Frequently Asked Questions
about Antique Tractors


1. How do I find out what year my tractor was built?

The most common method is to locate the serial number stamped somewhere on the body of the tractor and match it to a manufacturers list. This is not foolproof in that some manufacturers used riveted plates which are easily knocked off in the daily work while others may not have stamped all machines. To complicate matters further, certain manufacturers did not publish serial number lists making the ranges found in some books simply educated guesses.

2. Are there any good books on tractors?

There are many excellent texts that provide information and anecdotal material. The information sources for many of these books range from the Tractor Tests conducted at University of Nebraska to the archives kept by manufacturers. There are books providing only numerical data such as serial lists and specifications (e.g., "Farm Equipment Hotline") and books that narrow to a single manufacturer or even a single model (e.g., "Farmall Tractors") with extensive pictorial archives. Nearly every brand is represented by some publications. The first source of data should always be the manufacturers owners manual if obtainable.

3. Why buy an old tractor vs. a new one?

Buying an older tractor will usually mean saving 90% of the purchase price over new machines. Smaller "Hobby Farm" (less than 30 HP) tractors are designed primarily for mowing and rototilling, thus are engineered with less steel and cast iron. While cheaper to build, this may reduce the capabilities for some operations such as plowing, discing, and haying. The conditions under which farm tractors operate require weight to get the horsepower converted to usable work. New small machines are not structurally engineered to support the required weight. Many older machines (60s and earlier) in the 10 to 30 HP range can perform nearly any operation. The orientation for small tractors from the 1970s on changed from pure farming to suburban tract support. In the larger farm tractors (30+ HP), the orientation has never wavered. A full scale modern farm tractor can perform even more work than its predecessors, safer, more reliable, and environmentally sound in the process (also read cost-effective). To justify the cost of this caliber of machine requires a profit motive on the part of the work performed.

************************WARNING************************

Older farm tractors frequently lack the safety features found on modern machines. For the novice driver, the increase of HP to the ground combined with no safety features can be deadly due to rear and sideways rollovers. It is possible to update older tractors with roll over protection and safety guards. This can be accomplished economically by a professional.

4. How do I compare the HP ratings of an old tractor with new tractors?

The ratings given for older tractors were developed by the Nebraska Tractor Tests under a stringent set of guidelines (these are found in the foreword of "Nebraska Tractor Tests from 1926"). Since the rules imposed on manufacturers for real farm tractors are not imposed on smaller homeowner machines built currently, the HP ratings quoted on modern brands are not comparable. Current ratings are similar to the rating of a lawn mower measuring only raw crankshaft horsepower. It has been suggested that a factor of 1.5 applied to a Nebraska rating will provide equal HP but even this will not take into account the application of the weight required to use the HP. The HP rated on the older machines measured usable power at the drawbar and at the PTO.

5. Will I be able to get parts for old tractors?

The majority of older brands are still represented by a modern conglomerate even if the brand went out of business long ago. This means that you can still purchase new parts for many of the so-called orphan brands (such as Allis-Chalmers, Oliver, Minneapolis-Moline, Farmall, and Massey-Harris). The trick is in locating who bought out the brand and who to contact. In some cases you may have to follow a trail that goes a few levels (e.g., in 1985 A-C was bought out by Deutz which was bought out by Agco).

Additionally there are dealers all over the U.S. that have stockpiles of parts for tractors dating into the 1920s. In many cases these are new parts. There are tractor junkyards in every locale that can provide nearly every brand with used parts.

Korea, Taiwan, and China have come on strong in recent years in the production of exact duplication parts for many popular older tractors (from sheet to cast metal parts). This type of part may be a work-alike that in some cases may be superior in engineering but unacceptable to a collector shooting for all-original show tractor quality. For a working tractor, this type of part should give good service and the best cost incentive.

Look to the Salvage Yard page for a list of regional suppliers of parts both new and used.

6. Does tractor restoration require a mechanical background?

If you purchase an older tractor that has not been restored, the probability is high that you will have to do a significant amount of restoration to turn it into a reliable machine. This may be an attractive alternative in that you will pay a fraction of the cost that a restored machine with warranty would bring. You are then in the position of being a mechanic. On the drawback side, you will need tools that are large enough to work on the machine (most folks don't keep a 15/16 socket or open-end in their tool box) and space to tear it down.

The pluses of working on older tractors is that they are much simpler than new tractors. The electric's frequently have no modern ignition just a simple magneto (the "circuit" is a wire running to a cut-off switch), the carburetion is gravity feed, the hydraulics are "one-way". Understanding the components is extremely simple when ompared to the modern counterparts. Still a basic knowledge of internal combustion is valuable though easily attained.

