Restoring Antique Tractors

Americana, Hometown Heroes, People, Traditions
on March 18, 2001

What may look to others like a derelict hunk of metal, forgotten in a barn somewhere or abandoned in a field with a tree growing through it, is a priceless piece of Americana to Ken Peacock.

Its an old farm tractor, and he wants it.

Peacock restores these icons of Americas agricultural past, which can be found in nearly every corner of rural America. He finds them in barns and farmyards, paralyzed in layers of grit and grime, frozen silent by rust. Once hes done peeling away layers of age, however, the derelict becomes a restored antiquea useful, working, bit of Americas past.

I want to hold on to the way things were, he says, to a time when life was simple.

And hes doing it in his own back yard.

The barn behind his house in the country west of Owasso, Okla., (pop. 13,430) is equipped like an auto repair shop and houses more than 20 tractors in various stages of repair.

Some have been restored meticulously all the way to the decal on the hood. Others are obviously still undergoing major surgery.

Many parts Peacock needs he orders from tractor parts manufacturers, which are growing even though most tractor makers have disappeared. Hes never sold one of his restored tractors but keeps collecting them instead.

Others are restoring the machines as well. He gets newsletters and goes to monthly meetings strictly for antique tractor enthusiasts. In northeastern Oklahoma alone, Peacock estimates there are about 100 other tractor collectors and restorers.

Its sort of an illness, he says of his pastime.

Philip Mueller, a neighbor who had his eye on an old tractor, went to Peacock for advice and got help.

I asked him to go look at it with me to make sure it wasnt a junker, Mueller says. Mueller bought the 1948 Ford tractor and worked on it in Peacocks barn.

Peacock and his wife moved to the 100-acre wooded parcel in 1989 after he retired from a career as an applied mathematician. Tearing down tractors is a great release from all the years he spent cooped up in an office, although it doesnt require his Ph.D degree.

With only a few tools, he can file a set of points or disassemble engine parts on the spot. It may take weeks or sometimes months, but eventually Peacock gets the monster machines hiccupping back to life.

He did it with a 1938 Graham-Bradley, as well as to his favorite tractor, a 1946 B.F. Avery Model A, which now runs like new. Only one word describes that cherry-red tractor, he says: Cute.

Bug-eye headlights are part of the reason, along with its rounded body, single-front wheel, and chromed accents.

Unlike the toyish Avery, the Graham-Bradley is more dignified. A parade tractor, he explains.

He paid $7,400 at an auction for the abandoned machineabout $2,400 more than he planned to spend that daybut with its stately side-grills, the Graham-Bradley is like the Rolls Royce of early-model tractors.

The hobby can be expensive, although most of his tractors were purchased for between $250 and $500. But then comes the price of restoring.

Parts are costly, says Peacock.

A steering wheel is $65; a radiator cap $10. A new hydraulic pump may cost as much as $500plus shipping, since he sends out of state for many of the parts. Still, to Peacock, the finished product is usually worth more than the money spent in parts.

Time is the cost that you never get back, he says. Time he could have spent doing something else but chose to spend disassembling an engine three times to find an oil leak.

The doing of it is kind of overwhelming, Peacock says, the payoff is in the end.