M & W Company of Anchor Illinois (Part 3): Restoration of the Clark-Christenson Super M and the Jim Ellis 3-bottom McCormick-Deering Plow

The M & W Company of Anchor Illinois (Part 3):

Restoration of the Clark-Christenson 1953 Farmall Super M and the Jim Ellis 3-bottom McCormick-Deering Plow

  by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the March/April 1998 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

            As previously described, the Clark-Christenson Super M (Serial No. 31,634) had spent all of its working life in the community of Blooming Prairie, Minnesota.  (See the article “The M&W Company [PartII]: The Clark-Christenson Tractor” in the November/December 1997 issue of Belt Pulley, Vol. 10, No. 6.)   As you will recall from that article, the Clark-Christenson tractor had sustained a broken bull gear in the rear end of the tractor in 1963, causing a hole to be torn into the underside of the differential housing.  The hole had been fixed by welding, leaving an identifiable scar on the underside of the differential.  In 1992, the tractor was sold and left Blooming Prairie–apparently lost to all those who had any connection with the tractor; in particular, Bill Radil, who had worked with this Super M in the fields in the mid-1980s when he helped out around the Norman Christenson farm.

Over the years, however, Bill Radil, too, had moved from the Blooming Prairie/Hayfield area, and in 1994 was living in Howard Lake, Minnesota.  Because of his continuing interest in antique farm machinery, especially International Harvester machinery, he attended every antique tractor show he could in his area, including the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show in rural LeSueur, Minnesota.  The 1994 Pioneer Power Show brought forth strong, poignant memories for Bill, because his father had died the previous year.  Usually, Bill and his father attended these shows together, but in 1994 Bill returned, this time without his father.  At the 1994 LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show, Bill met Wayne Wells, Mark Wells and this author, and participated in the field demonstrations and talked tractors.  After the show, Bill was invited to the Wells house in LeSueur, where he was shown a Farmall Super M which was being overhauled in their garage.  Bill, at that time, was interested in this Farmall to the degree that he was interested in all Farmalls.  However, he soon became more interested when he was told that the Wells family had purchased the tractor from Krampitz Hardware in Blooming Prairie.  As Wayne Wells related that the tractor had come from a brother-in-law of Marvin Krampitz, Bill began to wonder if this tractor might not be the same tractor which he had driven on the Christenson farm.  The point of proof was the welding scar on the underside of the differential left by the broken bull gear.  It was like seeing an old friend from the past.  This was the Clark-Christenson Super M.  The tractor had been sold to Wayne Wells in the summer of 1992 and was taken to LeSueur, where it joined the growing collection of Wells Family Farmalls.  Indeed over the years, the Clark-Christenson Super M has become a favorite of Penny (Ms. Mark) Wells.

When the tractor first arrived in LeSueur, a large part of the restoration had already been accomplished with the overhaul of the engine in 1985 while the tractor was still on the Norman Christenson farm.  At that time, the M&W high compression pistons were removed and replaced by IHC pistons, thus returning the engine to the original configuration it had when the tractor first emerged from the Farmall Works factory in Rock Island, Illinois, in mid-1953.  Removal of the M&W pistons meant a reduction of horsepower from a high of 58 to the original factory rated horsepower of 41.33. (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests [Crestline: Osceola, Wis. 1985], p. 169.)

