Tractor Rescue: A Really Rough Diamond (9)

Tractor Rescue: A Really Rough Diamond (9)

“A Really Rough Diamond”

(For one dollar and the making of a gift)

'35 "A" with 290 Cult.

’35 “A” with 290 Cult.

Chapter 5 (Continued)

“Scraping, Wrenching, Cleaning & Painting”


Over the course of the next week, I devoted every spare minute to working on the “A”. I removed the oil tube for the rocker arm assembly (although at the time I had no idea how it worked or what it did) and diligently plugged the holes to keep out any excess dirt. I removed, dumped and cleaned the air cleaner sump; off came the governor ventilation tube, the carburetor and the clean air tube.

I removed the wire clamps that held the rubber hoses on the upper and lower radiator tubes but I couldn’t get the hoses off. They were bulging in the middle, there were no signs of leakage and they were stuck tight to the tubes. I tried to get them loose with a screwdriver but it seemed to me that we would have to tear these hoses to get them off of the steel water pipes. Since I thought we would need these hoses to put the tractor back together, I decided to leave them for Dad to look at.

With the air cleaner assembly removed from the radiator, all the pieces that had been designated for removal were gone. I went to find Dad and tell him that, except for the hoses, the radiator was ready to come off. He told me to get a socket that fit the big cap screws, along with an extension and breaker bar and we’d get the radiator loose this evening.

I had the socket all ready when he got there. He looked at the work I’d done and the stuck hoses. Without missing a beat, he took out his pocket knife and proceeded to slice all three of the hoses down their length.

I said, “Won’t we need those when we put this back together?

He said, “We’ll need new hoses. These are shot”

Dad grabbed a screwdriver and in a few moments the hose problem was resolved and the lower radiator tube lay on the bench.

He took the socket wrench and tried the first cap screw. It was tight but it came loose. He took the first one out and oiled the threads and replaced it in the radiator then repeated the process on the second cap screw. As he finished he said, “We’ll leave it right there until Saturday morning, then we’ll take it to Keys”.

At that point it was time for something unexpected (at least it was unexpected by me).

Dad stood up, looked at the valve cover and told me to get him a box-end wrench that fit the nuts holding the valve cover in place. I brought three; sure that one would fit. He oiled the exposed threads (although everything in that area was pretty well covered with oil and dirt to start with) and started removing the nuts. As he did, he explained that the original nuts that held the valve cover were “Acorn” nuts. He said that we would try to get some new ones when we put things back together.

He used the screwdriver to gently pry the valve cover away from the head. He took the valve cover off, handed it to me and told me to lay it on the bench, open side up. As I did that, he took up the wrench again and proceeded to remove the nuts that held the rocker arm assembly in place. That assembly was quickly inspected and placed in the valve cover along with all of the nuts and washers.

It was now the push rods’ turn. As he removed them, one by one, he explained how important it was to keep them in the same order on the bench as they were in the engine so they could be returned to the engine in the same order when we put the head back on.

We proceeded with me holding a coffee can while Dad removed the nuts held the head in place. Then with the judicious use of a wide blade chisel, a pry bar and some short pry boards of various thicknesses, the head was off if the studs and resting on the frame.

Dad said, “Let’s leave it there for now. We’ll load it with the radiator and take it to Wayne Sullivan’s shop. That crack is in the water jacket. He’s repaired it before”.



Saturday morning it was cool and cloudy. It was one of those mornings when a light jacket is welcome. After the normal routine, we loaded the radiator and head on to the flat bed of the International pickup and headed toward town. Dad said that the first stop would be Keys Radiator Shop, then Wayne Sullivan’s, then the Co-op Store.

Keys’ Radiator Repair was located in the 1000 block of North Jameson Street in Lebanon. Mr. Keys had been in business for years and was well respected in the community. If you had a radiator problem, conventional wisdom in Boone County said take it to Keys.

We carried the radiator into the radiator shop. As we did, Mr. Keys walked up to us as he wiped his hands and (looking at our burden) said, “You’re having problems with a real “Old Timer”. He motioned with his shop rag and said, “Set it down there”.

We sat the radiator upright with the front leaning against a bench. Mr. Keys said, “It’ll be a few days before I can get to it”. Dad replied that we were in no particular hurry.

To that, Mr. Keys said, “Well then, I’ll try to have it ready by this time next week”.

Dad said that would be fine and thanked him as we walked out the door.

