A 2N Lives in Brooklyn

By Andrew Sarno. Published in the N-News Winter 2017. Vol. 32 No. 1.

Andrew Sarno's 2N in Brooklyn

Andrew Sarno’s 2N in Brooklyn.

A Son Realizes the Importance of Tractors, Time Passing and the Connection to his Father.

When I was a kid, we spent the last two weeks of every summer in Waldoboro, Maine. This was my favorite part of summer vacation. In late August, we would all cram into our tiny sedan and drive six hours from Brooklyn, New York. The car ride was a little rough, but once we got there, I was in heaven. I loved swimming in the cold Atlantic, building sand castles, catching crabs and eating as much fried food and ice cream as I could fit into my adolescent body. I never wanted it to end.

My dad with his pride and joy.

My dad with his pride and joy.

Unlike Brooklyn, everything in Maine is spread out, so a good portion of our trip was spent driving around rural parts of “vacationland.” Our annual tradition was to drive from Waldoboro to the Union Farm equipment store outside of Rockport to look at farm equipment. My father loved to slowly walk up and down the aisles of tractors, combine harvesters and plows. He would imagine how different his life would have been had he grown up in the country instead of the city. My brother and I would run around in the muddy lot and throw rocks at each other. I remember times when the mud was so thick, my father would have to come over and pull me out of my boots.

I don’t think I could have been any less interested in tractors. At some point during my father’s tractor meditation session, he would grab a hold of one of us and encourage us to admire the beauty of the machines. I just couldn’t see it. I thought tractors were noisy and slow and I was more interested in things like computers and Game Boys.

During one particular farm equipment pilgrimage, my father announced that he was buying a tractor. He brought us over to this giant, rusty piece of iron with cracked rubber tires and declared that we were taking this beast back to Brooklyn with us. He told us that it was a 1946 Ford 2N tractor. My mother was quiet. It was obvious that they had already discussed this purchase and she was quite uncertain about it. I was shocked. I was aware of his infatuation with tractors, but I thought he would at least buy a new one. It just didn’t make any sense to me.

After some more staring, my father went inside the store to “square away” with the man and we headed out for the day. Dad told us he was going to rent a U-Haul and drive the monster into the back of the truck. He’d tie it up and we’d drive it home on Saturday. I had immediately lost interest in the tractor until I discovered that there was a possibility that I could ride home in the truck with him.

We made it home without a hitch and for years my father tinkered and toyed with the tractor until he had fully restored it. He even shipped the engine out to Indiana to get the engine block planed. He was proud of his tractor and he tried to get me interested in it. Sadly, I just never could. I just didn’t see the point to owning a thing like this. I understood that it was historic, but why not a Chevy Nova or a Mustang? At least those have a roof and they’re fast. I would argue with him about how “uncool” the tractor was and he would tell me that someday I would understand.

It took a long time. Nearly twenty years after inheriting the tractor, I finally understand. During those twenty years, I lost friends and family, graduated from college, got married and started a family of my own. In realizing how quickly time passes, I now have an appreciation for things from the past that move more slowly. My son and daughter turned two and four in December, and I feel like they were just born.

The author with his daughter Ellie.

The author with his daughter Ellie.

I see gray hairs pushing through on the sides of my head and I find myself searching for things that make time slow down. Knowing this isn’t possible, keeping a piece of history seems like the next best thing. I now understand why my dad bought his tractor and I have a greater appreciation for his love for his machine.


tractor tattoo

To honor the tractor and my father, I got a tattoo on the side of my arm.

Like most kids, I only wanted things that were “cool,” that is, sleek and new. I now know that cool quickly becomes “uncool” and sleek goes out of style and everything that is new eventually gets old. Technology changes so quickly and unlike modern technology, my dad’s tractor is timeless. It is a functioning piece of history that can still hold its own even at seventy years of age. Feeling old at times myself, I can now appreciate the simplicity of this machine. I believe that it represents a time when industriousness, determination and virility were prized aspects of a person’s character. For my dad, this tractor represented those traits. He is a man who identifies himself by the hard work he has done and by the things that he has built that will stand the test of time.

The tractor is my father and my father is the tractor.
Sarno's 2N on a Brooklyn street

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Transmission Woes

by Charlie Yancey

Summertree Farm barn

Photos by Gardner Waldeier

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?

Growing up, we always had Internationals, so of course my first tractor purchase was an IH Case 484. It worked great and moved snow efficiently enough, but when I found out my wife was pregnant, certain financial decisions had to be made. One of those decisions was to sell the tractor, with a plan to purchase another tractor at a later date. However, the winds of fortune were in my favor.

A good family friend heard that we had sold our tractor. He had an old tractor sitting on his lawn that had not moved in two or three years. He wanted it gone, or rather, his wife wanted it gone. The best part of the deal was that he was offering it to me for free! I was always told to never turn down anything for free so I jumped at it.

