Making (Another) Case for Old Tractors

Is the latest always the greatest? Not necessarily, when it comes to tractors. A restored Massey Ferguson 135 shows that old tractors still have use on hobby farms.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

If you read my articles on this site, then you know that I like old-fashioned, tried-and-true tools. This applies not only to hand tools but to machines as well; in fact, a couple of years back I expounded on the virtues of old tractors, including “Little Mo,” the John Deere Model 40 that has been faithfully serving my farm for more than 60 years.

But of course, Little Mo is, well, pretty little as far as tractors go, with a bit more than 22 horsepower at the drawbar and about 25 at the power take-off. That’s perfect for pulling wagons and even raking hay, but when it comes to harder tasks such as baling hay, Little Mo falls short.

That’s why our farm added a tractor a few years back: a classic Massey Ferguson 135, beautifully restored to its former glory. Little Mo shows her age a bit with some rust and worn paint—actually, she was repainted at some point in a shade that isn’t quite “John Deere Green”—but the restoration job on the Massey makes the tractor look like it just rolled off the assembly line.

In terms of horsepower, the Massey (no nickname has caught on yet) boasts significantly more strength than Little Mo; the engine is rated at 45.5 horsepower, with 33 at the drawbar and 38 at the PTO. That power is evident by the roar of its engine; unlike Little Mo, whose “Johnny Popper” engine is pretty quiet by tractor standards, the Massey’s engine has a deep, throaty growl, so it’s not hard to persuade yourself that the Massey can accomplish anything.

Although Little Mo and the Massey are old tractors, the Massey is quite a bit younger. The 135 was manufactured for a dozen years from 1964 through 1975; based on the serial number, our Massey appears to have been built in 1970, making it at least 15 years younger than Little Mo. That also means that it boasts a few features to make driving easier, such as power steering. In addition, the Massey has a very wide wheelbase and sits low to the ground, giving it a low center of gravity ideal for negotiating somewhat hilly hayfields.

In reading about the Massey, I discovered that the 135 is still in widespread use in developing countries, where its simple design and reliability are appreciated. That’s not really surprising given how popular the 135 was in its heyday, and I can certainly vouch for its appealing simple design. Really, the only knock I have against our Massey is that the gear shift can become jammed on occasion, a known phenomenon with this model and a bit of a nuisance, although it’s not too difficult to free it up when it happens.

Subscribe now

Suffice it to say, the Massey has done fine work for us, though there’s no need to feel sorry for Little Mo, who is probably enjoying the lighter workload while remaining the boss of the farm for easier tasks such as pulling wagons. The Massey might have the looks and the power, but Little Mo still wins out for reliability, at least in my mind. In any case, from the work they do, you’d never guess that between them, they’re approximately 110 years old.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *