Tracking Down the Issues: Solving a Starter Problem

By Keith Johnson. Published in the N-News Winter issue, Jan-Feb-Mar 2019, Volume 34 Number 1

Tracking Down The Issues

Keith Johnson’s 1948 8N

Solving a starting problem means you need to look at the possible issues and fix them as you find them…and there might be more than one!

I bought my 1948 8N as a partially dis-assembled unit almost 30 years ago. It became my youngest son’s first major restoration project with dad’s supervision. (And with dad paying the bills.) As I’ve always had other tractors around, this was never meant to be a worker. I keep it because of its history with us and also because of its historical significance as an N series tractor. I run it occasionally and drive it on our unimproved woods roads. It has always started and has never given any problems.

However, in early November I tried to start it and for the first time it was a “no go.” It surprised me as I’d run it on July 21st with no problems. (I keep a log of when I run the various vehicles that aren’t in regular use.)

Once in the shop, I found I had power to the coil but no spark. Normally this indicates corroded points and on a “normal” distributor it is an easy matter to remove the cap, dress the points and be on ones way. Not so on front mounted Ford distributor tractors.*

After changing the coil with no improvement, I pulled the distributor. I found the points to be eroded and they’d also never been properly aligned. Thinking the points were the problem, I pulled a tune-up kit off the shelf that I had purchased several years ago and installed new points. (I like to keep spares of tune-up parts for all my vehicles.) For this tractor, I had bought a Tisco tune-up kit. It included new points, plugs, condenser and rotor.

I installed only the points, re-installed the distributor but still no spark. So I took the distributor back off and now I was going to replace the condenser. The condenser that came in the kit was of very poor quality construction. It was only a little over half as long as the original and the bracket that is spot welded to it was very loose. With all that was wrong with it, and the hassle of installing it, I elected not to use it.

Distributor disassembly diagramIn my supply, I had a brand new condenser from NAPA that was probably also a few years old. I also have an original Ford script condenser that was in my 1941 pickup when I purchased it. (I never throw away original parts, if for no other reason than they are valuable for reference material.) That “older” new NAPA condenser was almost an exact duplicate of the original Ford unit, as was the one on the distributor.

I decided to reserve that condenser for my 1941 pickup and purchase a new condenser from NAPA. This was an Echlin brand, as was the other, but, oh, how things have changed! This new condenser was almost identical to the Tisco condenser and of unknown manufacture.

On this new condenser the mounting tab had two square corners. In order to make it fit into the distributor pocket, I had to clip off one of the corners. With that done, the hole in the tab did not line up with the attachment stud. At this point, I gave up, took it back to NAPA, showed them the difference in condensers and got my 14 bucks back.

I then installed the new “older” NAPA condenser. Back on the tractor with the distributor but still no spark. Back out again, (I had removed the generator to make access easier.) I took my multimeter and tested across the points with them closed and I did not have continuity. I pulled the points, dressed them on a knife hone stone, and this time bench tested them to make sure I had continuity before re-installing. Once again, the unit went back on the tractor. Finally I had a good spark.

The tractor ran although it had a miss. But I was still pleased it was finally running. When I shut it off, I happened to glance at the distributor on the way out the door and noticed I’d forgotten to install a spark plug wire where I had attached my test ignition wire. At least that problem was easy to solve!

The next day, the tractor was again very hard to start. Now it had to be carburation.

I disconnected the fuel line at the carb and turned on the valve at the tank to rule out a fuel delivery issue. The gas flowed freely. I removed the carburetor, disassembled it, checked it thoroughly and reset the float to factory specs. The carb kit instructions I had called for 1/4” measured between the gasket and the float. The factory specs were .25” to .285”. I measured a 9/32” drill and found it to be .277” (actually it is .28” by the math) and used this to set the float from the casting.

carb choke plate

Looking at the carb choke plate and the author’s wired solution. The small spring is what was missing.

The carb was reassembled and as I was about to put it back on, I noticed the flapper valve on the choke plate just hung open. The little spring that holds it in place had broken and was gone.


The small spring missing from the carb choke plate.

When choking the carburetor, I wasn’t, in fact, choking it. I wired the flapper valve shut as I do not know of another carb that doesn’t have a solid choke plate on it. At last, the tractor started and ran the way it should.

