The Farmall F-12: The 1936 Loren Helmbrecht Tractor (Part II)
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the July/August 2003 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
As we have noted on a previous occasion, the 1936 F-12 bearing the Serial No. 65999 could well have been sold from Dingman Hardware, the International Harvester dealership in the town of Clear Lake, Minnesota (1930 pop. 242). (See the May/June 2003 issue of Belt Pulley magazine for the article called “The Farmall F-12: The 1935 Minnesota State Fair.”) No. 65999 had been sold to a dairy farmer living in Sherburne County, Minnesota, and in Palmer Township of that county. Our Palmer Township farmer had put the tractor to use in the spring of 1936. It had been a very cold, record breaking winter, especially January and February of 1936. Indeed, Cedric Adams on WCCO radio out of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul) had reported that the temperature had never risen above 0° for a total of 36 straight days during that period of time. However the cold weather broke in late February and except for another cold snap in early April, the temperature had evened off into a very nice planting season. (Downtown Minneapolis Daily Maximum and Minimum Temperatures for 1936 from the Internet.)
That spring our Palmer Township farmer was putting No. 65999 to use in a number of different tasks around his farm. He had shortened the hitches on much of the horse-drawn machinery on his farm that spring. It always seemed to be handier to start the little F-12 than to get the Belgian horses all harnessed up just to complete even small tasks on the farm. His records were also reflecting that use of the tractor was actually proving more economical in the long run than using the horses for the same tasks. He wished to see just how much of the work on the farm could be accomplished by the little dark gray tractor. Now he used the horses only during the days when his second daughter was able to help out with the field work. She was becoming quite an expert at driving the tractor. As always, she wanted to be involved with whatever her father was doing. Thus, while she was preparing the seed bed with the tractor, her father was using the horses to plant the corn.
While she was in School during May of that year, he used the tractor to plant the rest of the corn. He wanted to see if the tractor was truly the “farm all” that it was advertised to be. It was not because No. 65999 performed the farm tasks at a faster rate of speed than horses that made the tractor more profitable. Even at top speed (3-3/4 mph) the little tractor was no faster than a horse. Rather it was the stamina of the tractor as opposed to the horses that made the F-12 profitable and 1936 was the year that our Palmer Township farmer was to prove the economy of tractor power as opposed to horse power in this regard.
Shortly after he had planted his corn in the spring of 1936, he finished up his morning milking. After letting the cows out of the barn, he went to the machine shed to get the tractor and manure spreader. He always tried to park the tractor close to the two 55 gallon barrels that he now had in the machine shed. These barrels, sitting upright, were filled with kerosene for the tractor. One barrel had the bung plug removed. Screwed into the bung hole was the J.J. Groetken Pump Co. barrel hand pump which he had purchased at an auction at a neighbors farm. (Jack Sim, An Illustrated Guide to GasPumps [Krause Pub.: Iola, Wisc., 2002] p. 190.) The Groetken Pump Co. had ceased advertising in 1927. Clearly, he would not be able to replace the pump or finds parts for the hand pump once it wore out. However, the hand pump seemed to be working so far and the price he had paid was very reasonable. He would worry about the demise of the hand pump when it happened. The Groetken hand pump had a hose attached to the outlet nozzle of the pump. He put unscrewed the cap to the opening on top of the fuel tank of the tractor. Inserting the hose and observing the level of the fuel in the tractor tank he began turning the crank on the hand pump with his other hand.
After filling the 13-gallon tank sufficiently, he unscrewed cap on what appeared to be another opening to the same tank. Actually, this was an opening into a second smaller compartment within the fuel tank. This one-gallon compartment held the gasoline that was used to get the tractor started. From a partially filled five-gallon gas can, he had in the machine shed he filled this little tank with the more expensive gasoline. Then he took an 8” Crescent wrench from the work bench located nearby and opened the plug on the fuel line vent which protruded through the hood of the little tractor just above the engine. By opening the valve at the bottom of the fuel bowl, he let all the kerosene out of the carburetor and the fuel line. Then he reached back under the fuel tank and turned off the fuel coming from the kerosene tank and turned on the valve leading from the gasoline tank.
