Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Old (or Classic) Tractor

Years ago, I helped my father and uncle with rebuilding and painting a handful of older tractors and about two years ago I agreed to do a "quick" paint job on an 1956 IH 300 Utility that had belonged to the father of one of Dad's friends.  That "quick" paint job ended up being a little bit more than a "quick" paint job with some mechanical work, a lot of body work, and a slightly more detailed paint job. 

After I finished painting it, it was loaded up and hauled to Texas, then it was hauled back to Oklahoma, and after it started having some trouble with the steering, it was hauled back to the farm so we could work on it once again.

I'd really hate to do something like restore tractors for a living, because I'm never entirely sure how something like a paint job or mechanical work on something that's 50-60 years old will hold up, but I was surprised at how good the paint job still looked.  I was worried that another "quick" job was going to turn into a long drawn out job but instead it was a relatively simple matter to fix the steering problem (a rare event a lot of the time). 

Since I didn't take any photos of the tractor back when I first painted it, I decided to take a few photos because I doubt if I'll see this tractor again and I also wanted a few photos of the the home-built front bumper in case I ever want to build something similar for another tractor.  Plus, old tractors are kind of cool to look at sometimes and I thought there might be a chance that someone else might be interested.

When I was painting this tractor, it took a while to figure out the possible color scheme that this tractor was originally painted to, so I thought it might be helpful to someone else if they were trying to figure out how to paint their tractor if I posted the photos (although there are about a dozen different paint schemes, so maybe it won't help someone else out that much after all).
IH 300 Utility LP engine, (ignore that plastic bag covering the seat)

Home-built front bumper

There should be an IH emblem on the hood

Ignore all the stuff parked behind the tractor

Keep ignoring all that stuff behind it

International Harvester's Fast-Hitch system  
From what I understand, this particular tractor was originally used on a small farm to cut and bale hay (small square bales), mowing (better known as brush hogging), and with a little three-point carry-all it was used in winter to haul and feed hay.

It has somewhere around 40hp and could pull about a three bottom plow, so it might have been a decent-sized all-around tractor for a small farm in the mid-50's.  I'd hate to farm a couple of hundred acres with it, but it would be interesting to play with it by plowing a few acres once in a while.


  1. That's a cool-looking tractor, Rich, and nice paint job. I've got about $2K in the engine on my TO-20... and it runs pretty good... so maybe I'll have to give it a "quick" coat of paint one of these days. Of course, if I paint it then I'll have to be more careful about how I use it...

    That bumper!! Holy cow, that thing looks like it could push just about anything. I picked up a stick welder a bit ago... I'd like to weld some stick people out of rebar... maybe revamp the (kinda crappy) bumper on the tractor too...

    1. It's a whole lot easier and better to paint a tractor that is in good mechanical condition first rather than painting one that has a bunch of mechanical issues.

      The hardest part about painting a tractor is getting all the grease and grime out of all the nooks and crannies, and decidiing how much you want to take apart.. Depending on how detailed you want to get, I usually take off all the sheetmetal and little bits (like head lights, etc.) spray it down with some engine degreaser, then power wash the heck out of it a couple of times. Then I go over everything and scrape the missed hidden blobs of grease that the power washing missed. After spraying the first coat of primer, any missed spots of grease will show up a lot better, just scrape and clean those spots, and spot spray some more primer. Once you have a good coat of primer, the paint is easy to apply.

      I prime and paint all the little parts I took off of the tractor, assemble it, then put a final coat of paint over everything after it's reassembled since that's the way tractors usually rolled out of the factory. The sheetmetal can be wetsanded in between coats of primer and paint to get a really nice paint job (it's a heck of a lot easier to wetsand a tractor hood than something like an entire car body).

      The way I see it, there's little point in worrying about scratching or denting the tractor after it's painted because at that point those scratches would be earned like the scars I carry around on my body (or something sort of philosophical along that line of thinking). And, if you do the first paint job reasonably well the second paint job is a piece of cake.