Next stop: Wayne Sullivan’s Machine Shop.



Wayne Sullivan was one of the most interesting people I have ever met. At the time I knew him, his shop was located behind his house at 921 W. South Street in Lebanon, Indiana.

He was a skilled Machinist (I assume self-taught) and he told stories of his years working on and for the Railroad, somewhere around Kankakee, Illinois. To a farm boy of my age, it seemed that there was nowhere he hadn’t been and nothing he hadn’t seen. Along the way, he had picked up a distinctive way of speaking. That is to say, he could “Make a sailor blush”. Of course my Father was no slouch on that account. So, during their conversations, I was enthralled, amused and making mental notes on the proper usage of certain parts of the English language.

We drove down the alley behind Wayne’s shop but when we got out of the truck we found the shop door closed and locked. Dad and I walked to the back door of the house and knocked. After half a minute or so, Dad speculated that there was no one home. At that moment we heard someone inside the house say, “I’ll be there in a minute”! In half that time, a small man in sock feet, bib overalls and an under shirt, came to the door.

As the door opened Wayne said, “Well I’ll be damned; Don Massing”! “I haven’t seen you for quite a while. How’ve you been”?

Dad said, “Oh, pretty good Wayne. How about you”?

Wayne, hooking up the remaining shoulder strap of his bib overalls said, “Oh, God Damn it Don, I’ve had the fiery-shits for the last three days but I feel a lot better today”! “What can I do for you”?

Dad explained that we brought the head off of a John Deere “A” with a crack in water jacket and we wanted to know if he could “Weld it up” for us.

Wayne said, “I can’t weld the God Damned thing ‘cause it’s cast iron but if it’s just in the jacket, by God I can braise it”! “Let me get my shoes on and I’ll meet you at the shop”.

By the time we got the head off of the truck, Wayne had the shop door open. As we carried it into the shop Dad said that we were rebuilding the “A” and that right now it was a “Diamond in the Rough”.

Wayne, looking at the head said, “If it all looks like this, it must be a really rough diamond”! He added, “Let’s put the son-of-a-bitch over there on the bench”, as he pointed to the other side of the shop.

We sat it down and Wayne said, “Let me have a quick look”. After a few minutes he said, “I can clean this crack up with a grinder and braze the bastard”. In another moment he added, “I can have it next week”.

As Wayne and Dad continued to talk, I was looking around the shop when a small steam engine caught my eye. It was a Steam Traction Engine similar to the ones I’d seen in pictures of “Threshing Rings” with this type of engine running threshing machines in the old days (the “Old Days” being 30 years to 50 years before). At the time, machines like that seemed like ancient history to me. I now understand that to men such as Wayne and my Father, it was living memory.

Dad must have seen me looking at the little engine because he pointed and asked Wayne, “Where did you get that”?

Wayne, with obvious pride, said, “I built the God Damned thing’! “Here, let me show it to you”.

Wayne took the Engine off of the shelf and sat it on a bench. The Engine was about eighteen to twenty inches long with the width and height in perfect proportion. The wheels, boiler, canopy and steering (it was a chain type steering mechanism) all appeared as if he had simply reduced a real engine to miniature.

Wayne told us that he wasn’t finished with it but proceeded to point out all of the features of the model. He opened the door to the firebox and explained that he had installed flues in the boiler and that if one wanted to have it pressure tested, you could fill it with water, build a fire, and it would run it on steam. He added that he planned to run it on compressed air as he grabbed an air line to demonstrate. He took the chuck from the end of the line and attached it to a fitting on the Engine. As if by magic, the flywheel started to turn and the Engine started moving down the bench. After it went two or three feet, Wayne flipped a leaver next to the steering wheel, the flywheel stopped and started turning in the opposite direction as the Engine started back up the bench in reverse.

Dad and I marveled as Wayne explained how he made different parts of the little machine. Dad ask him which part was the most difficult to make. Wayne told us that he needed a particular size of gear for the Engine’s drive train but he didn’t have the needed gear cutter. So, Wayne explained, “I made the gear cutter, then I made the gear.

Over the years, I have recalled Wayne’s gear cutter story many times. It reminds me that skill, tenacity and innovation are the most important traits of any true professional.


“To be continued”

Art Massing
Written by Art Massing

2 Comment responses

  1. Avatar

    Nice Story. Have you ever considered writing an ebook on this story or guest authoring on other antique machinery blogs?