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Vintage Tractor Gets Facelift

Morrisville State College professor, students restore 1925 Fordson F tractor

MORRISVILLE, N.Y.­ —Some would have considered the 1925 Fordson F tractor only for its scrap metal value. 

But when Charles “Chip” Ax III, took a look at the vintage farm tractor—he saw an opportunity. 

Ax, assistant professor of agricultural engineering and diesel technology at Morrisville State College, and four of his students set out to restore the tractor, donated to the New York FFA Foundation by retired agricultural educators Daryle Foster and Donald Farrand, as a class project. 

The extensive undertaking involved more than 1,000 hours of manpower and included a complete overhaul, metal work, paint, and a set of new rubber tires. The fully restored antique was raffled off at the New York Farm Show in Syracuse on Feb. 22 with proceeds going to the New York FFA Foundation to benefit students across the state. The winner was Ray Adamson, of New Berlin, N.Y., a retired dairy farmer who works for the USDA.

“We tried to make it the same or better than when it came out of the factory,” Ax said of the relic gleaming with a shiny new coat of paint and red-steel rims.

“This tractor is as old as it gets,” Ax said, recalling its similarity to the first tractor ever used on Morrisville State College’s campus. 

The condition and age of the hand-crank tractor, which is known for taking the place of horses in the field, raised initial concerns, but Ax and his students were up for the challenge.   

Finding parts for the 20-horsepower, four-cylinder antique wasn’t easy.   

“The parts were hard to find due to its age and things didn’t disassemble too easily when we were working on it,” said Nathan Geertson, 20, of Penn Yan, one of the agricultural mechanics students who worked on the project. Also working on the project were: Austin Goodwin, 20, of Morris; Travis Huttar, 19, of Middlesex; and Caleb Day, 19, of Smyrna. 

A second tractor donated by Foster and Farrand and another donated to the department by Ax supplied many of the parts, while others had to be custom made or reproduction modified.  

When they couldn’t match pistons, they modified the engine block to fit pistons from a 1936 tractor. Additional engine block machining included new valves, valve seats and guides so it could run on today’s fuels. 

Age also factored into getting the ignition system working, but a custom-made part helped spark the tractor’s tired engine.  

“Typically we work on tractors owned by students or student family members and we rebuild them,” Ax said, as opposed to restoring them. “This is the oldest tractor ever restored in our department.”   

In addition to its educational, hands-on value, the project served as a history lesson for students. 

“It brought awareness to our students about where we have come in terms of ag equipment and how things, namely technology, have changed over the years,” Ax said. 

“The whole process of taking the tractor from nothing to something that runs was certainly interesting and was a great learning experience,” Goodwin said. 

Funding from various sources, including the New York FFA Foundation and the Morrisville Collegiate FFA, helped absorb some of the cost of the project. There were also generous donations from Titan International-Tires, Gary’s Carb and Magneto Repair,  Syracuse Crank and Machine, Zeigler Machine Shop, Steve Bono, of M&S Restoration in Bouckville, Fred Marshall and Marshall Farms, Inc. of Munnsville.   

Faculty and students in the college’s automotive programs also stepped in to help. 

“It was in pretty rough shape and needed metal patching, dent removal and filler work,” said Ryan Tabolt, instructional support assistant in the automotive technology department.   

Auto Body technology students in Tabolt’s labs worked on the sheet metal parts, smoothing out the fenders and the hood.     

“One of the unique aspects of this project is that the sheet metal components of this tractor were made out of mild steel,” Wistrup said. “It is very different to work with than modern cars students are used to working with and it gave them experience learning other metal work skills and techniques.”

Tabolt and auto body students also pitched in with prep work—first sanding, priming then painting the Fordson in the autobody program’s Garmat paint booth, matching its original colors with DuPont ChromaBase colors they mixed in lab.

The refurbished classic has become a showpiece at various shows and events including Empire Farm Days, The Great New York State Fair, the Western New York Farm Show, and most recently at the New York Farm Show. 

“It generated a lot of interest because of its age and uniqueness,” Ax said.

Students’ dedication played a vital role in the successful completion of the project that took nearly a year and earned them college credit.

“Their work ethic was laudable,” Ax said. “It was challenging at times, but they remained focused and their skills and ability saw it to fruition.”

Morrisville State College sets the world in motion for students. Curriculums are enriched with applied learning and pave the way for opportunity at both the Morrisville and Norwich campuses. An action-oriented, interactive learning lab, the college is a national leader in technology. Lauded for its exemplary, innovative and effective community service programs, the college was named to the 2012 President’s Higher Community Service Honor Roll. Visit www.morrisville.edu to experience, Morrisville in motion.