      I've used Valspar Tractor & Implement Enamel Paint ( to paint the tractors I've painted, it is supposed to have some sort of rust inhibitor and is a pretty tough paint. They also sell a hardener that you add to the final coat of paint that's supposed to give it a high gloss finish and makes it a little bit more durable.

      That bumper was built a few years after they bought the tractor by an old oil-field welder after the front grill was bashed in by a tree (try saying that ten times quick). If I was trying to build a copy, I'd think I'd have to weld it in place on the tractor to keep it from warping enough that it wouldn't fit the tractor after I'd finished welding.

  2. If someone asked me to restore an old car, I would fret at the possibilities of doing something wrong and destroying the thing. But if someone asked me to restore an old tractor like that, I think I would jump in without worrying. No guarantees that I would do it any better than the car but for me, an old tractor just seems easier and harder to mess up than an old car.

    My dad has always threatened to fix up old tractors when he retires but he is retirement age and still farming. He still hangs onto his old John Deere 5/20 so I figure when he restores that one, real retirement won't be far behind.

    1. You'd have to pay me a whole lot more to either restore or paint a car. Whenever I'm working on a tractor like this, I've given up on making it 100% perfect because it's an almost impossible goal and I figure that there ought to be something left for the next guy that works on the tractor to do. A restored car needs to be almost 100% perfect and that seems like too much work and worry to me.

      We restored a 1942 John Deere B, which is just an older version of a John Deere 520 with the 2 cyl. Johnny Popper engine, hand clutch, etc. Those engines are sort of interesting in the way they're built and the way they sound, and the tractors always seemed like they were completely different from any other tractor I was familiar with.

      My uncle has an unstyled John Deere D built in the twenties (I think) that had to be hand-started by priming each cylinder than turning the flywheel. It was over 80 years old when he bought it and had been restored decades before. We hauled it to OK from Kansas (it was a lot heavier than it looked), unloaded it, and it started up after about 15 minutes of spraying carb cleaner, squirting gasoline, and turning the flywheel over and over.

      Hand starting those Johnny Popper engines is almost as fun as driving the tractor.

    2. It's interesting to see how many old tractors remain in use. My father in law, for example, used an old Farmall forever, although they've gone to heavier tractors for actual farming now. The Farmall is long gone.

      Still, back prior to 2000 when everyone was panicking about how the Y2K thing was going to wipe out everything, I recall driving down to eastern Colorado through the farm country. It was spring and all the farmers were out in their fields. As I was driving along some pundit was predicting that agriculture was going to grind to a halt as all the tractors were now computerized. As that was going on, I looked out and saw a farmer with some really old Ford tractor working in his field.

      I wasn't worried about Y2K before that, and I quit having any concern at that point. My contempt for punditry did increase, however.

    3. I love driving those old tractors with all the hand controls and of course, their distinctive sound. We still use the 520 in the fall to run augers which it does quite well. The only other application I can ever remember using it for was when my grandfather was around and he had a sickle bar attachment for it. I remember riding with him as we trimmed along all the fields and ditches every late summer. There wasn't a single guard in place on that thing and looking back, I wonder how my parents ever let me stand on the axle holding onto the seat for hours on end. I suppose it was just considered incentive to hang on tight!

    4. My "using" tractors and combine aren't old enough to be classics, but they are all from the late '70's to early '80's so they're getting pretty old.

      There are two IH 1586 tractors (so I can rob parts from one to fix the other if it ever comes to that), and I have a little 27hp John Deere 950 tractor that's used for brush hogging, raking hay, feeding hay, building fence, etc..

      The combine is almost 40 years old, but in decent shape, and it should last at least 10-20 more years.

      Since I switched to no-till, the number of hours I spend on the tractor has really dropped (and that includes spending more hours planting double crops and cover crops), and about half of those hours are for cutting and baling hay. Unless I really increase the acres I'm farming or go back to tillage, the older tractors I have should last a pretty long time (at least I'm hoping they do).

      Grandpa had a 1945 John Deere B that he was still using to rake hay when I was a little kid, but it used to be used all the time for plowing, discing, mowing with a sickle bar mower, with a post hole digger to build fence, etc. It's a little hard to imagine a tractor like that being the main workhorse of a farm.