What to Look for in a Vintage Tractor
First, do the research. Have a clear idea of the tractor you are looking for by using one of the many tractor books available. The more-detailed ones are make-specific and have serial number information. You wouldn’t have known how superb this 1957 450D was until you looked it up in Fay and Kraushaar’s equally superb “Hundred Series Farmall” book.
Second: fixer-upper or restored? The buy-in on a restored tractor can be high but it may actually cost less than doing it yourself. Of course, that deprives you of the joys involved in fixing up a tractor, and you have to find a tractor that matches your standards of workmanship and detail. Some just want a “runs-good-looks-bad” beater tractor. The main thing to look for in a “well-used” tractor like this 1957 650 International is completeness. If all the parts are there for rehab, great. Inventory the parts that aren’t, and get an idea of what effort and expense will be required to replace them. A non-runner, but fairly complete, this 650 diesel went for $1,700.
Third: sheet metal. Mechanical parts are generally easier to find than sheet metal, and some tractor sheet metal is very expensive. A talented body man could fix this grille, but you’d pay dearly for it. However, a used grille might cost just as much.
Fourth: A set of rear tractor tires can cost $600 to $1,000—each. Some tractors have oddball sizes that are hard to replace or even more expensive. Always factor in tire costs. Wear-wise, a tractor tire can last a long time, but age catches up with them eventually and they deteriorate like this one.
Fifth: decals and missing budging. Decals are being reproduced for many of the popular tractors. So is badging, to a smaller degree, but you can expect to pay a decent price, even for the more common stuff. The less common can be very expensive.
Six: fuel injection pump. Some of the old pumps can be incredibly difficult to repair, if not impossible. At the very least, major pump problems on an older pump will be expensive. This tractor was a no-start, and the fuel pressure gauge full of fuel could be an indicator of deeper problems.
Seven: general mechanical condition. Tractors are robust, but they have usually been worked very hard. Farmers don’t usually let something go without wringing every penny of value out of it. You really need to hear it run and see it move to evaluate it properly. At an auction, the staff will usually get them running so you can listen to the engine. Only auction personnel or the owner are allowed to do this. You will usually not have the option of checking a tractor out in a “test drive” situation—a downside. Getting this 1920s-era McCormick-Deering started was a real chore with snow blowing.
Eight: Radiators and fuel tanks can be the most difficult and expensive parts to repair and replace on a tractor, especially when you get into the really old stuff.
Nine: Accessories and options add to the value—and the fun. That could be a cultivator, as shown on this 1935 John Deere, or a rare option of some kind.
Ten: Buy a tractor commensurate with you skills and knowledge. This 1929 Rumley Do-All is about as simple as it can be, but you’d be surprised what a learning curve there can be in owning or restoring something this old.