7. What implements do I need?

Only you know your requirements but the field is roughly as follows:

8. What is the best tractor brand?

The best tractor brand for you will depend on your location. A primary factor for older tractors is what machine sold best in your area that meets the size and HP you require. The more machines there were of a given brand will determine the price and parts availability. For working tractors, you will find the best bargains in the major brands such as Ford, John Deere, Farmall (IHC), Case, Massey, and Allis-Chalmers. These brands are represented in nearly all areas of the country plus have existing dealer networks for new parts. Competition in sales by the major brands also meant that design deviations were usually well tested prior to marketing. Even so it pays to research the history of a certain model. If only a few were sold there is probably a good reason. These factors are totally irrelevant if you are planning to enter the collecting and showing arena. Uniqueness may be far more important.

For lesser known brands, you should discuss potential purchases with an expert as there were (as with automobiles) machines made that had quirks and extremely dangerous design flaws.

If you are dependent on others for mechanic work, find out what type of tractor your chosen mechanic prefers. This will save you the "I could of told you..." conversation later.

9. What is the difference between a show tractor and a working tractor?

A working tractor has different requirements from a show tractor. A working tractor will have updates that make it useful on a day-to-day basis such as roll-over protection, 12-volt electric's, and elimination of multi-fuel carburetion. Cosmetics are irrelevant in a working tractor as scratches and dents are a fact of life.

None of the above is true of a show tractor. Show tractors should be as close to the original as possible and are frequently cosmetically superior to the original coming off the assembly line. The painstaking work that goes into producing a show tractor makes it a poor choice for day to day work as its investment value will go down as it is used.

10. Is there a "support group" for tractors on the net?

Yes - Antique Tractor Internet Services (ATIS) Mailing List. Go to the subscription page or send an email to antique-tractor-request@atis.net and type SUBSCRIBE as the body of the message. This will "net" you the ability to discuss these questions with more than 100 individuals interested in tractors.

There has also been considerable discussion of tractors and related topics on the Usenet Newsgroup misc.rural.

There are many non-networked support groups in the form of clubs around the country. These can be located by talking with a local tractor restoration shop.

11. Should a 6-volt tractor be converted to 12-volt?

If a tractor is to be used on a daily basis, it may make sense to convert to an alternator and 12 volt system. If you do this, you should save the OEM generator and any other items that you remove as this may make your tractor more valuable for sale later.

If your tractor is a magneto system, you may only have to change the light bulbs and fuse to do the conversion, but you will have to use the starter very carefully as it will burn out easily under the 12-volt system. The tractor must be kept in a good state of tune to avoid any cranking.

If you have a battery ignition, you will also have change the coil. Consult with a local auto electric shop for specifics. Many brands in the 50s had both 6 and 12 volt systems during the course of the production run. You may be able to get OEM Specs on a 12 volt system for your 6 volt machine.

12. What is a 3-point hitch?

The standards for hitch systems are based on the work of Harry Ferguson in the late 30s. He developed what is called the 3-point hitch. During the years following this, only Ford and Ferguson tractors had the 3-point due to patent rights. By the mid-fifties nearly every brand offered a 3-point.

The concept is that there are 2 lower hydraulically actuated lift arms with 7/8" holes. These can separate laterally from about 19" to 32" (width is implementation dependent) to accommodate an implement. There is a single center connection point called the top link which provides stability and allows adjustment of the tilt. With a fully mounted implement such as this, the weight of the implement can be used as extra ballast by applying a small amount of lift. This process was further developed to automatically determine when forward progress of the tractor was impeded and actuate the hydraulic rams.

There are four categories of 3-point hitches used today. They are designated Category 0 through Category 3. Through pin changes or shims it is possible to cross over between categories. This would normally be impractical due to: For the most part the differences in pin sizes and the width and height of implements make shifting between the sizes impractical. For most small farm work Category 1 and 2 are the acceptable sizes. Category 0 3-points are associated with high-end riding lawn mowers.

13. Do I need a 3-point hitch?

If you are purchasing a bare tractor (without implements) with a proprietary hitch, you must research the possibility of finding proprietary or pull-type implements (implements with their own wheels and method of lift). If your research comes up short, you should buy a tractor with a 3-point or investigate the cost of a 3-point retrofit. 3-point systems are manufactured to retrofit nearly every common tractor from the 1940s to present. The 3-point will provide you a wealth of available implements. The 3-point can be fabricated but care must be taken to ensure that it is engineered to not stress the safety and structural integrity of the tractor.

If you are purchasing a tractor all the implements required, the hitch style becomes less important.

14. What do Row-Crop, General Purpose, Industrial, Utility and Standard mean to tractors?

These designations seemed to mean different things at different periods of the century but generally (IMHO) the following would apply:

15. How big a tractor should I buy?

As small as you can get by with. The smaller the rating, the less fuel consumption, emissions, and storage requirements you will have.

