Recovery Road Trip

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This is an edited version of a message originally posted on the ATIS antique tractor mailing list on August 4th, 1997. Note that the picture thumbnails are hyperlinks to enlarged versions!

I’ve been planning a trip to pick up my Grandfather’s 1950 Farmall H for some time. On the weekend of August 1st, 1997, with lots of help from fellow ATISer Benny Wood, I was able to haul it home.

Many ATIS members contributed useful advice and suggestions as to how to get a non-running tractor with 4 flat tires up on a trailer. All of the suggestions were helpful. Special thanks to Larry Molitor who suggested using two come-alongs so that we could steer the tractor better with all flat tires—that turned out to be essential, and I probably wouldn’t have brought the second come-along without that suggestion.

Preparation consisted of rounding up tools and getting the truck ready for towing. I have a 96 Dodge full-size ton with the 318 V8. Benny had just had a new trailer built and was anxious for a test run, so volunteered not only his trailer but also himself to come along. I already had a good hitch on the truck, but needed an electric brake controller, so I got one (new model Draw-Tite, around $89 at Pick-Up Heaven here in Austin) and put it on. Benny’s trailer is 16’ with all steel decking, a pair of 7000 lb axles with brakes, and an equalizing hitch setup. We hooked all up last week and hauled Benny’s Moline 5 Star down to my house (around 15 miles) to test everything—the 5 Star weighs considerably more than the H so we figured it would be a good test, and we also thought it’d be handy to have it around to help pull things off the trailer when we got back. The test run went well; a few details need alteration on the trailer, but nothing that would prevent us from making the trip. The Draw-Tite brake controller worked great, is very adjustable and has a readout so you can see what it is doing. Tool roundup consisted of making sure we had plenty of sockets and wrenches for sizes we would need (to move the wheels in, potentially remove wheel weights, and whatever else could go wrong), and lots of assorted jacks, a couple of come-alongs, etc.

We packed up the truck Thursday evening; early Friday morning I loaded up the truck with myself, my two boys Cory (8) and Austin (5) and headed up to Jarrell to pick up Benny and the trailer. We threw in his tools and hooked up the trailer then headed north. It is about 600 miles from here to the very NE corner of Arkansas (Pocahontas) where the tractor was. The trailer pulled fine empty, and we got in before dark Friday, so drove by and dropped the trailer with the tractor, doused the wheel clamp nuts with more Liquid Wrench (I had my father douse it thoroughly a couple of weeks ago), scouted the situation, and then rested up from the drive. Early Saturday morning, Benny, Cory and I headed out to get started, after a brief run past Wal-Mart to pick up some sandpaper and wasp spray (we’d noticed a nest on one of the wheel weights).

We started in first moving the wheels in. We had measured and figured that it would be possible to load if we got at least one to move in by 2 inches or more, but that the more we could move them it, the easier loading would be. First, we sanded and oiled the axle; the exposed portion wasn’t severely rusted but was rough enough that we thought it would be easier if we smoothed it out a bit. We were able to loosen the inside clamp nuts without too much problem, but couldn’t get our big tools on the outer ones with the wheel weight in place. Amazingly, it wasn’t too much trouble to get the wheel weight off (recent discussion here on that topic came in handy!), and after that the clamp nuts came loose ok. So we jacked that wheel up with set of bottle jacks and blocks until we got it well off the ground, then worked it in. Got it moved in by about 3 or 4 inches, which was great. But we noticed a slight problem, which was that the wheel wouldn’t turn. We decided to try the other wheel, figuring that if both were stuck, we probably had a transmission problem and were going to have a really tough time getting it loaded. We got the other wheel up, same procedure, got it moved in about 3 inches also, and found that it turned reasonably freely. This led us to believe that perhaps rusted brakes were the problem on the right side. We tried to remove the cover, almost got it but broke off the set screw on the bottom. By this point, we’d hammered on it enough that we’d knocked loose a handful of rusty stuff so we thought it was time to try it. The front tires were rotted sort of into a hole, and we didn’t think they’d exactly roll, so we jacked up the front of the tractor with the hi lift jack and pulled it off with the truck. After the second try, we got the right rear tire to turn. Nothing left but to jack it up and haul it off, right?

