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Restoring 1946 tractor a nostalgic project
Click here to see more photos of Marks' tractor
Growing up Yuman, Justin Marks always seemed to be around garages and tools, so it wasn't a surprise when he and a friend spent hundreds of hours last year in a mechanic shop on his family's farm restoring an antique tractor, making sure it looked and ran as it did 67 years ago.
Marks said his stepfather gave him the 1946 Farmall H-model tractor two years ago because he originally wanted to restore it to its former glory as a personal project, but later decided to do it for a Future Farmers of America project instead.
“It was a humbling project. You really feel nostalgic working on a tractor like this,” Marks said. “These were the hard-working farmer's tractors. You can tell how rigorous farm work was back then just by looking at tractors like this.”
Given how old the tractor is, Marks said he didn't know its entire history. But what he does know is that his stepfather bought it in the mid to late '80s from some farmers in the Imperial Valley who regularly used it to haul sprinkler pipes.
Marks said he and his friend Bailey didn't get to work on the tractor very much the first year he had it because he was very busy with school. However, this past year as a senior, he and his friend were able to put more hours in to it, taking it apart and fixing, cleaning and replacing all of the working parts.
“I enjoyed every moment of it. I had a blast,” Marks said. “We would usually spend from noon to about 7:30 p.m. every day working on it.”
Although Marks said they knew when they started that the project would prove difficult, rebuilding the motor was the biggest challenge. He didn't know just how big of a challenge it was going to be until they got it apart.
“The engine head was cracked and it looked like it got overheated a long time ago. That caused the head to crack, which allowed moisture to get into the motor and ruin it. We all looked at it and said we didn't know if we were going to be able to fix it because it was so corroded and rusted.”
Marks said they eventually popped all of the pistons out of the engine block, which was a relief, because it meant he wouldn't have to replace the entire motor. That's when Booth Machinery in Yuma stepped in to lend a helping hand. In addition to ordering new pistons and sleeves, the company sandblasted, painted and put the engine back together for him.
“I took apart the entire motor and told them what needed to be done, and they were kind enough help me out,” Marks said. “They completely rebuilt the motor for me. When I got it back, all I had to do was adjust the valves and tighten every bolt in the motor because they were a bit loose.”
In the meantime, Marks and his friend kept themselves busy sandblasting, priming, rewiring and painting the entire tractor, as well as repairing and replacing whatever needed to be fixed, including the contoured metal seat. They even took off the old, worn tires and ordered brand new ones from Ed Whitehead's, which installed them for free to help with the project.
Because the tractor was built during the Harry Truman presidency, Marks said he worried that finding parts would be difficult. As it turns out, he said, it really wasn't: Farmall tractors were one of the most popular ever built.
Marks found most of the parts he needed on a tractor restoration website but still had to buy a few from eBay.
“I can count on one hand the number of parts we replaced. It still pretty much has all the original parts.”
Marks said all they had to replace were the steering wheel, the seat and the water temperature and oil pressure gauges, because they were all ruined. He also bought a new Farmall emblem for the front of the tractor because it was missing.
Although Marks had experience with other restorations, he didn't have far to go whenever he needed advice. Both of his grandparents are in the automotive business: one owning Reliable Auto Parts in Yuma, the other owning Shipp's Auto Salvage in Winterhaven.
Despite all the hard work that went into Marks' tractor restoration labor of love, he said he enjoyed every minute spent doing it, and even had a lot of fun along the way.
“I was happy I was able to do it. There is still a little bit more work to do to it, but it's not much. My friend Bailey had a blast also. He said it was probably one of the coolest experiences he has had in his life so far.”
Given he spent several thousand dollars restoring the tractor, Marks said intends to keep it, but added that he would probably sell it for the right price.
Marks will be attending the University of Arizona this fall, where he plans to study bio-system engineering. While he's away at school, he says, his friend plans to enter the tractor in local shows, such as the Wellton Tractor Rodeo.
James Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.