Total time: 19 hours – including some research time! So now for the lessons learned.

It is getting almost impossible to find good quality tune-up parts. In the past Echlin has been the best last resort and this seems now to have disappeared also. When these vehicles were manufactured they were very reliable, in part due to the high quality parts installed. Today, people look at them as unreliable. In the majority of cases, it is what is currently available to repair them. Whether it’s tune-up parts, bearings, mechanical parts, etc., they are generally of inferior quality compared to years past. (If someone knows of a manufacturer or source for original quality tune-up parts, please let us know.)

Don’t trust new parts right out of the box! The points I had new had corroded just sitting in the un-opened package. I now bench test everything as best I can before installing it. Things like coils and condensers are very hard to test and the best I can do is install them and hope. Finally double check everything. I had never given a thought to that flapper valve, but I sure won’t over look it in the future.

The problems were several. In my case two-fold. The first involved the points. With a good set of new points the tractor would have been running in a normal repair time-frame. The second was the choke flapper valve which I did not check until the very end. The original coil and condenser in the unit were probably good, but I did not reinstall them. The only way I have to test these parts is to install them and see if the tractor runs. I’ve labeled the original parts and saved them in my drawer of tune-up tractor parts.

I hope my experience may help speed others’ repairs when working with their early N tractors.

*In 1950, the 8N switched to having a side mounted distributor at serial number 263844, before that all N-series tractors had the coil and distributor mounted on the front of the engine.

Keith Johnson is a long time subscriber and contributor to the N-News Magazine. See his wonderful article about restoring a 1941 Ford Pickup with a 9N 4-cyclinder engine in Volume 28, Number 2, Spring 2013. Also see That Mystery Part: The Coil by Bruce Haynes in Volume 29 Number 4, Autumn 2014. Also, Another Mystery Part: The Condenser by Frank Scheidt in Volume 30, Number 1, Winter 2015.

Two Sides of the Same Tractor

Published in the N-News Autumn 2017. Vol. 32 No. 4.

Unless there is a son or daughter who is interested in your tractor, there comes a time when you need to send it on to the next owner. Actually, we aren’t really owners of these great machines, we are caretakers. Like living in a historic old house, you know that building will outlive you. What are you going to wish for that old house and its new owner? What are your desires for your old tractor? In one story, a son who lives 2000 miles away has to decide what to do with his father’s tractor. The other story picks up the first left off: an 8N ready for a new life with a new family.

Dan Parker on the 8N in the 1970s

Mark’s father, Dan Parker, on the 8N in the 1970s.

By Mark Parker.


The old tractor came into our lives in the early 1970s. My family had just bought some land in Massachusetts and we needed a piece of equipment to help out with chores around the property. My Dad searched around and found someone selling a used 8N with a front end bucket. Over time, the land was cleared and an apple orchard was put in. The frontend bucket proved helpful moving rocks and logs. Eventually, as the land became more meadows and orchards, more and more attachments started showing up, a disk harrow for turning over the soil and putting in a garden, a flail mower for mowing the grass, and numerous carts and trailers for hauling things around the property.

My Dad had a lot of fun with the old tractor, and it really became a part of who he was. He spent many weekends either working on it or doing projects with it. I can remember many father/son discussions, him driving, me riding shotgun, sitting side-saddle on the fenders. It was the go-to vehicle for teaching all the kids and grandkids how to drive and shift.

Three years ago, my father passed away. Knowing how much enjoyment he got from the tractor, I wanted to see it go to a good home. The problem was that I lived on the west coast and the tractor was located back east. I hadn’t seen it in several years and had no idea what condition it was in.

Did it still run? Was it rusting away? I didn’t know who to turn to for help, but an internet search turned up The N-News Magazine and Rob suggested I run an advertisement. We placed an ad and I got an email from one of the magazine readers, someone that lived nearby and was interested in restoring it. We set up a meeting for the next time I was back east.

Several weeks later, we met up and once I got a better look at the 8N, I could see it was in worse shape than I remembered. Slowly sinking into the ground, my first thought was that no one would want it and it was going to end up being hauled off to the junkyard and sold for scrap. The thought of that really bothered me. The tractor had meant so much to my father. Luckily, Pete showed up, motivated and ready to take on a project. Along with one of his buddies, he came back the following day with a flat bed truck and they pulled the tractor up onto it, promising me that they would take good care of it.