With a bit of gasoline from the five-gallon can, he now poured gasoline down the gasoline vent and replaced the plug. The engine was now all primed to start and start it did after one pull upwards on the crank with the choke on and another upwards pull with the choke off the tractor came to life. This certainly was faster than harnessing up the horses. He would allow the engine to warm up entirely backed the tractor out shed and turned it around and hitched it to the New Idea Model 8 manure spreader and headed to the barn. (For a discussion before he would switch the engine over to kerosene. During the warmup the throttle would not work, but still the tractor could be backed out of the shed and hitched up to the New Idea No. 8 manure spreader while allowing the engine to warm up sufficiently to run on kerosene. (For a history of the New Idea Company, see the article “The New Idea Spreader Company of Coldwater , Ohio” contained in the September/October 1998 issue of Belt Pulley magazine, p. 14.)
In the coming winter, our Palmer Township farmer would find that even after the tractor was driven to barn he needed to let the tractor run a while before switching to kerosene. However, this morning it was quite warm suggesting that today would be warm summer’s day. Accordingly, he would not be able to drive the little tractor across the yard to the barn before the engine was able to start burning the cheaper kerosene fuel.
After cleaning the gutters in the barn sweeping the alley and spreading lime on the alley way and gutters he restarted the tractor and headed to the lower pasture with the manure. Before passing through the gate out of the barnyard he checked the temperature gauge of the tractor. The engine was now at normal operating temperature. Thus, he turned off the gasoline and turned on the kerosene by turning the valve under the gas tank and off he went to the fields burning the cheaper kerosene fuel.
Once in the pasture, he looked at his beautiful little herd of fawn-colored cows, grazing away contentedly. They were certainly becoming adjusted to the noise of the engine and the smell of the exhaust of the tractor that now replaced horses on this daily task of hauling manure to the field. He used to create quite a stir in the herd as he came to the pasture with the tractor. Now only a few of the cows raised their heads to stare at him—their ears cocked forward and the white rings around their noses clearly contrasted with their black faces. The rest of the herd continued grazing away without concern. He watched as he approached the herd to see if any of the pregnant cows looked as if they might be going into labor. However, every thing seemed to be normal. Queeny, the family sheep dog, ran along ahead of the tractor smelling the ground for rabbits and/or mice.
When he reached the far end of the pasture, he turned around and lined up adjacent to strip of manure that he had spread the previous day. He got off the tractor to put the manure spreader in gear, first the beaters and wide spread control lever located on the left side of the operator’s seat still located on the horse-drawn nmanure spreader. Then he engaged the apron control lever on the right side of the spreader. With a full load of manure, he would have positioned the lever in the first or second notch (the slowest apron speeds) in order to have a thin covering of manure in the field. However, with these partial loads from the barn, he adjusted the lever in the fifth notch to unload in a hurry. After the spreader was empty, he dismounted the tractor and disengaged the spreader controls and returned to the machine shed.
Today he intended to get to the corn field with the two-section “peg-tooth” harrow” and drag the entire field. He put a clevis in the drawbar of the tractor hitched the evener the two section drag to the clevis by means of a small chain. Off to the corn field he went. The corn was not yet peaking up through the ground there was a hardened crust on the surface of the ground. Under that dried crust, the dirt was still as loose as a newly worked seed bed. While the corn was planted down an inch and a half, in the top one quarter of an inch of crust tiny little seeds were germinating and beginning to form weeds. The idea of dragging the corn at this stage was to break up the crust and disrupt the growth of the weeds. There was no need to dig into the ground with the teeth of the drag.
Thus, after arriving at the bare corn field, our Palmer Township farmer adjusted the lever on both sections of drag so that the teeth of the drag were lifted into a position where the points of the teeth of the drag cut into the soil no more than 1/2 an inch. In this position, the teeth of the drag were digging no deeper that almost parallel to the ground and touched the ground no more often than did the crossbar of the drag section to which the teeth were attached. Thus, only the top ¼” of top soil was disturbed. The weeds were disrupted and the corn remained safe. Rolling along in high (3rd) gear at 3-3/4 mph, he would cover the whole 30 acre field before milking time in the evening. He was careful to keep the rear wheels of the tractor between the row markings created by the corn planter so that the spades on the steel wheels would not disturb the germinating corn.
Once again Queeny accompanied him. Dragging the corn field obliterated all the corn planter markings. Thus, he would not be able to revisit the corn field with the tractor until the corn sprouted and revealed where the rows were. He almost wished that he had rubber tires on the tractor so as to avoid the disturbing the underground corn seeds on the end rows with the spades on steel wheels of No. 65999. Nonetheless, he realized that corn would soon be peeking up through the ground any time now and the rows would once again be clearly distinguishable.
