By Dan DeGroot
The disease all started a few years back. I bought 42 acres that had been uninhabited for several decades and was pretty wild. I knew a tractor would be the first order of business, so I visited my local tractor dealers to start my research. After the sticker shock hit me, I realized I would need to look at used – and I remembered an old Ford tractor I had seen before that I really liked the look of. After some further research, I discovered it was the Ford 8N I had seen, and so started my search for a good used one at a decent price. Not only was I shocked to find them so plentiful and inexpensive, but I was even more shocked to discover the availability of new parts – almost every wearing part on the tractor could be replaced easily and cheaply. I finally discovered an old 1948 8N in a town close to me, so I went to take a look at it after doing more research on what to look for. I have always been a city boy, and I have never seen a tractor close up, so you could say I was somewhat green.
After looking at the tractor, I could see the rear oil seals were leaking (as is very common on early N Series tractors), the original PTO shaft was almost worn smooth, the steering had quite a bit of slack in it, paint was pretty bad, and there was a crack in the side of the block that had been repaired. But, it started right up, didn't smoke, sheet metal was in good shape, and the hydraulics worked great – I was sold on the little tractor. After paying what I would later find was way too much, I decided I needed to fix up the few items that were needing repair before I pressed it into service mowing and such. This was indeed my first mistake!
I decided to replace the PTO as an assembly, and upgrade to the standard 1 3/8” shaft, and then replace the rear axle oil seals. I ordered the parts from my “soon-to-be new best friends” and supplier over the internet, and then got started. The PTO assembly swap out went perfect – in hindsight that should have been my first clue that things would soon go awry. I pulled my rear axles, only to discover my brakes were shot as well, put it all back together and ordered new brakes. When those came in, I pulled the axles apart again only to discover the rear bearings were pitted and needed to be replaced also. I put it all back together again and ordered the new bearings and races. FINALLY, the rear axle was complete after three tries. I decided as long as I had it in the shop, I might as well replace that toggle switch a previous owner had installed for the starter switch with the correct one that mounts to the shifter cover. I soon discovered the simplistic genius in engineering on how these tractors were put together and operated. Even though I was a city boy with no prior tractor experience, I could figure out the form and function of almost every part and fix it myself. This is when, what I can only describe as “The Disease”, started.
I discovered I enjoyed fixing up these old Ford tractors, almost to a single minded obsession. What started out as a few repairs to get my 8N ready to perform mowing duties, turned into an overwhelming desire to fix anything and everything that needed repair, replacement, or restoration. What started out as a few parts here and there, became daily visits from the local UPS man – we got on a first name basis! After I repaired all the obvious issues, I started looking for small imperfections or modifications that needed to be put back to stock specs. I found a huge resource of skilled and knowledgeable people on internet message boards that only fed my addiction even more. I could ask any question, or search for any issue, and the answer would come back almost immediately. As I learned more and more about these great tractors, I decided I needed more than just a tractor in great mechanical shape – it needed to look great as well!
So began the next phase of scraping, sanding, degreasing the body, and a newly learned skill – air painting. I put two coats of Ford Red enamel paint on the body, with hardener, and the result was incredible. It transformed the tractor into something far greater than I had seen it as before. With a renewed zest, I sandblasted the sheet metal, primered it, and painted it with Ford Grey that so wonderfully offsets the dark red of the body. With the tractor freshly painted, there was no way I could put on those old rusty headlights, those worn tires would never do, and of course it needed those decals for a finishing touch. I won't embarrass myself to let you know what the final total cost was “just to fix up the rear oil seals”, but suffice it to say my wife knows very well.
The end result was the dream tractor of my vision so many months ago. It was a perfect tractor to grace our new property. But, of course there was no way any sane person could hook a mower up to that tractor – I needed to get another one to actually do the work that still needed to be done. So began my search for the next 8N, and my weak justifications to my wife why we NEEDED another tractor. Hey, no problem, you can find them on almost every corner!