If you are pulling large machines like balers, combines, manure spreaders or big implements like 4-gang discs or multi-bottom plow, a small tractor will not safely do the job. The 2 issues are having enough weight to ensure that the implement cannot upset the tractor and enough power to pull and simultaneously power the implement.

Power requirements can be estimated. For some operations such as plowing, you can use a chart to determine how many bottoms will be required at what speed to do the area you want to cover and still have time to read the paper in the evening.

For heavy-weight pulling a critical factor is the braking area of the tractor or compression braking capabilities of the engine. A tractor that free wheels downhill with a load is a deadly situation as the speeds exceed the steering design and the machine becomes totally uncontrollable.

16. How can I trailer my tractor?

See the FAQ at the Antique-Tractor Web Server called "How to Transport Your Tractor"

17. What do all the acronyms mean?

18. Do I need hydraulics?

Hydraulics are pretty basic to most mounted implements (implements that are hung from the tractor). There are some small tractors with mechanical arms and cranks that allow implements to be lifted and adjusted without hydraulics but obviously this is impractical for large volume implements. Hydraulics can either be integral and internal to the tractor design or add-ons that turn off the front of the crankshaft or belt driven similarly to the generator. Adding on hydraulics implies adding on a reservoir for hydraulic fluid, hoses, rams, and a control unit.

Another form of hydraulics is remote hydraulics. This is the capability to provide fluid lift to an implement ram. Many tractors are equipped with a valve that may be opened to operate a ram on an implement. If you are going to purchase implements that require this, be sure you have the capability to support it built into the tractor. It can be identified by a quick-disconnect hose fitting somewhere on your tractor. These frequently have delay mechanism built into the hydraulic control unit to allow the remote ram to actuate later than the on-board rams.

Hydraulics come in 2 flavors, one way and two way. This means that the Rams can be power in either one direction or two. You can tell which type by how many hoses are running to the rams. One for one way and two for two way. An example of how two way are used is on a loader. A two way ram can not only lift loads but also push downward (many folks use the term "with down pressure" when selling loaders or hydraulic hitches.

19. Why do tractors have liquid in the tires (or How do you add weight)?

Liquid in the tractor tires is a convenient method of adding weight for traction and keeping it low to the ground. The difficulty associated with this is that water freezes in the winter causing damage to the tire and rim. If calcium chloride is used to combat the freezing, a minor leak will cause immediate rust to form on the rims and a major leak will temporarily kill anything growing around where the leak occurred. The filling and care of a liquid filled tire should be handled by a professional due to its massive weight. Most tire stores in rural areas have trucks with hoists and pumps capable of doing such work on-site.

Another method of adding weight to the tractor is to use cast iron weights. These bolt on to both front and rear wheels. Weights can be used in conjunction with liquid filled tires. Other weights have been designed to bolt to the front axle, rear lift and even the tractor frame. Front and rear weights can provide a margin of safety when applied as a counterweight to a load at the opposite end of the tractor.

Adding weight to a tractor is necessary for traction, steering, and sometimes for safety but it should be noted that bearings and bushings may need more frequent replacement and gas consumption is increase by weight. Some people get around this by removing weight when it is unneeded even to the extent of keeping duplicate sets of wheels and tires; one set filled, one empty.

20. Are there any magazines for tractors?

Yes, nearly every major brand has a following and a magazine or in some cases just a newsletter. A generic magazine that covers the gamut of brands and tractor issues is Antique Power. The editor is available by E-mail at antpow@aol.com. Several other brand-specific magazines are available with addresses listed on this Antique Tractor web site on the FAQ page under the heading Bibliography.

21. Can I haul logs or jerk stumps with my tractor?

No. Wheel tractors were not designed for this type of operation. Any operation that involves a highly resistant load increases the chance of a back-flip on a tractor. The combination of good traction, horsepower, and low gearing causes the tractor to rotate up on the rear differential when the load stops. Additionally most tractors are not designed to hitch such loads appropriately.

Skidding logs is extremely dangerous due to the likelihood that the log will dig in or hang up. This will cause an immediate back-flip and death. The appropriate way to skid logs is to use a log skidder which is designed for this purpose. If one isn't handy a more practical approach is to purchase a winch. Many crawlers in logging areas of the country are equipped for this.

A stump is a highly resistant load so the same problems apply. A back hoe or excavator is designed for digging which is the best way to remove a stump. A crawler with a bulldozer blade can also perform this operation but the size required is usually beyond the capabilities of a small farm operation. Another drawback of using a crawler is that you may have to dig a swimming pool sized hole to get a large stump out.