Indeed it seemed as though he barely had time to turn around before the rows of his corn were visible. A couple of days later as he walked up to the high pasture with Queeny, to see about the new crop of heifers which had just recently been moved out of the calf pen, he looked back at the corn field and saw that corn rows were now clearly distinguishable. The cross checking of the corn looked pretty straight. He knew that the neighbors would be looking at the corn fields as they drove by to compare both the straightness of the rows and the straightness of the cross pattern of the corn. It was instinctual for a farmer to do so, he couldn’t resist doing the same as he drove down the roads of the neighborhood.
While in the high pasture, he checked the windmill to make sure things were working well. The windmill was located on very top of the hill in the high pasture. It was fenced off with a board fence to prevent the cattle in the pasture from damaging the pump and its mechanism. The contour of the farm and the closeness of the high pasture to the building site was a fortunate occurrence. Locating the windmill up on the hill, the first owners of the farm sometime before his father-in-law, had assured that the windmill would catch every breeze.
The water from the well did not actually come the surface. A cut-off pipe, located in the pit under the pump jack, allowed the water to flow underground into a large reservoir tank. This underground masonry tank was accessible via a manhole cover located next to the windmill. This underground tank was located high enough on the hill to allow water to flow in underground pipes down the hill to both the house and the barn. Thus, the farm had always had a form of “running water.” With the water piping from the pump to the reservoir and from the reservoir to the buildings being located well under ground he need not worry about freezing even in the worst of winter weather. The system could functioned pretty much by itself with a minimum of maintenance. By turning a control lever at the base if the pump-jack, water could be re-directed from the water flowing into the reservoir to flowing down another short underground pipe to a concrete stock tank built into the ground outside the fenced enclosure of the windmill. This was the stock watering tank for the yearlings in the high pasture.
The yearlings in the pasture now were those that had been born in the fall. They had not had time to become “wild” and remained fairly tame—remembering our Palmer Township farmer or his second daughter as the person that used to move among them in the calf pen, giving them hay and straw bedding. Living the independent life in the high pasture during the summer their memories of the human interaction in the calf pen would soon fade, however, and they would become more shy of all human contact. They would be visited by either he or his second daughter only once or twice a day to check on the stock water tank. In the winter when the family’s bull–Captain– occupied the high pasture, the stock tank was heated by means of a wood burning tank heater to keep the tank from freezing. There were a couple of gold fish in the stock tank. The concrete tank acted as a natural insulator even when the fire in the tank heater went out. Thus even with last winter’s record breaking cold temperatures the tank had not frozen entirely and the gold fish had survived. Our Palmer Township farmer observed a couple of members of the heard of yearlings that would have to be culled. They did not show signs of developing into well formed cows. However, he was pleased to note that most of the heifers were quite good and well formed and a couple of them looked exceptional. He expected that some of these yearlings would be joining his own milk herd in another year. Others would be shown at the State Fair and sold to any farmers that may express an interest buying them at a proper price.
Today however he needed to get into the corn field again this time with the Model 215-H tractor mounted cultivator, complete with the attached shields. In the field, again with Queeny, he adjusted the cultivator shields so that they just bushed the ground. This prevented the dirt that was stirred up by the shovels from covering up the tiny shoots of corn. Later as the corn became about 4-5 inches tall, he would raise the shields enough to let the fine dirt flow in under the shields and surround the young corn plants. Only the larger clods of dirt stirred up by the cultivator shovels would be prevented from rolling onto the young corn plants. The fine dirt would tend to “hill up” around the base of each plant, covering up whatever small strands of weeds that had started growing near the corn plant.
Cultivating two rows at a time was certainly an improvement over cultivating a single row at a time with the horses. No matter what field work was being done, the tractor did not need to rest at the end of the rows before starting back across the field. Rest periods at the end of the rows was required to let the horses catch their breath before setting out again back across the field. The cultivation of row crops is the specific reason why the Farmall had originally been developed. (See the article called the “The Behlen Company: Part I” in the September/October 2002 issue of Belt Pulley, Vol. 15, No. 5. p. 10.) Cultivation of row crops involved sharp 180° turns at the end of the rows. Further more these sharp turns were usually made on soft ground. To assist in the tractor in making these turns, International Harvester developed their patented cable braking system for all of its Farmall tractors. No. 65999 was, of course, fitted with this patented braking system. When our Palmer Township farmer turned sharply to the left or to the right, the cable braking system would cause a cable on that side of the tractor to automatically engage the brake of that side of the tractor. There was no need for the operator to do anything except turn the steering wheel.
