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Contributed Article

Restoration Story
1951 Farmall H
by The Red (John Fritz)

I have been a collector of Farmall tractors since 1990 when I first obtained part of the family farm in Eastern Indiana. My current collection includes a 1938 F20, 1945 H, 1946 H, and the recently purchased 1951 H. This article will focus on what I encountered and what I did to bring the 1951 NEAR DEATH Farmall H back to life.


The "Near Death" Farmall
A friend of mine emailed me in February 1999 about a 1951 H, located just northwest of Louisville in Southern Indiana for $500. He thought it was in pretty good shape, ran OK but smoked somewhat, and sent me some low resolution digital pictures. The H appeared OK but pretty dirty from the pictures. I sent him a check for $600 so he could go ahead and pay the owner, change the oil and filter, purchase a new battery, battery cables and a IH muffler assembly.

MARCH 1-MARCH 7, 1999. I had my retired mechanic friend Bob Lamb, who now resides in western Indiana, haul it back for $175. He was not cheap but he is insured and has a heavy duty trailer. The tractor arrived in Indianapolis on Monday, March 1, 1999. I had to do some temporary wiring on the ignition so I could start her up and get her off the trailer. That is when I discovered there were no brakes! She started pretty easy but I could tell 2 cylinders were not firing at all.

Appearance wise the tractor was in poor shape. The previous owner had done some token painting on the hood, the cover and the main wheel hubs. The main tires consisted of one worn 10” H rim with a 12.4 X 38 Firestone tire. The other rim was a 12” M with a 13.2 X 38 Firestone tire. That tire stood at least 2” higher than the smaller H tire and had 2 nasty cuts in the side wall. There were no lights and the seat assembly was in terrible shape.

I spent the afternoon changing the 90W in the transmission. GOOD news was that only 90W oil drained out. There was no water or bearings, etc. in the oil. I replaced it with 85W140. I also cleaned the spark plugs. #2 had an extender on it so I was suspecting a little bit of oil burning. I reset the point gap to .20 and adjusted the timing to where I thought it would run OK I also tightened the fuel strainer nuts on both the cutoff lever and the pipe connection. It was leaking badly.

On Tuesday, I gave it a start. The GOOD news was that it fired on all 4 cylinders. The BAD news was that it was smoking terribly. At this point I knew I had a real big mess on my hands. I ran it 5 minutes and placed her in the garage for the night.

On Wednesday morning I filled the radiator with water. I no more than had it half full and I had 5 leaks develop from the radiator. That is when I decided I would pull the head and seriously assess the tractor.

That evening I removed the head and found a terrible mess. The valve guides on #2 and #3 cylinders were leaking badly. The pistons were caked with burned oil. I could freely wiggle the tops of #2 and #3 pistons so I knew the rings were badly worn. I spent the rest of Wednesday and Thursday cruising the web and pricing parts and taking an initial assessment of whether to proceed with a rebuild or part out the tractor. I had done paint and parts restorations on my 1945 H and a 1944 H I no longer own. I thought it would be a challenge to do an engine rebuild with 6 year old daughter Corey helping as much as she could. I had already told her it was her tractor. The last engine I rebuilt was a VW engine in my college dorm in 1973.

By Friday I decided that I could do the engine restoration and obtain needed reproduction/used parts for $2,000. I priced main tires and rims at M.E. Miller Tire and knew that would be an additional $1,100 delivered and mounted. That was $100 cheaper than buying them in Indianapolis and having a truck come out and mount them. At least I did not have to buy the tires right away. Wife Linda thought I should go for it since Corey was going to get some quality time with old Dad out in the garage. The primary reason I proceeded with the tractor rebuild was my confidence in finding parts on the YT site, both new and used. I would have not attempted to restore one this far gone if it were not for the internet. I have made a lot of contacts in the past 1 ½ years and felt I could tackle any unforeseen problems that would and did occur.

I ordered a TISCO engine overhaul kit, along with a carburetor kit, spark plug wire set, steering wheel, padded vinyl seat and reproduction battery box from Restoration Supply in Massachusetts. They were the most competitive on these particular items. I had already planned on buying necessary seals and other new parts from Ken Updike at Carter & Gruenewald. I also had planned to purchase most of my used parts from Biewer’s Tractor Salvage in Minnesota I had previously done business with both Ken Updike and Gary Biewer. On the remaining parts I used YT’s WTB messages several times and had numerous replies on each request.

