By L. Timothy Knutson
My first memory of our tractors was from 1951, when I was about four years old. I was in the kitchen of our north Iowa farm home, watching out the window as a truck delivered a new tractor to our yard. It was the second 8N for our farm and the last tractor my dad would buy. Mom recalled that there had been a tractor on the farm when they were married in 1942. From her description, it must have been a 9N. It was probably traded for the first 8N.
As was true for many farmers of that era, these tractors replaced a team of horses. Growing up on the farm, most of my friends were from farm families, too. It seemed that they all had the big tractors: John Deeres, Farmalls, Massey Fergusons, Minneapolis Molines, and Olivers. I desperately wanted Dad to buy a bigger tractor, but he insisted the 8Ns were just right for our eighty acres.
But time spent working on the farm at an early age seemed like forever, and a tractor that could only pull a two-bottom plow or a one-row corn picker seemed much too small. I wanted to be done and off fishing, swimming, or hunting. Every summer at the county fair, I would head to the machinery display and look at the newest tractors. I was convinced that we needed a bigger model, but those 8Ns served us well.
In fact, I don’t think our two 8Ns ever saw the inside of another mechanic’s shop while Dad was alive. He was a pretty competent shade tree mechanic. A broken axle was no big deal. Steering a little loose – not a problem. Valves getting a little crusty – take a head off. Minor mechanical work was done on-the-fly. Winters were reserved for major projects with our heated garage taken over by Dad and a stripped 8N – with parts everywhere. He would regularly enlist either my brother or me to help, which we usually enjoyed.
An 80-acre farm was not really big enough to support a whole family, even in the 1950s and 60s. All four kids eventually left the farm for city jobs. When Dad died in the fall of 1991, Mom elected to remain on the farm. Dad had been retired for several years by then and was leasing the farmland to one of our cousins. We talked about what we would do with the tractors and various implements and briefly considered selling the whole works.
I can’t remember if I purchased or was given one of the Motorbooks publications on the 8Ns but I remember beginning to understand the value and place of these small tractors in farming history. I bought another and read more. In many of them reference was made to a Palmer Fossum near Northfield, MN. Although we lived in Texas at the time of Dad’s death, I had an opportunity to move closer to home in 1992. We moved to St. Paul, where it was an easy two-hour drive down I35 to reach our farm. And I35 went right past Northfield.
On one of those trips my son and I decided to find this Mr. Fossum. We stopped at the local John Deere dealer in Northfield where the manager knew right away who we were looking for and gave us directions to Palmer’s farm. As luck would have it, Palmer was home. What a delightful man with a wealth of knowledge on the older Ford tractors and implements. As a collector of old Fords, Palmer also dealt in parts for Fords of that era. I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that he had known my father, since Dad had stopped by his farm shop once or twice to visit and buy parts.
That introduction was the beginning of my conversion from a casual owner of a couple old Ford tractors to an enthusiast. When, in early 1993, we discovered that the rear wheel rims on one of the 8Ns were rusted through at the valve stem, Palmer steered me to a dealer in Minneapolis who makes new wheels for the 8N and had me pick up one for him while I was there.
We eventually decided to have the older of the two 8Ns re-built and restored. Having never done something like this before, we naturally contracted with Palmer for the job. In the spring of 1994, I hauled the tractor up to his shop and left it with a promise from him that it would be done by early to mid-June. Over the 4th of July that year we were having a family reunion with relatives from Norway and I wanted to be sure to have the tractor ready to drive in our town’s parade. When I visited Palmer in early June and found our tractor stripped to its essence I got a little nervous about the promised delivery. By the end of June with still no tractor I was very nervous. However, Palmer was motivated to have it done for the Norwegians and the 4th of July parade, and delivered it July 2nd . The paint was still tacky, but it was beautiful.
Do you have a family story about vintage Fords? How about some old photos to go with it? Jot down some notes and send them in via the US mail or e-mail – firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always on the lookout for stories!