Our Palmer Township farmer found that first cultivation of his corn was completed in just a little more than a single day. With him working horses, cultivation would have take more than three days.
First cultivation was completed just in time for haying season. Ideally our Palmer Township farmer would try to cut the hay just at the point where full growth had been achieved and just before the clover and alfalfa began flower or blossom. At this stage the hay contained the most phosphorous. As flowering of the plants proceeded, this phosphorous would be gradually depleted by development of the flowers. In a very short time under the hot summer sun, our Palmer Township farmer found that his hay crop became dried up to about 22% moisture content and the summer of 1936 certainly had hot weather in abundance. For the first two weeks in July of 1936, the weather turned very hot. Record high temperature of nearly 110°F were recorded in the same year that record low temperatures of -34°F had been recorded in just the previous winter. This was a variation of 144° in just one year.
Losing ¾ of its weight after being cut, the hay would retain all the protein that had been in the living plant. Protein now made up 7.6% of the weight of the timothy in the hay, 14. 8% of the weight of the clover and 16,67% of the weight of the alfalfa. (Encyclopedia Britannica, [Chicago 1976], Vol. 1, p. 911.) The hay cut in the early morning was ready to be raked. Hopefully,a couple of loads of hay could be loaded into the barn before milking time in the evening.
Now that his daughter was out of school for the summer, he put her to work on No. 65999 cross cultivating the corn, while he took a pair of Belgians to the hayfield with the old Deering side-rake to rake the hay into windrows. He watched the horses very closely to determine whether they were beginning to show signed of overheating in this very hot weather of July 1936. Raking hay was not a heavy exertional job for the horses, but any exertion by horses at temperatures in excess of 100°F was risky. (Heather Smith Thomas, Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses [Storey Publishing: North Adams, Mass., 2000] p. 78.)
Furthermore these large, well-musculed draft horses did not dissipate heat as well as smaller, thinner riding horses might have done. So he worked the horses only for short intervals of time. Then he unhitched the rake and took them up to the barn to cool off. He would give then a drink of water from the stock tank near the barn, but he was careful not to let them have all the water they wanted at this particular time for fear of them becoming “water logged.”
Before putting them in their stalls in the barn he would wet them down slightly with a wet towel and some water in a pail. Then he would curry comb them to dry them off. Then he would give them little hay and some more water.
Meanwhile, our Palmer Township farmer cast his eye to the corn field and saw that his second daughter was still plugging away at the cross cultivation of the corn with No.65999. Cultivation required somewhat more exertion for horses than pulling the hay rake. He hesitated to think of what attempting to put horses to work cultivating in weather above 100°F would mean. It would certainly have killed them. However, No. 65999 just moved right along through the cross cultivation despite the hot weather.
Corn thrives on hot weather provided it gets enough water. However, this weather was so hot, that one could still see the rolled up dried leaves on some corn plants that indicated the corn was too dry. He, now, went to the corn field and motioned for his daughter to come to the house for dinner. Once the little tractor was in the yard, our Palmer Township farmer removed the cultivator. He determined that it was time to put up the hay for the winter.
Accordingly, he put the drawbar back on the tractor and hitched up his bundle wagon to the drawbar and, then, hitched the McCormick-Deering hay loader to the back of the wagon. Following dinner he would go to the hay field again with his daughter driving the tractor. She would aim the front end of the little tractor along the side of the windrows. Careful not to drive the front wheels on top of the windrow, so as to avoid knocking all the leaves off the dried hay. Still, she would try to keep the front wheels as close as possible to the windrow as she moved across the field. By this means, the wagon wheels would also avoid running over the windrow. The windrow would eventually be picked up by the hay loader and elevated up onto the wagon from the rear. While his daughter drove the tractor, our Palmer Township farmer would distribute the hay evenly around the wagon with a pitch fork to load as much hay as possible onto the wagon. He would pack the hay under his feet as he built the load so as to be sure that the load would not fall off on the way to the barn.
Once the load was sufficiently full, our Palmer Township farmer the at the barn the tractor was unhitched from the wagon and hitched to the hay rope which in turn was connected to the barn hay-mow loader. This barn hay-mow loader rolled back and forth the entire length of the barn on a track connected the highest part of the barn. Our Palmer Township farmer pulled the carriage of the barn hay-mow loader forward out of the hay-mow of the barn until the carriage reached the end of the track outside the barn directly over the wagon load of hay. With the carriage latched in place the “claws” of the barn hay-mow loader could be pulled downward to the top of the load of hay.
