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1953 John Deere 40-S restoration advice

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1953 40-S

05-19-2012 11:53:26

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I recently inherited a 1953 John Deere 40-S from my wife's grandfather. He purchased the tractor new in 1954 and used it very little through the years. He always kept the tractor sheltered and it is in very good condition. The only issue I am having with the tractor is getting it to start. Therefore, I am strongly considering installing an electronic ignition.

I am looking for some restoration advice for the tractor. Although I haven't ruled out doing a complete restoration at some point, my primary concern is updating it so that it will start easily and reliably so it can be used for garden cultivation. Should I convert the tractor to 12V negative ground system (along with Delco 10-SI alternator, etc.) or leave the 6V positive ground system and just install a 6V electronic ignition module?

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05-22-2012 05:56:31

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 Re: 1953 John Deere 40-S restoration advice in reply to 1953 40-S, 05-19-2012 11:53:26  
1st all the 6v parts are availble. 2nd why caniblize the tractor?

if you keep it orginale, & in shape the 6v is trouble free & easy fix..

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John Hankel

05-20-2012 19:43:56

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 Re: 1953 John Deere 40-S restoration advice in reply to 1953 40-S, 05-19-2012 11:53:26  
Looks like that is in pretty good shape. Can you post up some pictures of the implements too?

Here is my 1953 40-S with disk. I have some cosmetic things to do, as you can see. But it has been gone through mechanically and works great.

This post was edited by John Hankel at 19:46:59 05/20/12.

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1953 40-S

05-20-2012 18:34:23

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 Re: 1953 John Deere 40-S restoration advice in reply to 1953 40-S, 05-19-2012 11:53:26  

Thanks for all the great advice. I am glad to hear that most of the advice given was to leave the tractor as configured from the factory. I just didn't want to go that route if the experts here didn't agree.

I installed a new 2 gauge battery cable and Autolite 216 plugs. Then I followed the procedure that jCarroll described. This indicated that everything was functioning as it should, so I pulled the starter knob....the tractor started right up and runs perfectly! Thanks to jCarroll and everyone else.

The attached picture shows the tractor in its current state. It is a 59 year old tractor and is far from new condition, but compared to the tractors on my family's GA dairy farm it's just getting broke in! My wife's grandfather worked the railroad and really only used the 40-S for gardening and maintaining the 3-5 acres around their SC home. (The rest of their land was always rented to a neighboring farm family). I also have the mid cultivators, rear tool bar and cultivators, two wheel weights, two front weights, a 2-bottom plow, and 3-pt hitch disc that was all purchased new. I also have the original bill of sale for all of this vintage JD equipment. The tractor was repainted in 1990, but everything else is in its original form. Does anyone have any idea what this package is worth? I have no intentions of selling any of it, but I don't really know if it's valuable or very common.

I have new 6.50-16 front tires and plan to buy new 12.4-24 rear tires in the near future. The only other parts the tractor really needs is a new front grill and a battery cover (it's missing). Is there any reason I should not buy an aftermarket grill and battery cover? Any other restoration comments or suggestions?

Thank you again to all of you 2-cylinder JD experts!


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05-20-2012 08:57:17

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 Re: 1953 John Deere 40-S restoration advice in reply to 1953 40-S, 05-19-2012 11:53:26  

The 40 is a good tractor, dont use mine much but and jd rake and pull hay wagon etc once in a while. Aways starts right up on original 6 volt. If I was to change anything to 12 volt it would be the 4010.

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05-20-2012 07:51:42

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 Re: 1953 John Deere 40-S restoration advice in reply to 1953 40-S, 05-19-2012 11:53:26  
Boy, if it were up to me, and the tractor is indeed an original, bought new and acquired from the first owner, I'd be inclined to repair the system to original design. Hanging an alternator on the side and switching to 12 volts is just, for me, a sign of giving up. BTW, I thought Pertronix did make 6 volt, positive ground electronic ignition modules if you do choose to go that way, and I might if my old Autolite distributor every gives up, but that said, my "H" with points in a mag, my 70D with points in a 6 volt pony distributor, and my VAC with an, ugh, Autolite with points, start every time. Keep them tuned up, use correct timing, and keep a good battery. Shut the fuel off and let them run dry each long-term shutdown

I have a '51 VAC Case that I overhauled, six volt system, and it sits for six months or more at a time, and it starts on points and stale gas everytime.

I know I'll get arguments on staying with 6 volts, but gee, I drove a 20 year old '53 Chevy to school back in the day, and it cranked over in zero winter weather, and fired off just fine. There's no shame in knowing how to tune an old distributor with breaker points. Read an O-L-D Chilton's book and refresh your memory. And... use a timing light. It makes a difference.

Sounds to me as though you have a nice original on your hands. Be careful you don't improve it into "averageness".

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05-20-2012 04:33:34

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 Re: 1953 John Deere 40-S restoration advice in reply to 1953 40-S, 05-19-2012 11:53:26  
Just to set the stage - I've had 8 Dubuques for over 20 years, so my answer is based on this experience. I have never had an electronic ignition tractor.

If it were mine - I would not convert to electronic. They start easy when components are working OK, and they don't if you have corroded points, fouled plugs, bad plug wires, etc. If one of mine sits for 6 months I can count on polishing the points before they work.

The beauty of the original system is that you can test everything with a screwdriver, nail emery board, and two new plugs.

