The Case For Old Tractors

Old tractors can still be useful, and with the proper maintenance yours can last a lifetime.

The John Deere Model 40 tractor was here when we bought the farm, and while they say that appearances can be deceiving, the tractor looked as though it had seen much better days. The headlights didn’t work, the seat cushion was shredded, the tires were old, the paint was chipped, parts of it were rusty, there were a few homemade repairs, and it had lost its three-point hitch somewhere along the way.

From its appearance, it was doubtful that the old tractor would even start, let alone run with consistency and reliability. But what do you know? The old saying is true. In this case, appearances were most definitely deceiving.

My grandfather nicknamed the tractor “Little Mo,” and despite its age—it was built in 1953 and is now 63 years old—Little Mo has proven to be as reliable as can be. Despite her rustic appearance, Little Mo never hesitates to start—no fussing with the engine is required, and nine times out of 10, she roars to life on the first try. Smaller lawn tractors have come and gone, serving for a few years before being retired due to a myriad of issues, but Little Mo stays hard at work. Her reliability has become something of a joke. One cold winter day, my brother—laughing about how Little Mo would start regardless of the conditions—walked under the protective lean-to where she was slumbering for the winter, climbed aboard, and tried to start the engine. Much to our disbelief—although in retrospect, I’m not sure why we were surprised—Little Mo’s engine caught within seconds and started as though it were a summer day, the friendly and nostalgic “put-put-put” sound of her two-cylinder “Johnny Popper” engine echoing across the snowy barnyard.

Little Mo isn’t a very large tractor, and can’t do the heavy work of more powerful and modern machines, but that hasn’t stopped her from serving faithfully at the tasks she is assigned. She moves portable corral panels; she mows grass; she rakes hay; she pulls wagons loaded with hay, logs, tree branches and people. She’s lifted old fence posts out of the ground, dragged heavy tree stumps into the woods, and even pulled down the front of an old shed (my grandfather’s idea).

Along the way, Little Mo has had a few upgrades—she has new tires, a new exhaust pipe, and even gained a replacement seat cushion and three-point hitch. And of course, she’s had a few new batteries and spark plugs, along with the occasional oil change needed for any gasoline engine.

When it comes to machinery, it’s easy to assume that “bigger is better” and “latest is greatest,” and while I’m a big fan of modern tractors—with great new features and better safety enhancements—I’d like to put in a good word for old tractors, as well. As Little Mo has shown, a well-cared for tractor can serve you for years and even decades because no matter how old they might appear to be, they’re still a tractor on the inside.

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