The claws would then plunged down into the load of hay. Then as his daughter backed the tractor across the yard the claws would tighten around a large clump of hay on the wagon and begin lifting the clump of loose hay off the wagon and upward the carriage. Once the claw reached the carriage the claw would latch with the carriage and automatically unlock the carriage at the end of the track and the carriage would roll down the track carrying the clump load of hay into the hay-mow of the barn. Once the clump of hay was safely in the barn, our Palmer Township farmer would pull the “trip rope” and release the claw. The clump of hay would then fall to the floor of the hay-mow where it would be safe from the weather and elements. So it went, until the wagon was completely unloaded and safely stored in the hay mow of the barn. So it went although haying season until the entire first cutting of hay was stored in the barn out ot the weather and elements. Our Palmer Township farmer knew that the hay in the barn would provide a valuable source of protein for his herd of Jersey dairy cattle during the entire winter season ahead.
Meanwhile by the time, he could get the cultivator back on the tractor for cross cultivating the corn was nearly knee high. “knee high by the fourth of July” was an old saying indicating a promising crop of corn for the fall harvest. (This saying clearly dates itself to the period of time prior to the use of fertilizers and hybrid seed corn on the farms of the Midwest. In modern times it not unusual for corn to be knee high by the fourth of June.) For cross-cultivating our Palmer Township farmer removed the cultivator shields altogether. No clog of dirt rolled up by the cultivator could threat corn at this stage of growth. Suddenly in the middle of July the extremely hot weather broke and temperatures stayed below 90 into August with nights dipping down to the 50. Under these cooler conditions our Palmer Township farmer finished up cultivating the corn for the third and last time. The corn plants were so tall that they were bent over by the cultivator and the rear axle of the tractor as he passed over the field for the third time. In large part the third cultivation of the field was performed to straighten out the cross cultivation marks out in the field in preparation for the final harvest of the corn. Generally, this meant the fall ripe harvest of the corn. Without the third cultivation of the corn, the corn binder would not have to be pulled across the ruts created by the cross cultivation. Following third cultivation, the tractor and binder would run through the corn field parallel to the ruts. It would be a much smoother ride and would be easier on the equipment.
As our Palmer township farmer, turned the cast-iron steering wheel of No. 65999 sharply to the left at the end o the corn rows at the “near” side f the corn field, i.e. the end of the corn field nearest the lane leading to the building site, he felt the cable braking system of the little gray tractor kick in and pulled the front end of the tractor around to line itself up with the next two rows of corn. As he straitened the tractor out into the next two rows of corn the cable operated brake on the left side released. He released the two cultivators levers on either side of the operators seat which dropped the cultivator shovels back into the ground. The Corn was so tall now that most of the cultivator and tractor were hidden from view to anyone watering from outside the field. Our Palmer Township farmer had the little tractor moving along in third gear. It was amazing just how quickly he was completing all of his cultivating this year. Still the way this corn was growing, it would not be long before the he would be back out in the field with the corn binder harvesting the green corn for the silo filler.
Much as our Palmer Township farmer knew that the first and second cutting of hay that he had put up in the barn was a good source of proteins, he also knew that silage provided another second source of protein for dairy cattle in the winter. Indeed, he knew that silage actually provided proteins different from those of hay. (Encyclopedia Britannica, [Chicago 1976], Vol. 1, p. 908.) In this way, silage supplemented hay as a source of proteins. By feeding his dairy herd both silage and hay, our Palmer Township could be assured that the herd would be provided with the full range of proteins necessary for the production of milk. Our Palmer township farmer’s father-in-law had also known about the need to feed silage as well as hay. Indeed, back before the World War, early in 1910’s, his father-in-law had purchased the silo for the farm from the Hanson Silo Company located over in the unincorporated village of Lake Lillian, Minnesota. Lake Lillian was located in Kandiyohi County about 60 miles southwest of Palmer Township. Currently, our Palmer Township farmer filled silo in cooperation with a few of his neighbors.