The tear down began in earnest on Friday, March 5, 1999. My goal was to have the tractor up and running in 4 to 6 weeks. I knew parts would not come in steadily and that held true for the engine overhaul kit. The first weekend was to strip as many components off the engine as possible and start cleaning parts in gasoline and wire brush. I do not have a sand blaster. By Saturday morning, Corey and I had a majority of the dirt off the engine. I then opened up the garage and soaked the block down in gasoline. There was 40 years plus of burned oil on the block. It was quite thick in places. By Saturday afternoon the garage had aired out and I closed up and re-heated the garage.

MARCH 8-MARCH 14, 1999. I knew it would take at least a week for most of the parts to arrive. Corey and I continued to tear down more of the tractor. By mid week, we had the seat components, steering components and the brake assemblies removed. I continued to clean up the frame and started painting the gas tank components and the frame from the clutch housing on back to the rear. I wanted the gas tank area ready so when I started to reassemble I would be able to start the engine. By the weekend I had the frame painted and all the components that rest on top of the clutch housing. On the weekend I removed the brake assemblies and discovered that the bands, which were installed upside down, and the covers were totally shot. I ordered new brake bands from Carter & Gruenewald and got used brake housings and misc. parts from Gary Biewer. His inventory of H parts was excellent at a very competitive price. I also took the head out to NAPA during the week. They cleaned and magnafluxed the head, shaved the head face, installed new valve guides and exhaust seats. They ground the intake seats and installed the valves and new manifold bolts. They also installed the pistons on the rods with new bushings, and installed the rings. They did an excellent job and were very reasonable in price. The labor was approximately $125.

MARCH 15-MARCH 21, 1999. I spent this week continuing to clean up and paint various sub assemblies and also removed all the cooling system parts off the engine. I also drained the oil and removed the badly banged up oil pan. I disconnected the pistons and they pushed up and out very easily. Towards the end of the week the sleeve puller arrived from Ron Jacobson along with the TISCO engine kit. However, the gaskets were on back order. I easily removed #1, #2, and #4 sleeves. However, #3 would not even budge. After talking with Ron Jacobson I dedicated Saturday morning to getting that sleeve out. I tightened the sleeve puller to 150 foot pounds. I then took a pipe that fit around the bottom of the puller nut and a block of wood and a hammer and would pound up on the bottom of the sleeve puller for about 20 hits then re-tighten the puller. In 20 minutes I had the sleeve up about ½ inch. I then soaked it in WD 40 for an hour. It took about 2 more hours of pounding and the sleeve was finally out. The outside of the sleeve had heavy carbon deposits on it. That is why it took so long to get that sleeve out. I had the new sleeves in the freezer for 2 days. After cleaning up the cylinder walls with steel wool and gasoline, I then coated the cylinder walls and the frozen outer sleeve walls with WD 40. Each one pushed down by hand about half way and then I gently tapped them the rest of the way with a block of wood and a hammer.

MARCH 22-MARCH 31, 1999. My goal was to have the tractor running within 2 weeks. I had a very long and hard week at work the week of March 22. I did not do much to the tractor during the week. Since the gaskets were back ordered I was in no hurry at this point. I started the weekend by installing the distributor. Before I removed the distributor, I turned the engine until I had the #1 piston on top dead center and took a digital picture of the rotor position. When I reinstalled, I had the crank on #1 top dead center and a colored printout taped to the engine to make sure I positioned the distributor correctly. Then I disassembled the water pump. I had to replace the adjustable belt pulley with a reproduction for $20. So that project was halted for about a week. When the pulley arrived, I had to do some filing on it so it would slide on the hub. I had some trouble getting the flange pressed all the way down onto the hub. I ran it out to NAPA and Darrell pressed it down to within 1/16th. of an inch on a large bench press. I replaced the hub seals, reused the bearings and reassembled and mounted the pump onto the block.

