From rust bucket to vintage machine

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 3, 2004

With the sun as a spotlight and evergreens as a backdrop, Eddie Black proudly, but modestly, put his creation on stage.

Black had made a silk purse out of a sow's ear. His creation was complete. But what now?

He used his dry wit as an attempt to mask his pride in the big red machine.

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With the sunlight sparkling off the fresh coat of International Red, Black scratched his chin and mulled a moment before answering.

"Well, I'd like to put it in the house, in the den, but I can't find a spot big enough," he said with a smile. "So, I guess I'll just try to keep the flies off of it and put in parades and in a few shows."

Black was talking about his pride and joy, a 1951 Farmall tractor that he had lovingly and painstakingly brought back to life.

The tractor is much more than a big hunk of machinery. It has a past, a family history and it's a labor of love.

The tractor originally belonged to the late John D. Hughes, the grandfather of Black's wife Sarah. Hughes was a farmer of distinction in Pike County for many years. He was around when farmers, reluctantly, put their mules in the barn and tractors in the field.

That was a time of uncertainty for farmers. They knew what their mules could do, but they didn't know what a tractor would do. It wasn't an easy thing to do but slowly, they gave their fields over to the mechanical mules.

But, when farmers got the feel of the wheel and realized that a tractor was their friend, not their foe, the four-footed farm machine could only watch from the pasture.

Black has farmed and marched to the beat of the old hit-and-miss engines. The field music gets in a man's head and no matter how far from the farm he roams, it's a tune that is forever on his mind and in his heart.

Black puttered around tractors with a friend, Earl Snodgrass who has restored several Massey-Harris tractors to near perfection. Black got behind the wheels of the vintage machines in parades and somewhere along the route, he got bitten by the tractor bug. He had to have one of his own.

Snodgrass "follows" old tractors and he knew about one that belonged to Hughes and thought Black might be able to cut a deal with the owner.

A vintage tractor with a family history. What could be better than that?

Black located the owner and then the machine.

The old Farmall had been put out to pasture in a ticket of plum bushes and bramble.

It was a "rust bucket" but the prettiest rust bucket Black had ever seen.

For everything, there's a price. A "wanted" price and an "unwanted price."

Black got his dream machine for the unwanted price.

"The only thing that was any good on it was the head," Black said. "I got it for the price of the head. Actually, I paid for the head and got the tractor for free."

Not only did he get Grandpa's Farmall in the deal, he also got a sister rust-bucket that was languishing in the brush in the chicken yard.

He and Snodgrass "hauled" the Farmall out of the plum bushes and it looked the part of not having run in 10 years.

"It has gone through several owners over the years and it looked like it had been run off a cliff," Black said. "I didn't know what I'd gotten myself into."

Black had never torn down an engine, but he tore into the project with determination.

"Earl encouraged me all along the way," Black said and added, laughingly, "after all, he was the cause of all this."

With a friend coaxing him along and a manual at his side, Black began an undertaking that would consume most of a year.

"I work on it every spare minute I had and some I didn't," Black said. "I realized doing something like this is not for the weak hearted. If you don't want a challenge, don't start this; just leave it alone."

For much of the time, Black stood looking at the "menace' and scratching his head.

"I didn't know where to start, but once I got the engine torn down, I realized it was as simple as A,B,C."

Black said he was amazed and fascinated by the simplicity of the engine.

"It was almost like a puzzle," he said. "Once you laid all the parts out, you could see how it went together. A child could have done what I did."

Child's play? Not hardly.

Restoring the tractor to "99.9 percent original" became addictive and Black is now hooked with little chance of recovery.

There were times that Black possibly could have shaken the habit. Late nights and hot, sweaty days.

Times when nothing seemed to fit and parts couldn't be found. Times when the dollars didn't seen to make sense. Days of doubt and weariness.

But, then there was that one day when he knew he would make it.

Black stood there in his shop in Tarentum, praying for oil pressure in hopes that his engine would start.

"I didn't know what I was doing, but I had done all I knew how," he said. "I didn't know if it would crank or not. If it didn't Š"

All of a sudden, the John D. "busted off" and Black blurted out, "Thank you, Lord."

A tractor was born and it cried out with a sputter and a pop.

"That was the highlight of the whole thing," Black said. "I knew then, that I would make it."

With renewed energy, Black tackled the rest of the project. Completion was still way down the "row" but the end was in sight.

Painted with a bright, shiny coat of International Red and with "vintage" decals to show it off, the John D. was ready to parade.

Even though the 1951 vintage tractor is of his own doing, Black modestly admits that it's a fine machine.

"It's a Super C," he said with pride. "A step up from the C. In its day it was a fine workhorse.

It had full hydraulics, so you could let the implements up and down. It had improved brakes and a 17 1/2-inch steering wheel to make it easier to steer. And 23 horsepower. And, I'm kind of proud of it."

Spoken like a proud papa.