Back when his father-in-law was still operating the farm, the neighbors had all pooled their funds to purchase a Belle City Model A-2 silo filler. (The history of the Belle City Company was carried in an article called “The Belle City Manufacturing Company Part I and Part II” carried in the May/June and July/August 1999 issues of Belt Pulley magazine.) For years this little silo filler made the circuit around the neighborhood. However, years ago they had had to replace the Model A-2. It had finally worn itself out. It was replaced by a 1929 Advance-Rumely Model A silo filler. Ordinarily, the price for the Model A was $400.00. (C.H. Wendel, The Allis Chalmers Story [Crestline Publishing Co.: Sarasota, Fla., 1988] p. 43.) However they obtained a much lower price on this machine, because 1929 was the last year that the Advance-Rumley Thresher Company made silo fillers. Additionally, this particular Model A was fitted with the optional knife sharpening grinder which would have added $15.00 to the price of the machine under ordinary circumstances. (Ibid.)
However, on June 1, 1931, the entire Advance-Rumely Company was sold to the Allis ChalmersManufacturing Company. (Ibid. p. 21.) At this point, our Palmer Township farmer and his neighbors–fellow owners of the silo filler began to wonder if they would be able to obtain parts for the silo filler in the immediate future. Nonetheless, in the years since they had found knives for their silo filler continued to be available at their local Allis-Chalmers dealership for $5.00 a piece. (Ibid. p. 43.) Ordinarily, he had had to rely on one of the others in the group of owners to supply the power to the silo filler when the operation moved to his farm. This year, however, he was looking forward to seeing how No. 65999 would respond when it was placed on the belt of the silo filler. The Model A was a large machine with a 16” throat. (Ibid.) Unlike the old Belle City silo filler, the twine string bands holding the bundles of corn together did not need to be cut and bundle did not need to be fed into the silo filler piece meal. The whole bundle of corn could be thrown into the feeder of the Model A. It would be interesting to see if the F-12 would be able to keep the silo filler up to the desired speed of between 400 and 700 rpm. as the entire bundle went into the throat of the silo filler. Still the Model A had a ¾ inch thick solid steel plate fly-wheel to which the knives and blower paddles were attached. Furthermore, the Model A was fitted with ball bearings. The owners manual for the Model A stated that 14 to 20 horsepower was required to power the silo filler. Clearly the 16.2 maximum horsepower the F-12 delivered to the belt would be at the low end of this range. (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests Since 1920 [Crestline Pub. Co.: Osceola, Wisc., 1993] p. 83.) However, our Palmer Township farmer felt that the combination of the heavy flywheel and the ball bearings on the silo filler would allow the No. 65999 to operate the silo filler at optimum efficiency with out plugging the pipe when the silo filler was loaded to capacity. He was not disappointed. A couple of weeks later then the silo filler arrived on his farm, many of his neighbors were skeptical when No. 65999 was belted up to the silo filler. With its counter clockwise turning belt pulley, the little F-12 was belted up without the usual twist in the belt that was required by most other tractors. His neighbors expected that the lack of a twist in the belt was an invitation for the belt to bounce while running the silo filler. (An example of a bouncing belt can be seen on the movie From Seed to the Elevator when a John Deere Model A tractor powers a stationary baler while baling the straw from the threshing stack. From Seed to the Elevator is available from Robert’s Carburetor Repair, P.O. Box 624, Spencer, Iowa 51301-0624, Tel.  262-5311.) However, the neighbors were used to John Deere tractors. The smooth four-cylinder power that No. 65999 delivered to the belt did not create bouncing of the belt when the tractor’s governor kicked in as might happen when a two cylinder tractor was driving an untwisted belt.
Thus, in 1936, No. 65999, for the first time, served as the only power source on the farm of our Palmer Township farmer to grow and store away the corn crop of our Palmer Township farmer. As the years that followed proved, No. 65999 was a major asset in saving production costs on the farm. For the somewhat marginal farming that could be conducted in this particular area of the State of Minnesota, the little dark gray tractor proved to be the difference between profit and loss.
Our Palmer Township farmer continued to farm and milk his beloved herd of purebred Jersey cattle all through the Second World War. At the end of the war, he sought to retire. Neither of his two sons showed much interest in taking up farming as an occupation. Thus, as one might have expected, his second daughter married a neighborhood boy and they expressed the desire to take over the farming operation. By this time, No. 65999 had clearly become outdated as a primary power source on the farm. It was replaced by am more powerful and more modern Farmall—the Model M.