This fall is the third anniversary of my Dad’s passing and I know if he could see the pictures of the restored tractor, it would bring a smile to his face. When I think about that old 8N, I think about my Dad and all the great times we spent together. Seeing the restored tractor – I cannot think of a better outcome.

Peter Cambell's 8N

The 8N after Peter got a hold of it and spent some time in the shop!

By Peter Campbell.

As a subscriber to the N-News, I was reading the Spring 2015 issue when I noticed an ad. The party was “looking for a good home for a Ford 8N” located in western Massachusetts. I live in western MA so I called the number, which was in Washington state. I struck up a conversation with the gentleman. Turns out the tractor had belonged to his father. The property in MA was being sold and the gentleman needed the tractor removed. I met him at the property in Monterey, MA a couple of weeks later. The tractor was mine if I would remove it. It had a Lord Loader, flat rear tires, very rusty rear rims, no grill and green and yellow paint. It looked like it had been sitting outside for several years. It had been covered with a tarp, which by now was pretty well torn up. I agreed to remove it.

A friend of mine trucked the 8N ten miles to my home in Egremont, MA. Another friend stopped by and we had it running in about 20 minutes. My first step was to remove the loader. It seemed too big for the little 8N, so I sold it. This gave me a little pocket money to invest in the tractor. Next, we backed it into my garage to have a closer look. It was then that I noticed two threaded 3⁄8th inch rods running from the front axle to the bell housing. Hmmm? Never saw that on a tractor before.

A closer look revealed that on the front left side of the oil pan where the bolts go, the front axle support had been sheared off. The front axle was being held to the tractor by two rods connected to the bell housing! I bought a new oil pan and front axle support from Ebay and installed them with help from my friends.

After removing the hood and fenders, I worked my way along from front to back cleaning, scraping and painting. I replaced the front tires. They were 6.50 x 16. I wanted something that looked a little more in proportion so I bought 600 x 16s. I replaced all the instruments on the dashboard and bought a new steering wheel as well.

Next, I removed the rear wheels and rims. The rims and tires were shot so they went to the dump. These were replaced with new 11 x 28 rims. I bought a couple of nearly new 11.2 rear tires for a good price. Next came replacing both the brakes and axle gaskets. The motor ran with 60 lbs of oil pressure. The clutch and transmission needed no work. They were all left alone. The 11⁄8th pto shaft was replaced with a new 13⁄8th pto shaft.

Next came the painting. I sanded down the hood and fenders to bare metal and used two coats of Rustoleum auto primer, sanding between coats. I bought Ford medium brownish grey paint. This I brushed on, with two coats, lightly sanded it down between coats and then sprayed with three coats of the Ford medium brownish, grey paint with light sanding between the first two coats. I added front headlights and a rear light from a 1948 Ford truck, which blinks. All in all I think the little tractor turned out pretty well.

Pete Campbell was raised on a small farm in western Massachusetts where he still lives today. After high school, Pete enlisted in the service. After the military, he went to college when he obtained his R.N. degree. He retired in 2011. Now he spends his time restoring old tractors and smoking meat in his smoke house the old way using apple wood and corn cobs.

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How I Got Into Old Ford Tractors

Ralph Brown's 8N post-restoration

By Ralph Brown. N-News Autumn 2017 Vol. 32 No. 4

My interest in the Ford 8N began many years ago in the days before I had a driver’s license. When I began considering taking on the challenge of restoring one, my memories of the Ford 8N I drove as a teenager were vivid and influenced my decision. There was no need for me to travel across the country to find one. I found mine within 45 miles of home. Continue reading

1952 8N: er’ah, maybe really , 1950!

Jeff Johnson's 1952 8N

By Jeff Johnson. N-News Autumn 2016. Vol. 31 No. 3

My wife and I decided to move out of the suburbs and build a house on the old family farm in central Indiana. I asked my uncle whether I could get by with an overgrown lawn and garden tractor or if I needed something bigger. The man with the John Deere 4430 said, “You need more tractor than that.” I soon found the 8N. But it wasn’t pretty! As I degreased and lightly sanded the frame, I found the serial number – 8N 279422. I thought, “Hey wait – that’s a 1950 serial number!” Continue reading



8NCompletely restored 1952 8N 6-cyl Funk w/ cast iron oil pan, Sherman Over/Under trans, motor rebuilt, dual rears, new tires; org. hat rims. $9500 obo. Lawrence 580-365-4429 or 580-583-0751 (OK)

Signs of Spring

By George Blosser.

