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Local farmer restores a 75-year-old tractor

Garnet Jess would have normally spent his winter months vacationing in Mesa, Ariz., with his wife. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that couldn’t happen this year.

Garnet Jess would have normally spent his winter months vacationing in Mesa, Ariz., with his wife. 

But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that couldn’t happen this year. So he found a new project: restoring a 75-year-old International Farmall M tractor. 

“They were pretty big in the States. It’s one of those row crop ones where the … tires are close together in the front,” said Jess, whose farm is east of Highway 47 and north of Highway 361  

The tractor was previously located in a slew near Montmartre and Jess said it was seized up; he described it as pretty much a “boat anchor.” 

Jess expects it was in the slew for 25-30 years. 

The tractor was listed on Kijiji. It had new rear tires, and the owner was essentially looking to sell the tires, not the tractor. Jess bought the tractor for $800, including $600 for the tires.  

“He tried to get it to run, and they couldn’t get it to run,” said Jess. “He said ‘It’s seized tight.’ He was right. It was tight. But we monkeyed around, we built a jig that I could actually pull the pistons out from the bottom, and we got them all out and freed up.” 

E&G Auto supplied him with all new parts. 

Jess brought the tractor into his shop, tore it all apart, installed new pistons and gave it a complete engine overhaul to get it running again. 

“I thought ‘Well, I’ll go one step further.’ I started painting the engine, and one thing led to another, and pretty soon I’m tearing everything apart, sandblasting, restoring and painting, and I bought all new decals and rewired the whole thing,” said Jess. 

“I got a little carried away, but it turned out … pretty good for a backyard shop paint job and restoration.” 

Jess needed to use a 20-tonne jack just to pull pistons out of the cylinders.  

Some of the metal on the hood was dented, which required time to repair. The radiator needed to be fixed as well.  

His son-in-law found some six-volt LED lights for the headlights, and those worked out well, Jess said.  

He estimates he spent about 300 hours on the restoration.  

“There’s a lot of stuff I could not just put a wrench on and take the bolt out. I call it the heat wrench. A lot of it I had to put the torch on and heat the bolt up, because it was rusted, it’s been sitting for so long.” 

Jess is a mechanic by trade, and not a painter. There are some flaws on the finished product that he could quickly point out, but he’s still thrilled with the finished product.  

“It turned out really good. And it was fun.” 

The project became such an obsession that he couldn’t do anything else in his shop, because he was afraid he might scratch the tractor or cause other damage.  

This was the first time Jess has tried something like this, and he’s looking forward to doing another one next year. He already has the restoration picked out – a tractor that belonged to his mother, and has been sitting for 40-45 years.  

“My mom is 83 now, and I think she would like to take it for one more ride. So this winter I want to bring it in the shop, and see if I can bring that back to life. But it’s seized badly. Steering blocks are seized, the engine’s seized, the transmission’s seized. It’s just been sitting outside for 40 years. 

“But I don’t give up too easy, as my wife says, so we’re going to give it a try.”  

One person he knows referred to the restoration of the Farmall tractor as a “COVID story,” because if it weren’t for COVID, Jess would have never started working on it, and the tractor would likely still be in a slew.  

The tractor has found its way into a showroom again, too. It’s sitting in the Redhead Equipment Showroom, but Jess stressed it’s not for sale – he has put in too many hours to sell it, and there’s a lot of money in it, too. 

Mike Mar with Redhead Equipment was quick to agree to have the tractor displayed.  

At one time, Jess was getting a text message a day about the tractor, some from people he didn’t even know. They told him how great he did, and how good the tractor looks. A lot of old farmers are getting a kick out of it.  

“It makes you feel good when you get these texts that people actually do see it and do appreciate it,” said Jess. “There’s a lot of hours restoring it.”