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The Little A-Cs - Chapter 8

This book was written exclusively for Yesterday's Tractors Magazine. It is not published in any physical form but only available on this site. No part of this text may be used in any form other than as provided electronically from www.yesterdaystractors.com without express written consent of Yesterday's Tractors. Copyright 1996-1998.

View the table of contents.

8. Cosmetics: What did they really look like?

There are many reasons why an old machine should be painted. My first tractor had so much rust on it, from years of having no paint, that most of the bolts would not turn. This turned into a very serious problem when I tried to adjust the PAW eccentrics.  I had to tear it down completely to break loose the components and restore their function. In the process, I ended up cleaning and painting the entire tractor (a 5 minute job turned into 2 months).  From that point on, I realized that the paint on the tractor was far more than a cosmetic or show issue. Suffice it to say that every tractor, no matter what its intended use, should have the paint kept intact.

The type of cleanup and paint (meaning the time spent on cleanup and the money spent on paint) is determined by what the tractor will be when its done. For a working tractor, complete stripdown and disassembly is not cost effective. Likewise matching the original color would be wasteful as the cost will be 5 to 6 times more per gallon. The same holds true for decals and lettering on the working tractor. The mylar decal sets sell for 1/3rd the price of individual and accurate sets used for the show tractor.  It is also important to remember that with a working tractor, the condition will deteriorate immediately upon use. It is not possible to retain a pristine appearance if the tractor is to do its job (or even run for that matter). Gasoline, oil, exposure to the Sun, tree branches, furrows (scraping the rims), birds nesting in the barn, etc, etc, etc all take their toll.  In 5 years of work, you will need to start the process all over.

The show tractor is quite different in that to accurately represent the tractor as it came off the assembly  line, the colors of each component and the position and quality of the decals coupled with the assembly of the original components are critical.  The shade of paint can be matched and the quality decals can be purchased but putting it all together as it was can be challenging
with these tractors. The problem is generally trying to determine which years used which colors and decals.  This is confused by the fact that often there were differences in the same model and year. Some individuals have asserted that this is due to rather loose quality control and a tendency to allow each manufacturing crew to do it their own way. The facts shown in the next section are accurate and based on the review of many black and white pictures coupled with scratching the paint on many machines and components to find the original colors. Unfortunately the conclusions are purely speculation or more aptly an educated guess.


Driving home from work one day, I noticed a C, that I had restored and sold, was out plowing across the valley.  It was a sunny clear day so I stopped to watch for a moment.  The brilliant orange color shining in the sun combined with this machine doing a hard days work (the rear finals were buried to their axles due to the plow being set incorrectly) was quite inspiring.  The poppy-orange color used on these tractors was referred to Persian Orange #1. The majority of tractors have been repainted with what I call near-Persian Orange #2 (somewhat of a cross between the 2 colors leaning more towards the #2 color) as that is the readily available color on the market.  The #1 color is more washed out and less red than that available without having the color custom mixed.  The use of Persian Orange #2 began in 1959, long after any B, C, IB, or CA tractor was manufacturered.

I have seen working tractors painted by brush with whatever color was available and it is hard to criticize because any paint is better than none.  On the other hand, it is inexpensive to purchase the enamels sold as AC Orange. This color, as noted above, is similar to the correct paint and even appears on the majority of show tractors. It is available from several manufacturers in spray cans, quarts, and gallons and sells for about $25 per gallon.  For a working tractor, it is more than sufficient. Cleanup can be limited to the use of an angle grinder with a wire brush. Disassembly can be limited to only those parts that come off easily such as wheels, hood, grill and wheel guards. This keeps the time invested down to a level that is practical. If decals are desired, the use of Mylar strip decals is sufficient and will replace all the original safety warnings and identifications. These run in $15-$25 range. Since one gallon of paint will suffice, your working tractor cosmetics bill can be kept to $40 to $50.

For a serious show tractor, the pricetag will be quite different. In the first place, just the extensive disassembly for cleanup will uncover numerous components requiring replacement (gaskets, seals, nuts and bolts, and even bearings). There is nothing more frustrating than completing a superb paint job and having to tear it down again to replace a leaky gasket.  On top of that you have the cost of custom mixed paint for AC Persian Orange #1 which can run $65 to $80 per gallon and of course the high quality non-strip individual decals.