In an attempt to keep the tractor as an active secondary power source on the farm changes were made to the tractor. Had No. 65999 come from the factory with rubber tires it would have round-spoke wheels in front made for International Harvester by the French and Hecht Company (commonly known as F. & H.)of Bettendorf, Iowa. (A short history of F. & H. by Chad Elmore is contained in an article called “Who Can You Thank for Your Tractor’s Wheels” on page 32 of the November/December 1999 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) However, these rims were found to be easily damaged by the round spokes protruding through the rim and puncturing the inner tube of the tire. This damage occurred most often as the tractor was making sharp turns in soft dirt. The tractor would tend to push ahead bulldozing dirt with the front wheels turned crosswise. This was exactly the type of thing that happened while turning around at the end of fields while cultivating row crops. Consequently, starting with serial number 89685, in early 1937, International Harvester began making its own stronger demountable cast-iron wheels for the front of all F-12s which were to be fitted with rubber tires. Thus in the post-World War II era, the two front wheels No. 65999 were replaced with some demountable cast-iron wheels which intended to be fitted with rims for 5.00 x 15” tires. Because in the post-war era 6.00 by 16” tires were more plentiful, some ½” pieces of metal were welded around the inside of a pair of 16” rims so that they would fit the 15” demountable cast iron wheels. Thus, No. 65999 was fitted with 6.00 x 16” front tires which might more properly have been mounted on the front of a larger tractor. Like so many other steel wheeled tractors in the post World War II era, No. 65999 had its rear wheels cut down and welded to 38” rims for rubber tires.
Thus for the first time No. 65999 ran on four rubber tires. Our Palmer Township farmer remembered how he had at times wished that he had purchased the tractor with rubber tires. Still even with these attempts to modernize the tractor, No. 65999 was used less and less on the farm even as a secondary power source running elevators and hauling wagons to and from the field. Finally the tractor was sold and passed though a series of owners. These owners changed the tractor even more to meet their demands. The belt pulley was removed and separated from the tractor. The cast-iron steering wheel on No. 65999 had always been very cold in the winter time and it never got warm. The operator using the cast-iron steering wheel will be chilled to the bone just driving the tractor for any length of time in the winter. International Harvester recognized this problem and starting with serial number 101665 in mid 1937, replaced the cast-iron steering wheel on all F-12s with a rubber coated steering wheel. As a makeshift improvement to No. 65999, the cast-iron steering wheel on the tractor was replaced by a plastic coated truck steering wheel.
Additionally, F-12s were all very cramped for space on the operator’s platform. The steering wheel sat very low. To correct this the International Harvester Company had put a universal joint on the front of the driving shaft and installed a taller rear steering shaft bearing post on its new Model F-14 tractor which replaced the Model F-12 in 1938 at serial number 124000.
Indeed, No. 65999, itself, was modernized in the same way by adding the universal joint and taller rear steering shaft bearing post to the tractor. Thus, the tractor took on the appearance of an F-14. Indeed when Loren Helmbrecht purchased No. 65999 in 1994 he was under the impression that the tractor was an F-14. Loren Helmbrecht owns a farm near Howard Lake, Minnesota. He purchased the Farmall F-12 bearing the Serial No. 65999 at an auction near the hamlet of Big Lake in Sherburne County. Being interested in old farm tractor restorations, Loren purchased the #65999 at the auction with the intent of restoring the tractor. He took the tractor home and parked in his yard.
However, before he could start work on the project, the tractor was sighted in the fall of 1994 by Bill Radil. Bill Radil is a Farmall tractor collector and a founding member of Minnesota Chapter 15 of the International Harvester Collectors Association. (Regular readers will remember Bill Radil from the article on the 1953 Clark-Christenson Farmall Super M, called “The M.& W. Company: Part III” in the March/April 1998 issue of the Belt Pulley magazine Vol. 11, No. 2, p. 15.) As Bill passed the Helmbrecht farm and saw the old 1936 F-12 tractor, Bill thought of the 1938 F-12 that he was restoring in his garage in Howard Lake—Serial No. 121778. (No. 121778, the Erv Gustavson/Greg Thune F-12 tractor, will be the subject of a later article in this series.) Bill Radil already knew that he would be needing some parts to complete the restoration of No. 121778—enough parts that purchase of a “parts tractor” might be the cheapest solution. After thinking about the project for a few days, Bill stopped into the Helmbrecht farm and asked about the tractor. In the end, Bill Radil became the owner of # 65999 which he then took his home in Howard Lake. Bill began the restoration of his tractor and took parts from No. 65999 when he needed them.
