Though my heart belongs to agriculture, a good part of who I am is my love for all machines, especially cars and engines. My first published magazine article was in a Corvette publication called Vette. Subsequently, my blessed journey has taken me to the pages of around forty-five different magazine titles, some of them having to do with classic automobiles. I have lost track, but I have over 3,000 published (in print) technical articles, not counting my work over the past few years.

A collector or working tractor needs to be as mechanically sound as the paint is shiny. Then and only then is the machine worthy of praise and accolades. Recently I ran across a beautiful tractor, or as we would say in the car world, a 20-footer (It looks great from that distance), with shiny red paint and the proper silver color on the engine.

Upon closer examination, I saw that the pigtail wire from the ignition coil negative terminal to the breaker points in the distributor must have frayed over the years and lost its insulation. The owner covered the corrupted wire sloppily with electrical tape, making a teepee out of it before grabbing the spray gun. As a result, the tractor now has a poorly taped-over pigtail covered in the proper silver paint.

Talk about having my bubble burst; what I had first assumed was a gorgeous M-F 65 was nothing but a veneer, a beautiful paint job but mechanical work that would not be acceptable in a first-year FFA class.

To some, my words and tone may seem harsh. It is my goal to raise the bar in the quality of the machines the community collects, shows, and love. The only way to effectively do that is to use tough love.

Common areas of neglect

Gasket compression:
A gasket is used between two surfaces when a seal is required. The most common application is for engine oil retention. Still, gaskets are used to control coolant, hydraulic fluid, gasoline or diesel, and every other liquid. Unfortunately, a widespread mistake is crushing the gasket by over-tightening. This is usually rooted in a poorly prepared gasket surface, and excessive torque is employed to seal the leak.

A gasket needs to be slightly compressed but not crushed. When the gasket is bowing out beyond the two sealing surfaces, it is destroyed and will no longer be effective. A properly installed gasket will, at most, be flush with the exterior of the two surfaces and, in most applications, be slightly shy of the outer lip.

O-rings are used in some applications in place of a gasket. Most O-rings are considered a single use and need to be changed if the seal is broken via the disassembly of the part. The O-ring material must be compatible with the fluid it is sealing, and the size must be proper. I have seen O-rings installed on tractor engines that are too large and lose their concentricity when tightened and bulged out of the connection. This is very common if the O-ring, even though the proper size and material, is being reused. It often has swollen from contact with the liquid and is no longer the appropriate dimension or resiliency.

Copper washers found on banjo-bolt connections on hydraulic or fuel lines are also designed for a single use. The factory planned for the copper gasket to crush only once and marry to the surface of the banjo fitting’s imperfections. For the most part, it is impossible to take the washer off and place it exactly back in the same orientation on the fitting. The result being the banjo bolt then needs to be over-torqued to try and eliminate the weeping caused by the reuse of a copper washer. Depending on the application and use, the over-tightening of a fastener or banjo bolt can damage the threads and warp the surface. This now escalates to something more problematic than replacing a washer that cost fifty cents.

Ignition system:
A distributor oil port cap thickened with fresh paint means that the proper procedure of oiling the shaft bushing never takes place. In like fashion, I have seen harmonic damper timing marks filled with paint so that it is evident that the engine never had a timing light put on it. Distributor caps with missing center carbon buttons and distributor cams with no lubricant for the rubbing block on the breaker points are too common.

Ignition wires that have dry rotted insulation and are patched with electrical tape or those with loose fitting boots on the distributor cap or spark plugs are often found. Also, an oil-filled ignition coil leaking from the center terminal has seen its better days and needs to be renewed.

Most 12-volt conversions are required to have the ignition switch feed the ignition coil positive terminal and the negative to the breakers in the distributor. This is due to the negative ground used in a 12 -volt system. Most, if not all, 6-volt systems had a positive ground design. This small change is often overlooked even though a new coil is installed.

What is commonly seen is a 12-volt conversions that employ a Chrysler ballast resistor that is just left dangling in the wiring and not affixed to a solid surface.

Spark plug wires that are not run properly and look like a snake’s nest or those that are cable tied together and do not cross at a right angle at any point to cancel out electromotive interference (cross talk) are very prevalent.

Grease joints:
Zerk fittings that are not wiped clean before greasing and afterward, painted-over dry-rotted, and ruptured rubber grease cups that no longer hold anything expose the joint to dirt and the environment.

Wrong or mismatched bolts or nuts or even missing ones. Rounded-off old fasteners or ungraded hardware store bolts where graded fasteners are required. Fasteners with dirty threads that are reinstalled without being cleaned first or those filled with paint. The dirt/corrosion/paint impacts the tightening of the fastener. It provides a false torque reading, even if only being judged by feel, and a torque wrench is not employed.

The previously mentioned taped-up wire is all too prevalent. If a damaged wire is going to be reused, then one end should be removed from the connection, and a length of shrink tube slid over the spot and, with a heat gun, melted into place. This will provide a tight and corrosion-free repair that follows proper procedure. If a broken wire is going to be repaired, it must first be soldiered and then shrink-tubed.

Terminal ends that need to be replaced should be soldered and shrink tube closed; crimp terminals should not be employed. Suppose the tractor has many wires that are in bad shape. In that case, a new wiring harness should be considered since the integrity of the insulation of the wires has been compromised over the years and will leak voltage and introduce moisture.

A dirty carburetor throat and passages can easily be cleaned with a spray carburetor cleaner. They will now function properly. If linkage return springs are employed, they should create tension and be of the proper length. Not a universal spring with the end wrapped around the linkage like a bailing wire.

If your tractor is your pride and joy, then you owe it the respect of making its beauty more than skin deep!