1956 John Deere 420-I

Arriving Home, November 2004

      It started with a phone call from Miss Jenny, the prettiest gal in Texas.  Her Mom was wanting to clean up some of her late husband's old junk and wanted to know if Neal wanted the old tractor.  There was some uncertainty as to the brand, the age and the model of the tractor.  Eventually it was determined to be a John Deere, but that leaves a lot to the imagination.  Neal had concerns about the size and whether or not it would be trailerable.  A check of reference books determined which models could and could not be hauled on our trailer... at least in one trip.

     Deadlines for other projects were looming.  One Friday in November would be the time.  Not knowing what it was or how big it was delayed the journey from Florida to Texas until almost too late.  Eventually it was decided that just seeing Miss Jenny, the prettiest gal in Texas, would make the trip worthwhile, even if we couldn't load the tractor in one trip.

     Now, what do you think Miss Sandy, Neal's wife, would have to say about him setting out to see the prettiest gal in Texas?  About what you'd think:  "WE DON'T NEED ANOTHER TRACTOR!"  Well, obviously men and women have different needs.  Neither Miss Jenny nor Miss Sandy needed a John Deere, but Neal does.  So there.

     It was after 9 when Neal left.  This was the first major road trip with the new Avalanche.  The truck pulled the big trailer without effort.  It was quickly determined, though, that the big Chevy's little 327 would use a lot more gas in TOW-HAUL mode than running empty.  Remarkably, the fuel economy with the trailer loaded and unloaded were the same at just under 13 mpg, as compared to normal running at 17-18mpg.  Driving down I-10 in Baton Rouge, a rock cracked the windshield.  The crack traveled about 2 inches per 100 miles driven.

     With the long drive, late start and short days, it was dark upon arrival in Texas.  Miss Jenny delayed a date and came to guide Neal to the tractor.  The Avalanche drove down the long, narrow drive to find the tractor and to find there was no place to turn around.  Neal had to back out and the unloaded trailer was not visible behind.  The Av has a backup camera, but that only views the trailer hitch when towing--- something that will need to be changed.  Halfway down the drive, he spotted what he thought might be a good place to turn around, rather than continue backing onto the busy highway.  After days of rain, this turned out to be a bad idea.  The Av was stuck.

     The hi-lift jack was used to get the Av on boards, but the tires just spun.  Fortunately he had John's Wyeth-Scott killer comealong and plenty of chain.  The question was whether the one available tree would remain standing.  It took nearly two hours to pull the truck and trailer back onto the driveway.  

     I suppose I should make mention of why things were so slippery.  The ditches had been used for some time as a repository of used kitty litter by a cat breeder.  That, the rain and the warm weather combined to create circumstances that were just.... special.

     The long driveway and the busy highway were dealt with.  Then there was another backward trip down the long, dark driveway, dodging two cars, a trailer and a truck in the small yard.  Now to the easy part!  Chains and comealong were deployed.  Miss Jenny pulled away the vines that shrouded the tractor.  Tires (which were actually holding air!) were topped up.  The tractor's brakes were stuck, as is often the case, but it quickly broke free and climbed aboard the trailer.  Every time we do this we review the need to get ramps for the trailer. (What we did this time was buy the 3 ton Wyeth-Scott comealong instead.  And a longer handle.)  By about 9:30, we were loaded and tied down.

     Miss Jenny's evening date was ruined by these proceedings, so Neal and Jen headed off to supper at the only place around that takes people covered in mud and kitty litter--- Waffle House.  While the two enjoyed a repast and good conversation, it was noted that Miss Jenny was scratching and her skin was turning red.  Remembering the vines that covered the tractor, they decided that it must have been poison ivy.  Poison ivy is one of the few things to which Neal is not allergic.  For the rest of their brief time together, Neal gulped down coffee and repeatedly apologized for the problems he'd caused.  Miss Jenny graciously contended she was happy just to have "that junk" out of her mother's yard.

     It was a long drive home.  Neal took a 15 minute nap at the Florida welcome station and made it home by 7a.m.  Total distance was 923 miles, our longest tractor quest to date.


About the tractor

     It was eventually determined to be a 1956 420 Industrial model.  The ID plate was missing, "420" is marked on the tach and 1956 was the only year made with the horizontal steering shaft.  Originally yellow, the tractor has twice been painted green, to make it more suitable for gardening.  The rear wheels are not adjustable.  There is a 3 point Ferguson-type hitch, but some of it looks to be locally engineered.

     The sheet metal is in fair shape.  Electrical system seems to have been adapted as needed.  Amazingly, the tires hold air.  We almost never get one that holds air in all 4.

     The engine is a vertical two-cylinder popper of around 30 hp.  The engine is stuck, to no one's surprise.  Jen said her Dad had used the tractor for a while, but had troubles and abandoned it.  We are hoping the trouble was the hole rusted in the fuel tank ( filled with a screw).  Somewhat alarming was the discovery that there was no oil in the crankcase!  The manifold is broken and had been rigged up with an airplane exhaust pipe, which sounds like something we'd do.  The engine has been filled top and bottom with diesel to soak while we attend to other things.

     At this writing, we are still dealing with hurricane recovery and earning a living, so the JD will have to wait a bit.  December 5, 2004

     December 18th update:.. Anything that comes off is getting painted.  So far, that includes the air cleaner assembly and oil pan.  We are going with green.  The tractor was originally yellow, but we think the only way a 420I would have collectible value is as a total restoration.  We are going for a "user" and nobody will want a yellow JD.  It just ain't natural.

     After soaking a couple of weeks in diesel, the engine freed up without a fight.  It looks like the front and main seals may leak, but we'll worry about running the thing before deciding what it really needs.  Chances are it will need a ring and valve job and seals.  The engine had about 2000 hours on it before the tach cable broke.

     Next area of concentration is patching the fuel tank, getting new gaskets, battery cables and making it run.

     June '05 Update:  We got it running and most everything working. The upholstery is a little rough, but we've driven a good many miles on this seat.  The electrical isn't complete, but the instruments are in.  We may change them out, later, but this is what we had.  The tach is from a Belarus 420.

     It smokes and is generally socially unacceptable, but we've gotten some work out of it.  The first attempt at real work resulted in blowing out a hydraulic line, just as this photo (below) was taken.  It needed flushing, anyway.


      An attempt at trailering prompted us to finally buy the trailer ramps we have long needed and to work on a safety page while the pain is still reminding us.  Don't try this at home.

   One of us pulled it back upright with the Av, whilst the unnamed victim lay moaning in the shrubbery.  It started right up!  We drove it 15 miles back to the Tractorworks with a broken rib.


     August 29 update:  (We are hunkered down with Hurricane Katrina, so we have time for an update!)


 There was no saving the manifold.  We bought a new one from a mailorder house.  The muffler and flange for making the stack came from JC Whitney.  The rain cap came from a truck supply house.  DO NOT forget this little detail!

Looking into the engine from above and below, we were startled by the cleanliness!  This makes us believe the smoking is from a stuck or broken ring, rather than wear.

Low oil pressure was an issue.  We adjusted the regulator and all is fine.  Flushing out the hydraulic system did wonders.  When we turn off the tractor, the lift stays up all week with a dirtbox attached.

 Because of the oil-burning, we are fouling plugs, but we are using the tractor for hurricane debris removal, mowing, driveway repair and discing.  Next area of work is a new waterpump and checking the rings.