Next was installing the main bearings and pistons. I took off the lower main bearing caps and used a putty knife to push out the upper bearings. I reversed this procedure to install the new upper bearings. I used plenty of oil since I would not be starting for a couple of days. I installed the lower main bearings and caps and torqued to 75 foot pounds.

The Sears ring compressor worked excellent. I clamped the connecting rod in the vice, arranged the rings and set the compressor. The sequence I used on positioning the ring gaps was the top towards the front, #2 towards the back, #3 to the right and #4 to the left. I set the oiled piston in the oiled sleeve and straightened up and further tightened the ring compressor. I took a small block of wood and a hammer and tapped the piston right in. I had the crankshaft still set on #1 TDC. That means the #2 and #3 rod journals were at their low point. So I pushed #2 and #3 pistons down to within 1/8th inch of the rod journal and installed the upper bearing. I pulled the rod the rest of the way down and installed the lower bearing and connecting rod cap. I torqued the bolts to 40 foot pounds and bent the lock tabs over on the bolt face. I then rotated the crank 180 degrees and installed #1 and #4 pistons. I turned the crank back to #1 top dead center. During the turn the #1 sleeve started to walk up with the piston. After a frantic phone call to Ken Updike, I let the sleeve slide up as far as the piston would travel and coated the outside with aluminum paint. I turned the crank until the sleeve was firmly seated in the block and let the paint set for the night. FINALLY, THE ENGINE GASKETS ARRIVED VIA UPS!

Thursday, APRIL 1. THE REAL LONG DAY. I did not sleep very well Wednesday night so I was up and out in the garage at 4 A.M. I installed the new head gasket and head and torqued the head bolts to 70 foot pounds. I started on the middle bolts and worked out both directions to tighten. I then installed the push rods and the rocker arm assembly, and the cylinder head breather tube. I then set the valve clearances at .20 and installed the valve cover. Next I cleaned the oil pump screen. It was 75% plugged with oil gunk. I installed the screen and the oil pan and added 6 quarts of detergent SAE 30 oil at this time.

I installed the oil pressure gauge line and mounted the radiator and thermostat housing and hoses. When I replaced the thermostat, I had to chisel the old one out. Someone else had tried to remove it because it was badly damaged and nearly stuck in a closed position. That engine must have run hot with the position of that thermostat. I then installed the water inspection plate and new gasket and hooked up the new water temperature gauge. I then filled the system with water. I had immediate leaking around the right side of the water inspection plate. It was pretty pitted when I cleaned it. That meant it had been leaking for quite some time. The new gasket was badly shrunk and I had to cut slots in the 4 outer holes on each side just to get it mounted. I tightened as best as I could but I knew it would not hold very well. I called Gary Biewer for another plate and Ken Updike for a gasket. I was really disappointed with the McCord gasket set. Two gaskets were missing and 2 gaskets fit very poorly.

I installed what electrical items I would need to start the tractor. The reproduction battery box had not arrived, so I mounted the battery on the original rusted out box bottom and strapped it so it wouldn’t fall out. I installed the starter and the battery electrical cables. I ran a wire from the hot starter post to the coil switch. I then ran a line from the coil switch to the resistor, which I mounted on the steering support bracket, and then to the new coil. My system will be 12 volt. I still have to purchase the 12 volt generator and voltage regulator at this point in time. I also replaced the brake drum bull cage seals and the brake shaft seals and installed and adjusted the brakes.

It was now approaching 8 P.M. I was really getting tired. I basically worked on the tractor the entire day with only 2 short breaks. I decided this was a good time to do some starter cranking and get some oil pressure on the gauge. I would crank about 10 cranks and that would give me about 10 pounds of pressure by the 5th crank or so. I repeated this procedure 6 or 7 times and called it a night.

APRIL 2. 1999. SHE COMES TO LIFE!!! I slept in so I did not get started on further installation until 8 A.M. I installed the AC C86 spark plugs and the distributor rotor, cap and plug wires. I mounted the dead generator back on the bracket so the new belt would not be flopping around while I was running. I installed the new manifold and hooked up the carburetor to the manifold and the governor and hooked up the gas line. I put in about 3 gallons of gas and had immediate leaking around the gas bowl. The gasket had dried up while the tank was off and it was warped. I finally got it straightened out enough to use until I could get a new gasket and strainer from Ken Updike.