22. Are tractors dangerous?

Absolutely. The farm rates as one of the high-risk work areas and the tractor is the primary reason. The tractor flip/upset danger cannot be over stressed. The PTO risk is also extremely important. Other risks that are evident are fueling hot tractors, running the machine in a barn or enclosed area, leaving the engine running when dismounting, using the tractor on hills and using a tractor in the woods. If a tractor is used one must have an extreme respect for the dangers. In the midwest where tractors are a part of daily life, tractor safety is commonly taught in all levels of education.

23. What is a Tri-cycle tractor?

In the late-30s through the mid-50s, tractor manufacturers produced tractors with a single or short dual wheel axle immediately under the front of the tractor. These were popular for the unobstructed vision, ability to easily drive in to mount implements, extremely short turning radius, and the reduced cost to build and purchase. The instability of these tractors became more apparent when hydraulic loaders were integrated into the farm as the extra load in front exaggerated the design weakness. Rear implements for high-volume farming also made drive-in implements impractical.

It is important to note that while tri-cycle tractors are normally thought to be dangerous due to lack of weight in the front and reduced lateral stability, wide-front tractors can be just as dangerous. Both styles of tractors will flip under similar situations and without warning. This is also true of load carried in a loader on a wide-front, a load carried high in a loader will greatly increase the change of flipping.

24. Can I grade with my tractor?

Blades can be put on the front, rear, and belly of wheel tractors. Maintenance grading such as driveway maintenance is quite satisfactory with a tractor blade. Also if the material is relativel y loose, a wheel tractor blade will do a good job. If grading of very loose materials such as gravel, excellent results can be obtain by using a very small cutting edge (such as a used crawler cutting edge) and no moldboard. This allows the material to slip over the blade if too much builds up. This is also useful in leveling a lawn or garden. If actual cutting is required, a wheel tractor must have hydraulic draft control (such as was mentioned under 3-point hitches above) and a rear blade (box blade is even better). This will allow the blade to lift slightly when either too much material builds up or the blade begins to cut too deep. For large areas of industrial leveling, a crawler may be more appropriate as the work will be done much more quickly. Another alternative is to buy one of the specially modified wheel tractor graders. These have extended front ends and large grader blades. For the most part these special purpose versions of normal farm tractors are less expensive than their standard counterparts due to their limited capabilities.

The grading blade on wheel tractors is commonly and successfully used for snow removal on driveways. Even a fairly small machine can keep a driveway maintained during the snowy season. Tractors are frequently fitted with Tire chains for snow use. An excellent source for chains would be a large truck "bone yard".

25. What is a crawler?

A crawler is a tractor with crawler tracks. Nowadays these are commonly called bulldozers or cats due to the fact that the vast majority of crawlers are shipped with blades and Caterpillar has sold a lot of crawlers. The blade is the bulldozer, a brand is Cat, but the tractor is a crawler. Crawlers exert less pressure per square inch for the level of traction they provide.

26. How much should I pay for my tractor?

There are no hard and fast rules on what to pay for an older tractors. The range seems to be from about $500 to $4000 for running tractors. The condition and supplied implements make up the major differences but the popularity of the tractor will also have impact. For a working tractor one should avoid the very popular collection machines as the price will be inflated without working value added. A good running but un-restored tractor in nearly every weight class should be obtainable for under $1500. If careful examination (beyond appearances) is done there may be good reasons for paying a little more. Reliability, Dealer support (Some used tractor dealers are very honorable in their support of older machines), flexibility (such as hitch style or having a loader) are examples of this.

27. How can I tell if a prospective tractor is in good condition?

The following is a subset of what to look for: In general you need to thoroughly examine all the metal for cracks as cracks in cast iron may be difficult to repair for those not practiced in welding. Look for patches of unrealistically smooth cast iron, these may indicate the use of an epoxy to hide cracks. Paint will hide many leaks in low pressure cases such as the transmission and final drives/rear axle housings. These will not appear for many months so there is no help there.

28. Should I buy a tractor if the company that built it is no longer in business?

For the most part, all the major tractor companies and engine builders are still for all intents and purposes "in business", every major manufacturer was bought out by different large conglomerates and still has functioning parts outlets. Specific models may well have run out of new parts long ago if few were made but many common parts will still be available both new and used. For newer tractors (60s and 70s) many parts can be found for good ole American brands by going to the real manufacturers such as Mitsubishi, Mazda, and Nissan (good ole Japanese brands).

There are tractors that are purely orphans such as Earthmaster, Gibson, Silver King, Farmaster, ... (the list goes on and on) but after close examination, one finds that most of the parts that were manufactured by these companies are frames, sheet metal, and gear cases. The actual gears, engines, bearings, radiators, carburetors and such were all off-the-shelf stuff from that era. You then need to look for common tractors that used the same components and go to their parts sources.


Return to the FAQs page
Return to the A.T.I.S. home page