The tractor was a 1949 Ford 8N that had a transmission stuck between two gears. My friend said that it ran fine, but it had not moved for at least two years. He had tried the usual things to get it unstuck, but became frustrated. So it slowly turned into yard art.

On first inspection, the tractor looked to be in great condition. I looked at some videos and articles on the internet about getting the transmission unstuck, and they made the process seem pretty easy. I figured I would get the transmission unstuck first, then get the tractor running. Since I only lived 3 miles away, I would drive it home. In my mind, this would take two afternoons.

My friend had pulled the shifter cover off already and had also pulled the starter, so I was ahead of schedule. I hooked my truck up to the back of the tractor and pulled a little, thinking this would relieve some of the pressure on the gears. While the truck was pulling on the tractor I had one hand on a pry bar through the starter hole, prying on the flywheel and the other hand on a pry bar in the transmission, pulling on the top rail. I was able to get the transmission unstuck in just under 4 hours with only three busted knuckles from pry bar slips and a face full of old grease and rust. I figured my tranny woes were over because the tractor would roll back and forth as if it was in neutral. Now all I had to do was get the tractor running.

So after the nightmare of getting the starter back into the tractor and bolting the shifter cover back on, I was hoping for a quick start and a nice drive home. Wouldn’t you know it – the battery was dead. “Not a problem,” I thought. “I’ll just jump it with my truck.” Well, luckily, I had noticed a few strange things with the electrical system before I did that. First, it had a 6-volt battery (so does my smoke detector). Second, it seems these old blue ovals ground the positive wire instead of the negative. I went back to the internet for more research.

I found out a couple of things: one, people don’t really agree about the safety and procedure for jumping a 6-volt battery with a 12-volt and two, a new 6-volt battery is pretty darn expensive. Luckily, my neighbor had an old battery charger. With my new fully charged battery in the tractor, I was ready to drive it home, or so I thought.

The 8N in the barn starting the split.

The 8N in the barn starting the split.

The tractor would not start and just turned over and over. Before the battery lost its charge, I checked for spark and boy, did it spark! I also checked the fuel path and everything seemed to be flowing well up to the carburetor, but not after it. “Oh great!” I thought, “Now I’ll have to rebuild the carburetor.” At this point, I called in reinforcements in the form of my brother-in-law who grew up with N tractors. With his help, we were able to identify the stuck needle in the carburetor and got it running, averting the rebuild.

At this point, the major problem was that it would only do two things – go into reverse and seemingly go into 4th. While in 4th gear, it would go for a few yards but then the wheels would lock up. This indicated a much bigger problem than I had previously thought. After a phone call to a buddy of mine with a trailer we were able to drive the tractor onto the trailer in reverse and roll it off in neutral into the barn.

I started the procedure of splitting the tractor by draining the transmission fluid out of the tractor, which by now had turned a milky brown color mixed with large chunks of 2nd gear. I then struggled with pulling the gas tank and awkward steering column off by myself.

The splitting of the tractor was a much larger struggle than putting it back together especially since the motor section of the tractor instantly wants to tip over onto its side. Luckily, I had plenty of blocking, an engine hoist, and a curious chicken to help me remember where everything goes.

Once the tractor was split I figured this was as good a time as any to replace the clutch. I found a good deal on a clutch online and I also found a complete set of used transmission gears on eBay. All told, I must have spent $150 on parts and the same amount on shipping. The installation of the clutch went smoothly and the disassembly of the transmission was easy enough as the gears do, indeed, slide out of the top of the tranny. Once I had both gear assemblies out it was easy enough to reconstruct the new gears in the right sequence using the old gears as a guide.


The problem gear!

Assembly went rather quickly (about a day), but it did have some trials and a bit of finger crossing. The gear assemblies went in rather smoothly but the process does get grease all the way up to your elbows. When I was putting the end caps back on the gear shafts, I used the same shims that were on there before. I had read some articles about adding or removing shims in order to achieve the correct shaft- turning torque, but I hoped that the shims already being used would be sufficient. When it was time to put all the big pieces back together, putting studs into the bolt holes of the bell housings really did help. It does take a bit of prying, pulling, and

Red (the chicken) helped remember how to put the whole thing back together.

Red (the chicken) helped remember how to put the whole thing back together.

tugging to get the pieces mated up and if you’re like me and over tug on the rear end and the jack stands tip over it does help to have steel toed boots on. The tipping over of the rear end did help to get more unwanted sludge out. I am happy to say that the tractor is back in action and twitching wood, bush hogging, and plowing again.

My two-day project ended up taking three weeks to complete, but I couldn’t be happier with my 8N. The simplicity of these machines is perfect for my limited ability and this old tractor has plenty of life to give.


Back in business!

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