Old Tractors and Cussing Fits


So how many of you folks are working with ancient iron trying to get the job done?  I know I am.  There is something about these old machines that makes you want to have a cussing fit of rage and yet just get on them and drive off into the sunset…or a big manure pile depending on how much you have to monkey around getting it started every day.

I bought the tractor in the picture four years ago for $4500.00.  This machine has served me well over the last few years, it moves the snow for me, feeds 1100 pound round bales all winter long and rakes hay all summer long.  Couldn’t ask for a better piece of antique aggravation.

The poor old girl hasn’t been without issues, I spent two Novembers ago in my driveway ripping the head off the engine block to replace the head gasket.  I guess that’s kind of the beauty of these old machines, you can work on them.  I pop the hood on my father in law’s new Mahindra and it looks like an over engineered nightmare.  I pop the hood on one of my old machines and think to myself “I can fix it”.

For all of you out there looking to buy a tractor and think you have to buy new to get quality you are mistaken.  You can find a good used machine for a fraction of the price.  That being said, there are some things you need to check over before handing your money over.

1. Crank the tractor over and watch what’s coming out of the exhaust pipe, if it is rolling black smoke be prepared to have to get into the engine a little bit, possibly a head gasket.

2. Pull the dipstick out of the tractor, the oil in the machine can tell you a whole lot about the tractor.  Look for antifreeze on the dipstick, this can indicate a leaking cylinder sleeve or a cracked block.  Also wipe the dipstick clean and see if the dipstick is stained black, this can indicate a lack of oil changes.  Don’t get too worried if the oil is black, that is the nature of some diesels and doesn’t mean that there are any issues.

3. Fire the tractor up, again watching the smoke out of the exhaust.  Expect a little smoke at startup but watch for white smoke rolling out, that could indicate antifreeze leaking into the engine.  A little black smoke at first may not mean anything, if the machine takes a few cranks to get running it will load up with fuel and smoke some.  If the smoke doesn’t clear up then you know you have some issues.  Rev the tractor up, if it billows smoke and doesn’t clear up quickly, walk away…usually engine issues.  Another thing is if you need ether to get the machine to run and it’s not that cold out, walk away, once a tractor gets used to ether it wants it until the engine gets a rebuild.  Ether can really damage the rings and valves in a diesel engine, if you can’t start it without the old farmer whiff of ether then that engine is not far from a rebuild.

4. Check the hydraulics, three point hitches are a key tool to any farmer.  If the hitch doesn’t work then walk away, hydraulic repairs can add up in a big hurry.  If it has power steering then turn the wheels both ways while parked, if you hear a lot of whining you may have some issues with the steering pump or you may be low on fluid.  Now there are times when the only issue is a plugged hydraulic filter, if you are serious about buying the machine it may be a good idea to have a look at the filters.

5. Finally, drive her.  Put the tractor in all gears, check the high low range if equipped.  Make sure the gears don’t grind when trying to shift.  This is important, most drive train issues require major work to get them fixed, usually splitting the machine.  Part of this test should be a pto check, if you see the pto is not engaged but it sits there and spins anyway you may have a weak pto clutch.

Old tractors are great to have around and they were built to last.  Look at all the old Ford tractors still out there from the 40’s still working every day.  Be prepared to have little issues with a lot of them though, you will find that they each have their own personality that is unique to that machine.  The best selling point is the cost of buying one compared to anything new.  There are tractors out there that cost more than my house, and I’m talking about machines under a 100 hp.

Good luck,

Jim TheTradesman

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