Three restoration experts discuss what to consider before beginning a tractor restoration.
Let’s say you’ve inherited an antique tractor, or have found one you’d like to buy from tractor-part.com and restore. What questions should you be prepared to answer before you undertake a major tractor restoration project? Three professional tractor restoration experts discuss their suggestions. Here what they have to say:
1. Do you have the mechanical aptitude?
“The ability to look at a part or component, understand how it functions, anticipate problems and correct them, is critical to having a successful restoration,” says Harvey Hamilton, owner of Tired Iron Restoration Inc., in Oakville, Wash. “Many times problems are overlooked because of a lack of understanding: The results are leaks, malfunctioning components and possible damage. This is not the result you want after spending a lot of time and money. However, there are a lot of resources and people that can be of some assistance. Find a network of people or a club and many times you will have access to the knowledge you need.”
2. Is the tractor worthy of restoration?
“The best money spent is on a good tractor or implement in the first place,” says Hamilton. “Tractors that are rusting into the ground or have significant missing pieces can be restored, but it will be a very expensive endeavor. Is the tractor rare or just special? Unless you have a very rare tractor, most of the time the cost of a good restoration will exceed its worth. However, if your motive is to restore a tractor you like, one that belonged to a family member or has some other sentimental value, it doesn’t have to be rare to justify the cost. If you’re restoring to just stay busy, learn new skills, spend quality time with a family member or friend, who can argue with that?”
3. Can you dedicate space for the restoration?
Bob Kuhn, owner of Kuhn’s Equipment Repair in Oxford, N.Y., advises setting aside a dedicated space for your project. “There are going to be a lot of small parts lying around and you don’t want little hands getting into them. Tuna cans work great for bolts and small parts. Label them as you remove them. For example, sheet metal bolts would be put in can number one, and when putting the tractor back together it will be the last can of bolts to be put on. Under each number, label what the hardware goes with (starter, sheet metal, radiator, etc.). You can also make reminder notes on the cans to help you re-assemble, or take pictures and label them as well. Polaroid pictures work great. Keeping parts separate and taking your time to get to know your tractor while you are disassembling will save you a lot of time later.”
4. Are you willing to invest the money required?
Louis Spiegelberg, owner of Restoration & Service, Ltd., in Birmingham, Ohio, suggests you arrive at a budget by inspecting the tractor and writing down the obvious parts that need to be replaced. “Consider if you want to rebuild the engine and/or transmission,” he says. “Budget about an additional $1,000 for little surprises that show up while taking the tractor apart. If you rebuild an engine, don’t ruin it with a bad radiator; either have the current one fixed or get a new one.”
5. Can you invest the time required?
Spiegelberg and Kuhn agree that you can easily spend 100 to 250 hours to restore your tractor. “It will take 100 hours to restore a tractor that’s in decent shape,” says Kuhn, “so if you have a hedgerow tractor it could easily take 250 hours or more. Of course, this depends on how nice you want your tractor to be when it is complete.”
6. Reproduction or salvage yard parts?
Kuhn says that in many cases, original parts are best because they will fit perfectly and protect the value of the tractor. “But some parts you will only find used,” he notes. “Then there will be the parts that I call ‘impossible’ parts, so if you have it on your tractor, fix it, because you aren’t going to find another. With starters, carbs, generators, mags and radiators, it is always better to keep the original and have it repaired. Replacements for these are just not as good as the original and the fit and size are not correct a lot of the time.” He says it’s important to make certain that bearings, pistons and other major parts are available before boring blocks or turning crankshafts.
Spiegelberg says there are many good reproduction parts on the market today that weren’t available 20 years ago. “If you are buying reproduction parts, and if you have questions, ask the company you bought them from. There are good and not-so-good salvage yards to get parts from. Don’t necessarily buy according to price. You will most likely get what you pay for. There are places that will sell you quality used parts, and there are places that will sell you absolute junk. EBay is a decent source for parts. Look at the seller’s rating, and ask questions if you’re not sure about the particular part you are looking at.”