white lab coat. “Please hold still. We will begin immediately.”

“Um, what are you gonna do with that big hammer? AIEEE!!”

When I started tearing into our family’s old “A” John Deere, I had one simple goal: I just wanted to get the thing running again. An impulse that propelled me down this path was the feeling that a man ain’t any kind of man if he don’t have a tractor.

Revivification is my aim, which is not to be confused with Restoration. My definition of Restoration would be bringing it back to good-as-new condition. This is not me; I am much too unambitious.

Some would tear the tractor completely down, removing every last bolt from every last nut. This is not me; I don’t have that kind of patience.

Some would give the tractor a gleaming new paint job that costs as much as the gross national product of Luxembourg. This is definitely not me; I don’t have that level of disposable income.

It felt good to be out there pulling wrenches, wearing a cologne of rancid crankcase oil mixed with stale gasoline. Skinned knuckles were surprisingly few. There were substantial obstacles at the outset, the main one being the fact that the carburetor was AWOL. The “A” had sat next to a shed that was recently torn down and its foundation hauled away. The carburetor had been lying on the ground nearby and got mixed in with the dirt and rotten concrete.

No big deal. I’ll just buy another carburetor on the Internet.

Sticker shock arrived at the speed of light. eBay offered several carburetors like the “A’s”, but they cost several hundred dollars!

Suddenly spurred by financial motivation, I dug through the debris pile that should contain a specific chunk of machined cast iron. After just half an hour of shoveling, I found it! I wouldn’t have been more thrilled if I had uncovered Blackbeard’s treasure.

Disassembly included removing the “A’s” governor, which is how I discovered that countless generations of mice had used the governor as a mouse house. Which wouldn’t be bad, except the furry little squatters thoughtlessly left behind their used bedding. I’m guessing that leaving The Mother Of All Mouse Nests in the governor may have affected its performance.

Next came extracting the engine block. The “A’s” engine is cast iron, albeit mostly hollow, with cylinders the size of coffee cans and a maze of water passages. Even so, hauling it out of the frame was quite a grunt. Where’s the Incredible Hulk when you need him?

Surprisingly, the pistons weren’t stuck despite having been exposed to the elements for 15 years. I counted this as my first bit of good luck.

Nope. Ron Oye, a local Johnny Popper aficionado and one of my main consultants for this project, pointed out that my unstuck pistons indicated a worn engine and a good probability that it would need to be bored. And no, he didn’t mean subjecting it to a lecture titled “The Evolution of the Paper Clip.”

So I took the block to a machinist for his expert ministrations. It then occurred that the block could be fatally flawed and that I might need to find another one.

Again to the Internet, again with the sticker shock. But just as shocking was the block’s shipping weight: 135 pounds! And 105 pounds for the head!

This pleased me greatly. Not the prospect of paying a king’s ransom for shipping; what was gratifying was the fact that I had been able to wrest the block out of the “A” without assistance from even a minor superhero.

The block proved bore-worthy, so I began to search for new pistons. You know you live in a great country when you can sit in your living room at 10:30 in the evening and – click! – purchase new parts for a 60-year-old tractor.

It’s not been an unpleasant experience so far. I’ll go out to the workshop and tinker with the carburetor or the magneto. Sandy, our Golden Retriever will invariably hang around while I work, hoping that something exciting will happen, wondering if he can help. Toss in some little kids playing with their toy tractors and the tableau would closely resemble those farm shop paintings I’ve seen.

These days I often come into the house reeking of gasket glue and atomic-strength parts cleaning solvents.

“Doesn’t this smell wonderful?” I’ll ask my wife.

“No,” she replies. “It gives me a headache.”

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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