Tractor restos - that ongoing job

By: Andrew Hobbs

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Back in 2013, Fred Rowe thought he might spend time restoring a couple of tractors as a hobby. Like so many others, he’s still at it.

Most of the work on Rowe’s 1948 Farmall H was cleaning and repainting.
Most of the work on Rowe’s McCormick International 1948 Farmall H was cleaning and repainting

Like many city-dwelling farmers’ sons and daughters, my journey home for Christmas was a long one – from Melbourne, where Farms & Farm Machinery is based, to my hometown of Kojonup in Western Australia.

It entailed a flight (long, late and crowded), a hire car (thin on the ground and expensive when you get them) and the normal three-hour-and-a-bit drive down the Albany Highway, with the heavier-than-usual traffic common for that time of year, plus a very poorly-timed shutdown to the good roadhouse. (Country drivers will know what I mean.)

If what I’ve said above sounds like a complaint, it’s not meant as such – just observations about what normally happens to people in this situation at that time of year. It’s all part of the experience.

The same might be said for the experience of many farmers who, when they have the luxury of a bit of extra time, decide to turn their hands to restoring vehicles that have seen better days.  

Kojonup farmer Fred Rowe was one of these – with initial plans to finish the job of restoring a Ford 4000 tractor after restoring the motor.

"I was planning on doing up a couple of tractors and taking them to vintage machinery days and things like that," he says, "but I realised I needed a truck to cart them there."

This led Rowe to buying a 1967 Ford F600 from nearby Narrogin back in 2013 and setting out to repair and restore that as well.

"Originally when I started I was going to rub it all down [to remove rust] myself, but that turned out to be too big a job. We started but we would never have been able to finish it," he says.

Instead, and by enlisting the help of friends and relatives, Rowe stripped the truck down to the chassis, which was sandblasted and painted by the Kowald family in Kojonup.

After this was done, he took the truck cabin down to Albany, 150km away, for the same treatment – but sadly replacement parts had to be found after what Rowe says was a sandblasting error.

"Where the holes are he must have put too much heat underneath, so I had to get another bonnet for it," he says.

"It originally had a tip tray on but somebody had taken all the hoists off and cut all the back bits off... so when I did it up I put a bit more on the chassis and put the tray on."

Removing the tipper completely, the replacement tray he found had to be shortened from its 18 foot length down to 16 foot.

But, he says, it was two years before the replacement tray was installed.

A 1948 Farmall H tractor before it was restored by Fred Rowe
The Farmall before its restoration

IN THE HOT SEAT

In the meantime, the opportunity to buy a McCormick International 1948 Farmall H from a collector came along and – given the motor was in very good condition, Rowe decided to buy it.

"I have never touched the motor, but the water jacket, all that was rusted away and the radiator had had it," he said.

Finding the locally available replacement radiators were too big, Rowe was able to find a new replacement direct from Steiner tractors in the USA for a cheaper than it would have cost to repair the existing one.

Aside from that, Rowe says most of the work on restoring the tractor was in cleaning and painting – which with the incorporated stripping down of the machine was a job that never seemed to end.

"We would take one thing off, and when you take something off you would find more stuff behind," he says.

"I probably could have left it and just cleaned it and painted all over it, but to pull it all down like that and paint underneath everything – you know it is not going to rust again.

"It took a couple of years to do, because you can’t do it all the time – but we had it going before the truck."

BACK ON TRACK

The truck has successfully been on the road, taking the restored Farmall on a 40km round trip to nearby Katanning for the annual KatMach vintage tractor display last year.

But it’s now back on the blocks, with work underway to make sure the brakes are working properly, with new cylinders needed.

"I left the pump on because I thought if I sell it later on and somebody wants to convert it to the tipper, they can," says Fred Rowe with his restored 1967 Ford F600.

"I haven't done anything to the engine or the gearbox – it had a few leaks so I have cleaned out one of the gaskets and restuck it on again, but I haven't used it long enough to see how much oil it is using," Rowe says.

"The gearbox probably wants all the gaskets taken off and redoing but I left the pump on because I thought if I sell it later on and somebody wants to convert it to the tipper, they can."

Once that is sorted, Rowe hopes to turn his attention back to where it all began – the Ford 4000.

"When I get this going again I will get to work on the 4000 – it has things stripped off it, but I haven’t gotten around to doing the cleaning up or painting yet," he says.

"It only has to be painted because we did up the motor about 10 years ago, and that goes pretty well now – we just have to get all the grease and oil off before I paint it."

But there’s no deadline, and just like those Christmas travellers, while the destination is rewarding the hard experience of the journey can have its own rewards.

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