The Clark-Christenson Super M was afflicted with two typical Farmall problems.  The first such problem was that the hole in the bottom of the clutch pedal which fits around the clutch/brake pedal shaft had worn to a slightly oblong shape, causing the clutch pedal to wobble from side to side.  (This continues to be a common problem with many old Farmall M’s even today.  If the hole becomes very pronounced, the pedal will no longer against the operator’s platform like it is supposed to do when the clutch is engaged.  Instead, the clutch pedal will miss the platform entirely and slide along the side of the platform.)  This problem plagued the Clark-Christenson Super M.  To prevent the clutch from missing the platform, someone had bolted a piece of metal to the operator’s platform to “catch” the clutch pedal.  However, this piece of metal protruded out past the side of the platform.  To really fix the problem and to restore the tractor to its original appearance, this piece of metal was removed.  Then the clutch pedal was also removed, and the hole in the pedal was welded shut and a new hole re-drilled to the proper size of the shaft by neighborhood machinist and Pioneer Power board-member Glendon Braun also of LeSueur.  Additionally, not only had the hole in the clutch pedal on the Super M become worn, but the clutch/brake shaft had also become worn.  To alleviate this problem, Glendon Braun also welded the clutch/brake shaft to build up the diameter of the worn spot on the shaft.  Then he re-turned the shaft on a lathe to bring it down to its proper size again.  (The removal of the clutch pedal and clutch/brake pedal shaft from the Clark-Christenson Super M conducted in April of 1994 can be seen in the second hour portion of Tape # 10 of the International Harvester Promotional Movie Collection.)

The second typical Farmall problem which beset the Clark-Christenson Super M was a leaky radiator core.  Engine vibration on most vehicles will cause stress and cracks to develop in the radiator core.  However, this problem appears to be more pronounced in the “lettered” (M, H, B, etc.) Farmall tractors as compared with other models of tractors, and even as compared with the “F-series” Farmalls.  When the radiator on the Clark-Christenson tractor was removed and taken to the radiator experts at LaBelle’s LeSueur Alignment Inc. in LeSueur, they declared the bottom of the radiator to be so full of holes that it was comparable to “Swiss cheese.”  Years of hard work had taken its toll on the radiator of the Clark-Christenson tractor.  Accordingly, a whole new radiator was ordered from Central Tractor Company in Des Moines, Iowa.  (Installation of the new radiator on the Clark-Christenson Super M during the Christmas holidays of 1994 can be seen in the second hour portion of Tape #12.)

Restoration of the Clark-Christenson Super M also included the purchase and installation of a new belt pulley, because the original rockwood fiber (or paper) pulley was not on the tractor when it was sold to Wayne Wells.  (IHC had contracted with the Rockwood Manufacturing Company to make paper pulleys for its Farmall lettered series and later model tractors.  For the history of the Rockwood Manufacturing Company, see page 14 of the March/April 1997 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)  Since belt pulleys for all tractors are a necessity around the LeSueur Pioneer Power grounds because of the great amount of belt work that is performed in the field demonstrations, a 13″ eight-bolt Rockwood fiber pulley was found and purchased for the Clark-Christenson Super M at the 1993 Swap Meet.  (See the author selecting and mounting the pulley on the Clark-Christenson Super M in the second hour portion of Tape #5 of the International Harvester Promotional Movies collection.)

Another step taken in the restoration of the Clark-Christenson Super M was to remove all the fluid from the tires.  Calcium chloride may be very useful for ballast on working tractors, but it is very destructive of the wheel rims.   For this reason, it is a bane to antique tractor restorers.  However, because this tractor, even once it was fully restored, was intended for use in the plowing demonstrations at the Pioneer Power Show grounds, compensation had to be made for the lack of weight previously supplied by the fluid in the tires.  To accomplish this, two pair of rear wheels weights, each weighing 145 pounds, were obtained from Bill’s Repair in Plato, Minnesota, for the Clark-Christenson Super M.  Even if both sets of wheel weights were added to the Super M, they would not offset all the weight of the fluid removed from both rear tires.  In this case, however, only one pair of the rear wheel weights was installed on the Clark-Christenson Super M immediately; the second pair was held in reserve in case the plowing demonstrations at the 1995 Pioneer Show proved the need for a second pair. (Installation of the first pair of wheel weights can be seen in the second hour portion of Tape #12 of the International Harvester Promotional Movies.)