Determining the appropriate colors on components is a problem aggravated by the conflicting information gleaned from pictures in original AC documents such as manuals and advertising. Also, the AC pictures tell one story while examination of the bottom coat of paint on real machines may tell a different one.  The following is my conclusions and personal opinion on component color.

In general the vast majority of parts are in orange.  The general consensus of people I know is that anything attached as the tractor entered the painting area got painted.  Original pictures would support this in most cases with items like the magneto, spark plug wires, starter, water temperature gauge, and even steering wheel being orange.  Contradicting this are a few pictures showing these items in black. There are additional pictures showing the generator, cutout relay and front face of the oil pressure gauge as black. The most graphic illustration of the paint on the oil pressure gauge gives the appearance that the gauge was black but the front face would be momentarily coverer during paint leaving the sides and back orange while the rim would remain black. 

One item that has remained a source of confusion for me is the steering shaft tube. Pictures show this component to be orange and most secondary paint jobs follow this. Still, when one removes the tank, you find black on this tube and additionally the bottom coat of paint has been black on every unit examined. Grasping at straws, I have considered that possibly under some conditions, the steering wheel, shaft and tube were not installed at the time of initial painting while at other times they were fully assembled. 

Colors for rear wheels varied over the years with the early models using black rims and orange for the wheels. The C and B were produced with orange rims for much of the 40s. With the advent of the WD, AC began to use Silver for the B and CA rear rims. This occurred at the start of the 50s. Based on our research, the C was never produced with silver rims. The original color of the CA eccentrics was orange. Lug bolt/nuts followed the color of the hub which was orange.  In early attempts to paint the silver on the later machines rims, I found that standard silver had a tendency to become too powdery after drying. As one drove into a rut or furrow, this paint would simply brush off.  I overcame this by using a more expensive high-temp silver designed for engine use.

Front rim colors were orange throughout the line with the exception of the early 2 piece rims. These used a black rim. Though most restored machines have silver on the outer portions of the rim, we have never found a non-restored rim or any documentation that would suggest that this practice was followed prior to the D-series. 

Decal Placement

Hood Decal - The hood decal is simply the words "ALLIS-CHALMERS" placed above the strengthening bead on the hood sides. This should be approximately centered front and back. The early machines used letters filled in blue while the later machines used a black fill. Through the 40s, the A and the S of Allis-Chalmers had long tails that dropped below the other letters. The short A and S seemed to appear with the introduction of the WD thus applied to the last Cs, all CAs, and the updated Bs of the 50s.

Grill Letters - No one I have spoken with who originally used these machines can remember having the Grill letters that come with each modern decal set unless they had purchased a late machine. This also may have been introduced at the time of the WD which was the first machine in the W series using a grill decal. This would have placed it at the same time as the move from the long A and S and would suggest that only 1950 Cs would have had a letter (of which there are very few), all CAs, and late Bs.

Oil Filter Decal - Original A-C oil filters had a squared off top. To paint a modern rounded-top spin-on filter and put the filter decal on it will not approximate the original. As a result I have avoided this practice of using the filter decal though I do paint the filters.

Air Filter Decals - The air filter had two decals, one on the canister and one on the cup. The cup decal should be placed such that the ends of the arrows point to the creased line that represent the maximum fill mark.  The canister decal is placed to the outside with its top edge centered between the sheet metal bead toward the top and the bottom (the point where the cup clips on).

Battery Decal - The battery decal is placed on the battery box lid centered front and back and with the top line centered on an imaginary line between the sides (thus the decal is off to the left). It should be readable when standing on the left side of the tractor.

PTO Decal - The PTO decal is used on the later flat plate style PTO guard. The pipe-style guard did not have a decal. The decal is centered on the top surface and placed such that it is directly readable when standing behind the tractor and facing forward.

Hydraulic Pump Operation Decal - The CA has a significant instruction decal that is placed on the right wheel guard facing the operator while in the seat. This decal is centered in the available flat area of the wheel guard.

Coolant Decal - The coolant decal is placed below the engine block coolant drain plug located on the middle of the left side of the engine.

Prev Page  Table of Contents   Next Page
1. Introduction
2. What are they?
3. History in Brief
4. Competing Tractors
5. Appearance
6. Identifying Numbers
7. Similarities and Differences
8. Cosmetics: What did they really look like?
9. Tips, Tricks and Maintenance
10. Using the Little Allis'
11. Tune-up Data, Quantities, and Specifications

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