During the school year 1994-1995, Bill’s oldest son, Ryan, became involved in the restoration of the 1938 F-12. He took the engine to his high school shop class at Howard Lake High School. The more that he got into the engine, the more problems he found with the tractor engine. Whereas, Bill had originally thought that the overhaul of the engine might be limited to the cylinder head and sleeves and piston rings—“the top of the engine.” Ryan found in his shop class at school that the “bottom of the engine,” the crank shaft and connecting rods, also needed repair. The crankshaft needed re-grinding, the main bearings and all the connecting rod bearings needed replacing. As news of problems with the F-12 engine filtered back home from the shop class and Bill heard from his son at night after school about the condition of the F-12 engine, he became determined to sell both F-12s and restore a different Farmall project. Also Bill and his wife, Katherine, had decided to move with the family from Howard Lake to Dodge Center in the fall of 1997. This required Bill to sell all of his tractor projects that could not be moved with the family.
In the summer of 1997, the current author heard of Bill’s decision to sell and offered to purchase both F-12 tractors. By this time, both tractors were really nothing more that pails and boxes of parts hastily combined for a move to a new location. Because he was in West Virginia, the present author had to rely on a couple of old friends – Dave Preuhs and Ivan Reddemman – to drive up to Howard Lake in the winter of 1997-1998 to retrieve the tractors and bring them back to the Preuhs farm where they were stored until the present author could begin restoration of the tractors. Both engine blocks, cam shafts, crank shafts and cylinder heads were taken to the machine shop of Arnold Oldenburg in Belle Plaine, Minnesota. Arnie quickly deduced that only one engine block was good, the other was too badly cracked to be used. Only one cylinder head was good. Only one crank shaft was good and it needed to be “spray welded” on all the journals and then re-ground back down to the original size. Likewise only one cam shaft was good. Consequently, one F-12 (No. 121778) was put together somewhat easily. Because this tractor was a 1938 Model F-12, it could legitimately be painted red. The current author became intrigued with the idea of restoring the second F-12—the parts tractor, No. 65999 . Because this tractor was an early 1936 tractor, it would have to be painted gray to be legitimately restored back to its factory condition. It was a dream of the current author to have a gray and a red F-12 tractor. However, many of the parts of this tractor had already been used in the restoration of No. 121778. For the restoration of 65999, many parts would have to be obtained. Purchasing a tractor one piece at a time is an expensive proposition. However, against the advice of many people, the current author set about to take that path and restore the “parts tractor”—F-12, Serial No. 65999. Both tractors had “cut-down” steel wheels which had been fitted with 38” rims and rubber tires. However, neither pair of rear wheels nor the tires were in very good shape. Thus, the determination was made to replace the cut-down steel wheels on both tractors. In the summer of 1997, shortly after the purchase of the F-12s had been negotiated but prior to date on which the tractors arrived on the Dave Preuhs farm, a pair of French and Heckt “round spoke” 36” wheels were purchased from the late Jim Ellis. These were painted red and fitted with new 11.2 (10.00 by old fashioned measurements) by 36” rubber tires with 45˚ lugs. Although these wheels were mounted on the 1938 F-12, No. 121778, it was intended that the French and Heckt wheels would be re-mounted on the 1936 F-12 No. 65999. This switch was made in April of 2002 after the author had found the appropriate cast iron star shaped rear wheels and accompanying 40”rims for the for No. 121778 at the International Harvester Collectors winter convention held in Lebanon, Indiana in late February 2002.
Thus, 65999 took on the appearance of a tractor that had come from the factory in 1936 with rubber tires in the rear. As the International Harvester promotional movies reveal, in 1936 and earlier tractors with rubber tires had the rubber tires mounted on French and Heckt round spoke 36” wheels. (See any of the scenes in the 1934 movie called “Farmall Farming Marches On,” the 1935 movie called “Farmall Does the Job” or the 1936 movies “Popular Features of the Farmall F-12” and “Quickest On and Quickest Off” in which F-12s on rubber tires are portrayed. All these movies are available on Tape #1 from International Harvester Promotional Movies.) When completely restored No. 65999 will take its place among the permanent exhibits at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association located near LeSueur, Minnesota. At the annual show held on August 22-24, 2003, the LeSueur County Pioneer Power will host the state convention of the Minnesota State Chapter #15 of the International Harvester Collectors. Together with this convention, it is hoped that No. 65999 will play its part in the rememberance of the International Harvester Company and of Farmall tractors.