As previously noted, there had been much criticism of the disc brakes of the Super-series Farmall tractors.  One source of the problems with the disc brakes is that the balls inside the actuating discs become rusty and corroded.  (See the discussion of Farmall disc brakes in “Wartime Farmall H” on pages 15-17 of the July/August 1994 Belt Pulley, Vol. 7, No. 4.)  By 1992, the Clark-Christenson tractor was also having problems with its disc brakes.  Thus, all four of the asbestos-lined discs were replaced, and the actuating disc of each brake was disassembled and cleaned.  An actuating disc is composed of two halves which enclose three balls mounted on inclines on the inside of the actuating discs.  When the brakes are applied, only half of the actuating disc moves in relation to the other half, causing the balls to roll up the inclines.  This action spreads the two halves of the actuating disc and causes them to rub against the asbestos-lined discs which are attached to the counter shaft of the transmission of the tractor.  This, then, stops the tractor.  This is especially true of tractors which are stored outside and exposed to the elements.  After separating the two halves of the actuating discs on the Clark-Christenson tractor and cleaning the insides of the actuating discs and the balls, the brakes were reassembled.  (Part of this process is captured on video tape in the second hour portion of Tape #12 of the International Harvester Promotional Movies.)

Following the repair of the clutch and disc brakes and the installation of the new radiator and wheel weights,  the tractor was painted and decaled in time for the 1996 LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show which hosted the summer convention of Chapter 15 (the Minnesota State Chapter) of the International Harvester Collectors Association.           The 1996 show was a great success, and the Clark-Christenson tractor was used regularly during the field demonstrations.  Following the show, the Clark-Christenson Super M became popular with the volunteer workers on the grounds, as it started easily and could accomplish tasks around the grounds.  (The tractor can be seen working on the grounds and participating in field demonstrations in the second hour portion of Tapes #5 and #6 of the International Harvester Promotional Movies).

Like so many other shows, the LeSueur Pioneer Power Show features a parade of machinery each day.  Not only is the parade an opportunity for exhibitors to show off their tractors, but also other restored machinery if each tractor pulls a restored farm implement in the parade.  Over the years, an increasing number of farm implements have been restored, just as have tractors.  As a means of gathering and storing data on all the tractors participating in its parades, the Pioneer Power Association currently enjoys a computerized system which was developed by Pioneer Power member Kathy Klaseus.  This system eases the registration process each year for members and repeat exhibitors at the Show.  All information about any given tractor is held on the computer from year to year, and any exhibitor who has attended in former years will merely notify the registration booth that a particular repeat tractor has once again been brought to the current Show.  In this way, all information on that tractor will be retrieved from the computer and printed out for the parade announcer.  In addition, each computer entry has a comment section.  This section is an excellent means by which additional information can be listed either about the tractor or about any particular implement that the tractor may be towing in the parade.  Consequently, implements may also be recognized by the parade announcer.  To avoid having to make changes to the comment section for each exhibit each year, members tend to pull the same implements with the same tractor year after year.  Thus, tractors tend to be identified with a particular implement during the parade.  Each tractor restoration, then, is not really complete until the proper implement has been found which can be associated with a particular tractor.  Given the work history of the Clark-Christenson Super M, that implement had to be a plow, but which plow?  As previously noted, the Clark-Christenson tractor had pulled a four-bottom plow with 14″ bottoms on the Clark farm, and later pulled a 4-16″ plow on the Christenson farm.  As the reader will recall from the previous issue of Belt Pulley magazine, the Clark Christenson Super M was fitted with M&W high compression pistons during the time it worked on the Clark and Christenson farms.  However, since the tractor had been overhauled and re-fitted with the standard IHC pistons in 1985, the tractor would have less horsepower than it had while working on the Clark and Christenson farms.  Moreover, the gumbo soil of LeSueur County was more difficult to plow than the more sandy soil of southern Dodge and Steele Counties where both the Clark and Christenson farms were located.  Additionally, even if the 1953 Clark/Christenson Super M were currently fitted with M&W pistons, it would have a difficult time pulling a four-bottom plow on the Pioneer Power Showgrounds.  Now, with the original equipment returned to the Super M, the Clark-Christenson tractor needed a proper sized plow.  International Harvester had originally advertised the Super M as a 3-plow tractor.  Therefore, it was felt that a McCormick-Deering three-bottom plow with 16″ bottoms would be the proper plow for the Clark/Christenson Super M.  With the help of Bill Radil, the author located just such a plow owned by Jim Ellis. 