Growing up on our family ranch in California, I learned to drive our family’s 2N Ford tractor at a very young age. Fifty-five years later I tried to locate our original family tractor. I couldn’t. So I gave up looking and searched for an 8N and located one in the State of Arkansas. A restoration process was immediately started to return the tractor to its condition as delivered from the factory in 1952. Continue reading

A Couple of Ns and a Trailer

Bill Wells and son Peter

By Peter Wells. N-News Spring 2015. Vol. 30 No. 2

My dad, Bill Wells, had a desk job in the Boston financial district. Then in 1936, mom and dad bought an old dairy farm in Massachusetts. But dad was not interested in dairy barn hook ups – he wanted to raise poultry! And we needed a tractor. Dad found a used 9N and a new farm trailer. It was on the N that I had my first driving lesson at age eleven! When he retired, he moved to a family farm in New Hampshire and another 8N took over the mowing work. Here’s our story. Continue reading

Workers: An 8N With a Job to Do

By James Morrison. N-News Autumn 2014. Vol. 29 No. 3

When the summer issue of the N-News arrived in my mailbox, my wife and I had just returned from grocery shopping. I immediately pulled a chair into the shade on the porch and began reading. I’m not sure my wife cares for the magazine, so it was her task to unload the groceries. Of course, I would have done it had she waited a while. Continue reading

Workers: Ford-Funk Truss Boom

By Dick Eyler. N-News Summer 2014. Vol. 29 No. 3

The poles were 6×6’s twenty feet long. The metal trusses spanned thirty feet. I was building a pole barn to house tractors and combines at a peanut farm. Most of the work I’d do myself, but Fred Catabia, a friend, volunteered to help when he had time. The first problem I needed to solve was how to set the heavy posts and install the metal trusses. Fred recalled that I had a Ford tractor with a front end loader. Continue reading

Transmission Woes

by Charlie Yancey

When my wife took me on my first trip to her home state of Maine, I was hooked. Growing up in the Southwest leads to a bit of green envy and water lust. Maine is just the state to satisfy both of those wants. In time, I was able to convince her to move back to her home state. We bought an old farm, and what’s a farm without a tractor? Continue reading

The Farmboy and the Farm

My exposure to Ford Tractors started in childhood during the late forties and early fifities. My family had a ranch in Exeter, California, a small rural town about an hour Southeast of Fresno. My family was in the grape growing business from 1946 until 1953. The grapes were for table consumption on the first picking and then those that were not considered “table grapes” were picked and sent to one of the local wineries. The Ford tractor was the main stay of that operation. Continue reading

How To Buy: A Ford N-Series Tractor 1939-1952

Dave Erb

(This article originally appeared in Volume 28 Number 1, Winter/January 2013) In this series of articles, N-News contributors share their lessons learned and observations in buying a used Ford tractor. Here, longtime contributor Dave Erb writes about his personal checklist for looking at a 9N, 2N or 8N to purchase. While all N models are fairly dependable, Dave says, as production continued into the fifties improvements to the tractor were undeniable. What follows are some pointers that will prove helpful for anyone pondering the purchase of one of these faithful tractors.

The Next Generation

Jasmine working the field on Galen's 8N

By Galen Mommens

One of the biggest problems facing N series fans, and all other lovers of old iron, is that they can’t help but wonder what will happen to their machines when they can no longer keep them. Not only are the tractors getting older, but so are the men and women who run them. Continue reading

Coming of Age With an 8N

Cornell Knutson in the field

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. Continue reading

Collecting Seems to Be in Our Blood!

Bob May getting ready to load up the 8N

By N-News.

Collecting sure seems to be in Robert May’s blood! After all, it is hard to be interested in old tractors without eventually acquiring at least one piece of iron. Once bitten, the disease often leads to a chronic condition, and before you know it, the barn is full. Robert Mays started collecting tractors fifteen years ago, but his passion for tractors began long before that. Continue reading