Faced with the prospect of hand winching the flat front tires up the ramp, we decided to try jacking it up enough that we could back the trailer under it. We couldn’t quite get it that high, but got it close enough that it would hold while we pulled it on the rest of the way with a come along. At that point, things started going fairly smoothly— just lots and lots of cranking. The trailer was on a slight slope with the left side downhill, so as we cranked the tractor up it had a tendency to slide downhill on its flats. As we got it near the top of the ramps, we put the second come along on hooked to the side of the front of the trailer and hooked to the uphill rear axle of the tractor. This allowed us to pull it diagonally across the trailer when it started slipping. Between the two come alongs we were able to get the tractor nicely centered on the trailer.

During a rest break, I had noticed the shredder (~5’ pull type) for the tractor busily rusting under a shade tree. It looked to be in fairly good shape, except for the tires, so we got my Uncle Ray (who had come out to help and or supervise) to use his pickup and drag it out behind the trailer. We figured that if we could get it in under the draw bar that it would fit on behind the tractor. Benny had brought along a long cable and pulley, which we hooked up to the pickup and used to pull it up the ramps. It turned out to be kind of a pain since it was too wide for the ramps so on one side we had to use a 2x6 to lever it up the ramp by hand. We got it up on, but not quite in place, and collapsed in exhaustion in the shade; this was just after noon. At about this time my sister drove up with Austin and my dad. We got them to take us out to lunch. After a good meal and a few gallons of iced tea, we were ready to finish up.

With a bit more work, we did get the shredder on, and managed to get everything tied down solid; we’d brought along some extra chain and a spare load binder "just in case" which made it possible to tie down the shredder too. By this time it was about 1:30pm.

We pulled the trailer up to my Dad’s house (about 5 miles away) and parked it for the evening, showered down and had a nice rest. The next morning, we got an early start back, since we weren’t sure how fast we could actually go with it. As it turned out, we made fairly good time. The first part of the trip (to Little Rock or so) is flat, and we went around 60 to 65 comfortably as long as traffic was sparse enough that we felt we had enough space around us, which it was for most of the trip. As the terrain got hillier though southern Arkansas and east Texas, we found that if we let it accelerate going downhill, we could usually top the hills between 50 and 55 without it needing to downshift out of overdrive. The truck ran cool the whole way; the owner’s manual says that you only need to turn off the overdrive if it is shifting in and out a lot, so we left the overdrive on. Gas mileage fully loaded was about 11; I usually get between 17 and 17.5 empty. The trailer brakes worked fine; I was amazed at how quickly we were able to stop a load that big. We didn’t have any occasion for an emergency stop, but I felt much better knowing that it was possible.

On the way in last night, we dropped Benny at his house, and I just drove it in and parked it fully loaded. This morning I unhooked the trailer; Benny will come over later this week to unload.

Now that I’ve had more time to look it over, I’m both discouraged and encouraged about the project. The good news is that the engine is probably in better shape than I’d thought. I was under the impression that Uncle Ray had left it with the heads off for a while, but he said he’d never done that; that a few years ago it had gotten stuck, and he’d worked on it and gotten it to turn over, but never got it started. It had been sitting there since then. So it is almost surely stuck, and probably has some rust and dirt dauber nest problems (the exhaust pipe has been gone for a while) but at least there is no reason to believe that the engine isn’t recoverable. Most of the pieces are present; in fact, I can’t think of anything major that’s missing. But there are a thousand little things that will need work; all the wiring has rotted; all but one of the gauges are broken, lots of things including the seat are badly rusted, etc. The rims are pretty badly rusted and are dented anyway; all four tires are rotted beyond usability anyway. So, the bottom line is, I’ve got a long project ahead of me!

Thanks to all of you again for all of the advice—we were well prepared for this trip, and that made all the difference! And loads of thanks to Benny—guess I owe him a similar favor next time he needs to do something this crazy. That might be soon; he saw a little Moline sitting by the road up in east Texas that he is very interested in...

P.S. - the old steel tire wagon we used to use for hay hauling is still there. I'll try to pick it up next trip!

[Recovery Road Trip] [Restoration - 1997-1998] [After Restoration] [Implements] [Expenses]

1999-2002 T.W. Cook - All Rights Reserved. Operating and repairing antique tractors is an inherently dangerous activity. In particular, Farmall H's predate many modern safety enhancements such as roll-over protection systems. Please, be aware of the proper safety procedures and take all possible precautions - be careful out there!

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This page last updated: September 27, 2003