Jim Ellis is a retired farmer who currently lives in Ellendale, Minnesota.  He has a tremendous collection of International Harvester equipment (restored and unrestored) and parts located on three different farms and at his house in Ellendale.  He favors the F-series of Farmalls and has collected quite a number of these tractors.

Jim was born to Omer and Buelah (Matherley) Ellis, who rented a farm near Sac City, Iowa.  Just after Jim graduated from high school in 1937, the family purchased a farm near Dows, Iowa, and moved to the Dows community.  There, Jim farmed with his parents through most of the Second World War.  Shortly after moving to their new farm, the family purchased a 1929 International Harvester 10-20 tractor to perform some of the heavy work around the farm.  In about 1944, Jim struck out on his own and rented a 320-acre farm in the same neighborhood.  On this farm, Jim had a small herd of dairy cows and hogs.  Each fall he would purchase some beef calves from Nebraska and finish them out over the winter.  He raised corn and hay to feed the livestock, soybeans to sell, and sweet corn which was sold to a cannery in Hampton, Iowa.

Jim also began his own family on this farm.  In 1946, he married Doris Aspel, and on July 29, 1948, their first son Gerald was born.  Eventually, three boys and one girl would be born to the family: Jack, on October 18, 1950; Leon, on January 5, 1955, Laurie, on December 1, 1960; and David on June 10, 1963.  For the first couple of years after he was married, Jim shared farm equipment with his father, especially the International 10-20 which his father owned.  However, during the war, Jim purchased his own tractor–a 1939 Farmall F-20 with factory rubber tires on the front and the rear.  This F-20 had oversized pistons installed in the engine when Jim bought it.  Consequently, he found that the tractor used a lot of gasoline.  If he started plowing at 6:00 a.m., he had better start heading for the gas barrel around 9:30 a.m.  He would have to fill up again at noon, and yet again at about 3:00 p.m. to complete a day’s worth of plowing.

However, in exchange for all the gas used, the tractor delivered a great deal of horsepower to the drawbar.  Jim found that, because of the oversized pistons, this two-plow tractor could pull a three-bottom plow.  Accordingly, in 1950, Jim began searching for a bigger plow.  Being a life-long watcher of sale bills and attender of auctions, Jim discovered a three-bottom McCormick-Deering plow with 16″ bottoms was to be sold at an auction in nearby Jewell, Iowa.  Thus, Jim drove his Chevrolet car to the auction site where he found a Little Genius 3-16″ plow with slat-style moldboards.  The front wheels had been cut down and welded to 15″ rims for rubber tires.  The auction started in the afternoon, but because there were so many articles to be sold, the sun had set before the auctioneer finally got to the plow.  Under light provided by the headlights of some cars, the auctioneer collected bids on the plow.  Jim outlasted all the other bidders and bought the plow.  The name of the farmer selling the plow is not now known, but he may well have purchased the plow from the Luglan International Harvester dealership in Jewell.

