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Contributed Article

Fair Weather Tractor
by Dave M.

No, Fair Weather isn't some rare brand. It's the kind you can't leave out in the rain. Here's how it happened.

I had been casually looking for a tractor for weeks. I saw a few 9N's, but they had even fewer amenities than the 8N my Grandpa bought new in '52 with a Dearborn loader. That was 10 years before I was born, so I grew up thinking that 8N was the world's best tractor. Grandpa had greenhouses, with over half an acre under glass, and that 8N did almost everything. It was the only tractor in my world, and I could handle it by myself when I was ten.

Last year I borrowed that 8N from Dad to clear off some land I bought. The land had been untouched for about 20 years, and was loaded with brush, small trees, weeds, snakes, deer, and even a fox or two. I learned why people want more horsepower, lower gearing and live PTO and hydraulics. I'm afraid I destroyed the old brush hog Dad gave me: the 3rd time I broke it the lower gear box casting was in small pieces. Mom and Dad said I should just keep the 8N, but my brother rebelled. He says there are things he just can't get done without that old 8N because the forks can reach higher than the Bobcat. All of a sudden I was in the market for a tractor of my own.

I told myself I didn't care about what tractor I bought, as long as it was big enough, in good enough shape, was common enough that I could get parts, and wasn't too expensive. I like to think I'm not a bigot; two of my best friends own John Deere's. But I never did wind up stopping to look at anything but a Ford.

One day, when I was on my way to visit one of my friends, I saw a tractor for sale on the side of the road. It was a Ford, painted blue and white, and the first thing I noticed was that the rear wheels had lug nuts like the 8N. I stopped and took a quick look, and wrote down the phone number, the asking price, and my impressions of the tractor. Old blue paint with some original red showing on the top of the radius rods, no visible rust except the exhaust. Sheet metal OK, good tires, no obvious cracks or leaks anyplace. Hey, everything is on the wrong side of the engine! What a strange transmission! I had never seen a Ford 860 before, and saw it only in terms of the 8N that I knew.

When I got home I checked Yesterday's Tractors profile of the Ford 600, and the info on the 600/800 parts page. That told me a lot of what I wanted to know. This tractor had almost twice the horsepower of the 8N, an extra forward gear, a 2 stage clutch and live PTO, and live hydraulics. According to the serial number it was made in 1956.

The next day, I called up the owner and asked if I could get a good look. My wife went with me, and even drove it a little. She said it steered a lot easier than the 8N. I ran it for quite a while. No smoke. I checked that it would hold an implement up even with the engine off, checked for water in the oil, cracks in the castings, etc. The only problem I found was that the left brake didn't grip well enough to turn the tractor. I haggled for 1 minute and bought it. I drove it to my friend's house a couple days later, until I could borrow a trailer from another friend. I thought it would only be a few days, or a week at the most.

Three rainy weeks later, I went to my friend's house to get my tractor. The front left tire was soft (my friend is a roofer, want to guess what kind of nails I found in the tire?). When I tried to start the tractor all I got was a big CLICK. We tried jump starting the tractor from my friend's pickup. All we got was an even bigger CLICK! We finally started it up by putting it in top gear and towing it with the pickup. Once I was rolling I gently let out the clutch and it started right up. I drove the tractor on to the trailer and took it home. I left the battery on the charger all night.

The next morning I tried to start the tractor, and got the big CLICK again. I took the battery to a local garage with a battery tester, and they blessed it. So I started troubleshooting (with no manuals, of course). The solenoid was good, and the starter was drawing lots of current. I removed the oil filter and starter motor and discovered I couldn't even turn it by hand. I opened it and discovered that the armature was covered with rust. After applying a wire brush, 400 grit sandpaper, and a whole can of WD-40 I knew a lot about that starter motor. I reassembled it and hooked it right to the battery, and it worked. I bolted it back on, and she started right up.

I'm pretty happy with my tractor now. I've had some impromptu lessons about the ignition system and the carburetor when I shut it off and couldn't get it started again on a really hot day. I bought a full set of manuals and now I feel pretty confident that I can fix anything that goes wrong with it.

I just make darn sure I don't leave it out in the rain.

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