Tractor Rescue:  A Really Rough Diamond (10)

Tractor Rescue: A Really Rough Diamond (10)

“A Really Rough Diamond”

(For one dollar and the making of a gift)

'35 John Deere "A" with 290 Cultivator & Power Lift

Chapter 5 (Continued)

“Scraping, Wrenching, Cleaning & Painting”


With the radiator and head out for repair, I redoubled my efforts to complete as much cleaning and painting as possible. To that end, I decided to remove the front wheels in order to clean and paint the frame and the front pedestal. I figured that with those areas painted, I’d be ready for Dad to reinstall the radiator and head as soon as we got them back. The balance of my cleaning and painting would involve tackling the main case with all of its nooks, crannies and crusted dirt.

Dad wanted to be there when I jacked up the front end so Sunday morning I gathered some haydite blocks, along with some two by fours, four by fours and the High-Lift jack. By noon we had the front end in the air and the front wheels off.

By supper time, I had the heavy grease and dirt removed from the pedestal, frame and block. A rinse (or two) with mineral spirits (to remove the remnants of the diesel fuel I had used as my main degreaser) and I was ready to paint the front end! Things were going very well; too well as it turned out. It was time for a setback.

The next morning, Dad got a call from the Radiator Shop. The radiator core was shot and would have to be replaced.

When Dad told me the news, I asked what we were going to do. Without hesitation he said, “We’ll check up at Roberts (the local John Deere Dealer) and see if they can still get a core”.


The next time we made a run to town; we picked up the radiator and proceeded to Wayne Sullivan’s to pick up the head. Wayne told us the crack was fixed but he suggested that we have the valves checked at Deere because two of them were almost “Sharp Edged” from being ground, as Wayne said, “at least one time too many times”. Dad told him that we were headed to John Deere any way and we would have it checked out.

When we got to Robert’s, Dad talked to the Service Manager and asked him to check out the head and valves and us know the price for any needed repairs. The Service Manager agreed and had one of the Mechanics take the head back to the shop on a two wheeled cart.

Then to the parts counter…….

“Yes”, the Parts Man said, “We can get a new radiator core for a ’35 A”, as he looked up from the books behind the parts counter, “It’s still a good number but I’m afraid it’ll be next week before I can get it here”.

Dad said next week would be fine and then he enquired as to the price.

The Parts Man looked in a couple of other places and calmly announced, “Ninety-nine dollars”.

Note: For those of us used to 2014 prices, the first thought is: “Wow, I wish they were still that cheap”! Please bear in mind that $99 in 1969 is equivalent to $641.75 in 2014 money (Ref: Consumer Product Index (CPI) Inflation Calculator).

Again, without hesitation, Dad said, “OK, get us one”.

I stood there amazed.

Then Dad added, “You might as well get the gaskets, hoses and clamps, for that radiator, while you’re at it. I’ve already got the cap gasket and retainer”.

On the way back home Dad talked about taking the radiator apart and what we would need to put the head back in. Finally, Dad asked if I was, “Going to put some paint on that thing today”?

I said, “I’m sure going to try!

When we got home Dad came down to the Tool Shed and looked more closely at my progress. He pointed out a couple of areas that needed additional scraping or attention with a wire brush. After he looked it all over (two or three times) he said, “I believe if you wipe it down once more with mineral spirits, you’ll be ready to paint”. Then as he turned and walked toward the door, he continued, “Let me know when you get the first coat on. I want to see how it looks”.


I got a clean rag and soaked it in mineral spirits. I wiped that front end, frame and block as carefully as I could, the followed up with a clean dry cloth. I took a Dixie Cup and dipped some paint into a clean coffee can and thinned it to about half and half with mineral spirits (just as the JD Parts Man had said). With a three inch brush, I started applying paint to the inside of the frame. I laid it on heavily enough to fill the pits and voids but spread it out well before moving to the next area.

I’m sure it took me an hour or more to put the first coat on the frame and front pedestal but I was so excited about finally getting some paint on the old girl, the time just flew by. I had to mix a small portion of additional paint but there it was; the frame and pedestal in all its green glory. No more rusty brown metal; it now looked clean and green! A very thin green but John Deere green none the less! I ran up to the house to get Dad. I know he was impressed because he only found one place I had missed and he told me, “Well, you’ve proven that you can do it; now all you have to do is keep at it”.

The following days saw the second and third coats applied. The second was as thin as the first but the now painted surface was smoother and the succeeding coats went on much easier and faster. I didn’t thin the third coat as much as the first two and it covered very well.

By the time Dad saw the tractor again, the paint was dry and shiny. Of course, the pedestal was a casting and the frame had pits from rust so neither of these was smooth. However, the pressed steel gear cover on top of the pedestal was slick and shiny; it really caught you eye. When he saw the cover, Dad placed his hand on it and said, “Christ but I’ve sighted many an acre of corn and bean rows across that cover”. In that moment, I’m sure he could see those rows again.



It was decided that the best way to repair the radiator would be to bolt the whole assembly to a work bench using the bottom mounting holes and caps screws; then disassemble the radiator; clean and paint all of the pieces separately and then reassemble it using the new core and gaskets. All was going according to plan until the first bolt (used to hold the radiator together) broke off. Soon thereafter, one of the blind cap screws also broke.

At this point in my mechanical training I hadn’t yet learned the techniques and trick needed to remove a broken cap screw (never mind the lack of necessary tools). Bolts didn’t bother me much (I could always get another bolt) but the cap screws were a different story. I used a lot of Liquid Wrench to make sure that I didn’t add to the cap screw problem but patience is a hard lesson for an early teenager. One or two more cap screws bit the dust.

Completing the disassembly, I moved on to cleaning and painting the individual pieces of the radiator in preparation for Dad’s installation of the new core. The final assembly was uneventful and with the reassembled unit installed on the frame, the only detail left was to add the yellow paint the surface of the letters spelling “JOHN DEERE” that are cast into front surface of the top tank.


The next phase consisted of individually removing, disassembling, cleaning, prepping, painting and reassembling each of the sub-assemblies that attach to the main case. As had become our renovation method, Dad supervised most of the complicated removal and breakdown; I did all of the cleaning and painting; he oversaw the reassembly and installation. As farm work, school and time allowed over the next weeks, we made good progress on the “A”. With the hood, gas tanks, flywheel, clutch, brakes, hitch, magneto, steering support and clutch lever assembly removed (along with myriad other small pieces), I finally finished cleaning and prepping the main case.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, painting the main case turned out to be a big psychological turning point for me. Once that great lump of iron is was cleaned and painted; cleaning, painting and re-installing the smaller assemblies seemed so easy, by comparison, that I never felt overwhelmed by this project (or any other restoration project) again.


“To be continued”

Art Massing
Written by Art Massing

1 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    February 21, 2015

    I often spend my half an hour to read this webpage’s articles along with a cup of coffee. I like the old machinery articles.