Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Get the latest news and product information in your inbox.