I started her at exactly high noon. She gave a pop on the third crank. I again cranked and she came to life on the second crank with a lot of choking. She was running way too fast so I shut it down after 5 minutes. I removed the governor plate and set the high speed bolt as slow as possible. I also opened up the mixture screws a ½ turn. The governor still had the original spring so I had an erratic engine speed responses. I needed a rear light cable anyway, so I gave Ken a call to get a new spring. I restarted her and backed her out of the garage. I got the mixture screws close but she was not running well at all. I ran it for 1 hour while I tried to fine tune the carburetor and the timing.

The tractor seemed like it was only running on two cylinders. I let her cool and pulled the spark plugs. They were all firing. I ran it one more hour and Corey and I took it around the block for it’s first “test drive”. It was starting to rain so I called it a day.

I now had 2 hours on the engine. I took Ken Updike’s advice and pulled the rocker arm assembly off and re-torqued the head bolts. All of the bolts had loosened to between 25 and 50 foot pounds. So I reset them to 70 foot pounds and reset the valve clearances. #1 exhaust and #4 intake were not closing at all. The clearances were anything but .20 clearance. I was slightly puzzled. I have done the valve clearance adjustment at least 10 times on other Hs and Ms. I also changed the oil and my neighbor checked for water or gas in the oil using litmus paper and two different tubes of compounds that turn red if water or gas is detected. None appeared. I fired her up and she now was starting to sound like a Farmall H. It still sounded like one cylinder was not at full compression. I ran it for 30 minutes then decided to wait for the new governor spring before I would run anymore.

APRIL 3-APRIL 24, 1999. The governor spring arrived late in the week. Now I have only one speed of about 1,500 RPM. So with further inspection and also looking at the governor on the 45 H, I discovered that I have a bad thruster and bearing. A phone call and $65 were next. Ken Updike by now has picked up the handle of “Bermuda Ken”, as in where he is going on vacation with my money. After installing the new governor parts and remounting the governor, I ran it another hour off and on while I was fine tuning the governor range. I also discovered that I had oil leaks at every governor connection. So I removed each piece and installed the new McCord gaskets and applied Permatex RED SILICONE HI-TEMP RTV Gasket Maker on everything.

I ran the H off and on over the next 2 weeks. I painted and installed the new padded seat pan, spring and shock absorber. Also the water inspection plate and gasket showed up so I drained the system and replaced those two items. Leaking stops! I pulled the old 6.00 x 16 tires and hubs. I replaced the inner bearings, re-greased the four bearings and replaced the rims with mounted 5.50 X 16 used tires for now. I now have the hood and cover cleaned and painted. They are so badly pitted that I am going to swap the hood and cover with ones on the 1946 H at the farm.


Almost Finished, Waiting for New Tires!
By now I have the 3 light assemblies painted and ready to install. The key to having the lights work is having a good ground from the light housing base all the way to the decking. I did not do a good job on my 45 H and consequently I have ground wires. I made sure the bottom of the steering post was filed cleaned before I re-installed. I then filed the steering post and the light bar clean where the 2 clamp together. I filed the light bar ends and filed the inside of the light clamps. I also filed the light spacers on both ends. Taking my time, for once, paid off. On the rear light assembly, I purchased a longer bolt. Just as I was tightening the rear light bracket down, the bolt began to bind. Instead of backing it out I made the fatal mistake of tightening it with a 2 foot break bar. BIG MISTAKE. The bolt sheared at the threads. So I tapped the 2 inch deck hole with a ½-12 tap and used a 2 ½ inch bolt. The light works fine.

During the week of April 19th., I lowered the liftall, using 4 threaded rods and nuts, and installed the new countershaft seal and the pump gasket. I painted it and installed on Saturday April 24th. The GOOD news was that the liftall did not leak. The BAD news is that I didn’t get the cam and piston valve lever hooked up correctly to the control shaft. So the liftall came down again. I called Bermuda Ken Updike for 2 more gaskets along with another PTO seal and PTO base gasket. The PTO is leaking slightly at the base.