Remove the distributor cap (use the screwdriver to pop the clips). Pull the coil wire ut of the cap and position it 1/4" away from some grounded metal. Remove the rotor and dirt shield under the rotor. Observe whether the [points re closed or open - usually the engine stops with the points open - we'll assume that's the case. Turn the switch ON - put the screwdriver blade in the point gap making contact with both sides of the points. If you do NOT see any spark at the screwdriver blade it means you have a bad ignition switch or a bad coil (not likely is it runs OK after starting). When you remove the screwdriver you should get a hot spark from the coil wire to ground - this tells you you have a working coil, coil wire, and condenser. Dress the points - 4 or 6 strokes with the emery board. Replace dirt cover, rotor, and cap. Remove the plug wires one at a time and position them 1/4 from the block. Crank the engine with the switch ON - you should get a good spark - if not, bad plug wire, rotor, or cap.

Not talking down to you - you need to understand the original system and get it working rather than buy something that if it works - GREAT --- but if it doesn;t you won't have a clue as to what's wrong.

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1953 40-S

05-19-2012 19:38:53

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 Re: 1953 John Deere 40-S restoration advice in reply to 1953 40-S, 05-19-2012 11:53:26  
Thanks for the helpful advice. I do not know much about older ignition systems, but I know the tractor runs great when I can get it to start. My first experience with it was in 2011 and at that time it hadn"t been started in several years. After much frustration, it started right up on mother"s day weekend 2011 after installing two new Autolite 295 spark plugs (the points, condenser, plug wires, and battery all looked relatively new so I did not replace any of these parts). For the several days we were there after this it started up and ran great. I put the tractor back in the barn and we returned at Christmas 2011 to a tractor that I never did get to start (but I also did not change any parts as it was very difficult to get them due to the location and holiday season).

Now that I have the tractor at my home (since last weekend) where I can get parts and work on it much more easily, I think I will try a few things before I give up and convert it to 12V and electronic ignition. I removed all the body panels today and thoroughly cleaned the machined (with compressed air) and inspected all the wiring. Overall, everything looks in really good shape with the exception of the positive battery cable. My current plans are:
1) Install a new (+) battery cable.
2) Install new points, condenser, and Autolite 216 plugs.

I will let you guys know the results as soon as I can get the parts and get them installed.

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05-19-2012 19:11:17

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 Re: 1953 John Deere 40-S restoration advice in reply to 1953 40-S, 05-19-2012 11:53:26  
You can change it to 12 volt if that"s what you want. But a good tune up will do wonders. My 420 is still 6 volt, it"s pretty sluggish turning over. It usually doesn"t make it past the first compression stroke, I have to let off and the pressure rolls the engine back, then hit the starter again. Get it past the first compression stroke and it fires up. Doesn"t matter if it is 100 or -25, fires right up.

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05-19-2012 21:53:29

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 Re: 1953 John Deere 40-S restoration advice in reply to joneil, 05-19-2012 19:11:17  
On your slow cranking 6 volt...what size are your battery cables and how old/corroded are they? We had a Case VAC that was just like you describe, it would barely turn over, mostly just barely enough to start. I put on a set of new battery cables (made by Agri Services) that were MUCH thicker than the NAPA cables, basically welding cables. The tractor now turns over just like any other tractor, very fast, and fires right up...and it's still six volt. These six volt systems need BIG cables and clean connections to work. Get them right and they're very reliable.


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05-19-2012 18:08:17

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 Re: 1953 John Deere 40-S restoration advice in reply to 1953 40-S, 05-19-2012 11:53:26  
[I have a 40C that someone converted to 12V and a 420U that is 6V and the 420U starts better then the 40C. If you want to convert it ti 12V and need an alternator, I would be much more that willing to swap my alternator for your generator and regulator. This is in nice warm New Hampshire. If it starts hard, then something is wrong and converting it to 12V is not going to fix it, just mask the problem. A half decent battery, excellent cables(a ground cable directly to the starter often helps, good plugs and check the condenser as the new ones are often junk. I use Champion H12 with two gaskets. The second gasket makes them run a littler hotter. These are working tractors, not show queens and they start all winter long. The starter may need a freshing up and the wires are critical. I file a little bit off the end of the rotor to open up the gap and run about .030" to .035 spark plug gap. Timing is important and while they will run and start id if is not right, having it dead on helps.

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05-19-2012 16:17:34

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 Re: 1953 John Deere 40-S restoration advice in reply to 1953 40-S, 05-19-2012 11:53:26  
JFYI - I hate 6v systems. From your description though there's no way I would put in an electronic ignition or convert it to 12 volts. The electronic ignition sparks the same as a new set of points so you gain nothing there & it won't spark at all if the battery is weak. Points will.

These engines start easily even with 6 volts as long as everything is in good shape. Try putting in a new set of Autolite 216 plugs, new solid core wires, points and condensor. Then set the timing. Let us know how it cranks then.

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05-19-2012 15:11:26

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 Re: 1953 John Deere 40-S restoration advice in reply to 1953 40-S, 05-19-2012 11:53:26 for more info

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Daniel Mullis

05-19-2012 12:50:38

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 Re: 1953 John Deere 40-S restoration advice in reply to 1953 40-S, 05-19-2012 11:53:26  
we have a 40S the same year. I converted it to 12volt 12 years ago,it starts and run great! Change your coil to a 12 volt and put a good ballast resister inline with your ignition switch to lower the voltage to the points. I used a ford small casing alternator and regulator,and used the existing wiring. No problems in 12 years. Last battery lasted 9 years.


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05-22-2012 12:16:35

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 Re: 1953 John Deere 40-S restoration advice in reply to Daniel Mullis, 05-19-2012 12:50:38  
12V system, 12V coil and a ballast resistor? 12V system, 6V coil that bypasses the ballast while cranking and a ballast resistor.

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