Originally fitted with steel wheels, the plow was most probably purchased during the Second World War when rubber tires were very tightly rationed.  After the war, when rubber tires became more plentiful, the farmer evidently had the front wheels of the plow cut down and fitted with rims for rubber tires.  The task of cutting down the steel wheels and welding on the rims for the rubber tires probably fell to Iverson’s, a blacksmith shop and auto garage located in Jewell.  In the period following the war, Iverson’s cut down the steel wheels on a great number of farm implements, as area farmers sought to upgrade their farm equipment.  The fact that 15″ tires were chosen for this plow is significant.  Plows were usually fitted with old car tires, and until the early 1950s, the 16″ tire (generally the 6.00 x 16″) was universal in the auto tire market.  In about 1948, Plymouth broke with this tradition and started fitting its cars with 15″ tires.  Following that lead, other auto makers gradually began using the 15″ tire on their cars.  By the mid-1950s, the 15″ tire had become the most common in the auto tire business.  The farmer who had Iverson’s cut down the steel wheels on the three-bottom plow prior to 1950 must have already had access to old 15″ tires at that time.  For that reason, it is likely that he owned a Plymouth.

After the auction, Jim Ellis transported the plow back to his farm near Iowa where he found that it worked well with his F-20.  The oversized pistons in the F-20 boosted the horsepower sufficiently for the tractor to handle the three-bottom plow.  Jim farmed in the Dows community area until 1955 when he moved to another farm five miles south of LeRoy, Minnesota, in Howard County, Iowa.  Although he lived in Iowa, his mailing address was LeRoy, Minnesota.  After three years in Howard County, Jim and his family moved again, in 1958, to another farm near Houston, Minnesota.  Finally, in 1965, he retired from farming and eventually settled in his present home in Ellendale, in the south-central part Minnesota.  In the years after 1965, he brought most of his tractors and machinery to Ellendale and began collecting and restoring F-20’s and other old International Harvester equipment.  Although his original 1939 F-20 had been sold earlier, the three-bottom plow followed Jim into retirement at Ellendale.

With the help of Bill Radil, the Wells family purchased two plows from Jim Ellis in April of 1995–Jim’s own three-bottom plow, and the James Schaper McCormick-Deering two-bottom plow with 16″ bottoms.  The Schaper plow had factory rubber tires all around with post-war disc-type rims in the front rather than spoke wheel rims.  Because the Jim Ellis plow was intended to be matched to the 1953 Clark-Christenson Super M, it needed to take on a post-war look.  Consequently, the spoke-type front wheels on the Jim Ellis plow were swapped with the disc-type rims from the Schaper plow, and the steel trailing wheel was replaced with a rubber-tired trailing wheel.  New 16″ tires were obtained from M.E. Miller Tire  Company in Wauseon, Ohio, for the front wheels of the plow.  The Jim Ellis plow was then painted and properly decaled with a single “McCormick-Deering Little Genius No. 8” decal located on the beam of the plow between the second and third bottoms.  Next, the hitch of the plow was adjusted vertically and horizontally to match the drawbar of the Clark/Christenson Super M.  (There is a very good visual presentation about vertical and horizontal hitch adjustment of plows in the movie called “Hitching and Belting Adjustments”  contained in John Deere Service Day Movies from 1943 which have been converted to VHS video tape [Tape No. 90-2] by the Two Cylinder Club, P.O. Box 10, Grundy Center, Iowa 50638-0010.)  Once these improvments were finished, the Jim Ellis plow could easily have been sold new in 1953 as a correctly matched partner to the Clark-Christenson Super M.  Meanwhile, the Schaper plow took on the appearance of a pre-war plow which will be matched to a 1938 F-20.

With the addition of the 3-16 Jim Ellis plow, the restoration of the Clark Christenson Super M is complete.  The tractor and implement are a matched set for display and parade purposes at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show.  “Display” also means that the Clark-Christenson Super M and the Jim Ellis plow are used each year to plow a few rounds on the grounds in preparation for winter.  Although the tractor and plow will not be used as heavily in the future as they once were in the past and will be stored inside one of the sheds on the Pioneer Power grounds for most of the year, the tractor and plow remain a testimonial to the men and women who manufactured, sold, and operated Farmall tractors and McCormick-Deering plows.

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