When I got to hour 7 on April 23rd., I decided to pull the valve cover again Saturday morning April 24th. I was convinced I had improper valve clearances. I re-torqued the head bolts. This time only the bolts around #2 and #3 cylinders had slightly loosened. On the valve clearances, #1 exhaust was not closing tightly. #2 and #3 valves had .40 clearances. #4 clearances were pretty close. This time I carefully watched the exhaust then intake valves open and close. I then cranked by hand so the flywheel mark was on the timing pointer for cylinders #1 and #4, and that the mark was 180 degrees opposite (i.e. down) for #2 and #3. I did several passes until I was thoroughly convinced I had the clearances correct. This turned out to be a wise move.

When I started her up she was definitely running on all 4 cylinders and had that sweet humming sound of a good running H, except for a noticeable ticking noise. I did more adjusting with the carburetor and the timing and I could tell I was getting it close to normal operation. The rebuilt governor was responding perfectly. I did some road gear running and found the front end solid as a rock. There was no wiggling of the front bolster at all. For the heck of it I drove the H down a busy Indianapolis highway and filled it up at the Marathon station. The attendant is still laughing to this day. I had to limp home in 4th gear because both front rims got loose on the hubs. When I got home I tightened the hub bolts and nuts with a 2 foot break bar.

On Sunday, April 25, I disassembled and cleaned the carburetor. There was a lot of dirt in the passages and of course the filter was missing. The generic carburetor kit was less than desirable. I sheared off the new idle metering tube while installing. I was able to take a numbered drill bit and successfully drilled the sheared tube out and reused the old metering tube. The 30 minute job took 2 hours. I could not use some of the parts that came with the kit and it did not have the filter assembly. I installed the carburetor and fired up the H. I got the high speed mixture set quickly, but I could not lean the idle all the way. To compound the problem, the new choke rod was so loose that I have temporarily installed a wire from a governor plate bolt to the choke lever to keep it open. I have since purchased 2 carburetors from Cowboy Ken for $80 and ordered an IH kit from Ken Updike for $65. It is suppose to be a complete and thorough kit. I also changed the oil and dropped the pan to clean out the ring dust and some sludge. I used Permatex on the oil pan gasket which stopped almost all the leaking around the oil pan. I also changed the filter which was about half loaded with sludge.

APRIL 26-MAY 2, 1999. I have ordered new Firestone tires, tubes and painted main rims from M.E. Miller Tire. They should arrive by the weekend. Total cost including shipping was $1,125. I will have 2 used main rims to sell. I have also found the source of the ticking sound in the engine. The oil pressure gauge fluctuates in rhythm with the RPMs. I suspect a chipped gear tooth on the top pinion gear. So I have ordered a used oil pump from Gary Biewer. I will swap pumps at hour 30 when I change the oil and filter again. I also have to rebuild one of two carburetors I purchased and install it.

PROBLEMS TO CORRECT. Almost nil. The rear engine seal is leaking about a tablespoon of oil per running hour. I will eventually have to split the tractor and replace the rear seals. I may also have to replace the timing gear cover gasket. It is leaking slightly. I still need to purchase a generator and mounted voltage regulator. There is a generator shop in Indianapolis that specializes in the antique generators and regulators. That will cost around $150 for a 12 volt set up. I will have to drain about 3 gallons of 85W140 from the transmission case before replacing the PTO main gasket.

LESSONS LEARNED. Would I have rebuilt this H if I could turn back the clock to February 1999? YOU BET! I should have driven down and personally looked the tractor over however. I would have not bid more than $250 for the condition of this H. If it were summer time, I would have stretched the project over 4 months so I would not strain my checking and credit cards. But being March, I wanted to proceed full speed and repair and replace anything and everything as quickly as possible. Budget wise, I did not estimate accurately what new and used parts would total. At last count, including tires and main rims, I have $3,500 in parts tied up in this H.


Corey Lends a Hand

Except for when I was painting, Corey was out in the garage always giving me a hand. She would get parts and tools for me off the workbench and she was constantly cleaning the garage floor. She didn’t quite understand all I was doing but she got to experience the before and after of this project. Hopefully in about 3 years her legs will be long enough that she can drive “Corey’s Tractor” by herself.

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