DIY: Restoring A Farmall Cub Tractor

I’ve always secretly considered myself a “man’s man”, capable and learned in the craft of all things manly. I’m equally comfortable around woodworking, plumbing, laying tile & brick, electrical work, general tinkering, and around-the-house upkeep… but one (of several) chinks in my man armor was the fact that I knew next to nothing about engines. I’ve always changed my own oil, and have bumbled my way through minor maintenance on my vehicles in the past, but I didn’t grow up learning much in the way of a mechanic’s trade. So more than 2 years ago, I decided that I wanted to make myself a better man, a more manly man. I wanted to increase my knowledge of all things vehicle-related from squat to superfluous, from insufficient to impressive, from… well, you get the picture! Originally I was thinking of restoring an old Chevy pickup, but in the spirit of the decision to leave the service to farm, I shifted gears and picked up a 1953 Farmall Cub tractor instead.

The size of the Cub was perfect for the space I had available, essentially taking over 1/2 of my garage space here in base housing (after kicking my wife’s minivan out to the driveway). Replacement parts, written guidance and experienced advice are all plentiful for the Cub from a multitude of online sources, since it is one of the most popular tractors to restore; however parts are relatively expensive compared to other tractors for the same reasons. As with all tractors from that era, the mechanics are pretty intuitive, but impressive nonetheless. After finding a local guy who had various Farmall tractors lying all over his property, I brought home this hunk of junk beauty with the intention of restoring it back to like-new condition, while adding to my man repertoire at the same time.


Farmall Intro

My original timeline was to finish the restoration by our son’s 3rd birthday, giving me 16 months to complete it. In reality, I finished the job just weeks short of his 4th birthday!! And that was with the help of several of my good friends on multiple occasions, as well as hiring out some of the skilled work for expediency and quality’s sake. But mostly, I poured my time and energy into the tractor at night after the kids had gone to bed, and of course on weekends as well. I broke a few parts, snapped off a few bolts in their holes, got a little frustrated at times, and learned a TON about engines, mechanical work and the absolute ingenuity contained in a combustion gas engine. There were several times that I had “ah ha” moments seeing how all the pieces fit together to combine just the right amount of fuel, air and spark at the exact right time to produce a self-sustaining series of explosions, then take that energy and produce power with it. Absolutely amazing stuff!!

  

I couldn’t have done this without the help of several of my good friends (and their tools!)

  

Lots of people have asked me whether or not this Farmall Cub will be useful to us on the farm, and my honest answer is “probably not”. It’s pretty underpowered by today’s standards, and even the one use we had identified for it (powering a finish belly mower to mow grass) we will have a much better alternative for at the property we are under contract to purchase. If I did sell it, there is no possible way anyone would pay what it has cost me to bring the tractor to this point… but it has absolutely served the purpose I intended for it in the first place. All that being said, I think we can find a spot for the little Cub somewhere on our farm, maybe pulling a hay-ride wagon for an agri-tourism event, pulling a trailer load of firewood out of the woods, or even driving it in parades if there are any in the area. I think I’ll keep it for now, and see what needs arise on the farm when we get there. Here is a series of pictures from the beginning to end of the project:
  

Farmall 2

Starting with a complete rust bucket!

Farmall 3

Disassembly started by breaking the tractor into the back half…

Farmall 4

… and the front half

Every piece got taken apart, cleaned and put back together

Every piece got taken apart, cleaned and put back together

All the large pieces of metal were sandblasted, primed and then painted

All the large pieces of metal were sandblasted, primed and then painted

Here is a picture inside the engine cylinders before cleaning

Here is a picture inside the engine cylinders before cleaning…

... and after

… and after

Finally, I began to reassemble some parts, starting with the engine

Finally, I began to reassemble some parts, starting with the engine

The rest of the tractor begins to take shape

The rest of the tractor begins to take shape

Farmall 11

The body getting bolted to the engine

Farmall 12

And the wheel assemblies getting mounted to the body

Finally, I was able to put the back wheels on

Finally, I was able to put the back wheels on

Beginning to add the "extras" on to the engine

Beginning to add the “extras” on to the engine…

... and the body

… and the body

Close up of the almost completed engine

Close up of the almost completed engine

Farmall 18

What amounted to an instrument panel in 1953

Almost done with the decals attached

Almost done with the decals attached

The finished product...

The finished product… 

... isn't she a beauty!!

… isn’t she a beauty!!

My son must be as excited as we are, as he drive-by "photobombs" my shot!!

My son must be as excited as I am, as he drive-by “photobombs” my shot!!

And that accounts for 2 1/2 years of time, money and effort! Needless to say, I’m pretty proud of my 1953 Farmall Cub and how it turned out. There are plenty of things that aren’t perfectly done, but I’m the only one who can tell on most of them! I guess the ultimate point here is that if you identify something in your life that you want to be better at or know more about, sometimes actively pursuing that knowledge and forcing yourself to jump in head-first can be gratifying, enriching and downright fun! Next on my list is learning to weld, shear a sheep and race a dirt-track car… what’s on your list?

Paul Sig

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21 Responses to DIY: Restoring A Farmall Cub Tractor

  1. Laura says:

    Wow, that is an amazing transformation! How cool to set a goal for yourself and set out to accomplish it. That is a skill that will serve you well in a farming life!

    My next little jump is to make mozzarella cheese that turns out well.

    • Thank you!

      Great goal on the mozzarella, that is something that we have yet to try for ourselves. We struggle to find non-homogenized milk in our area, and of course would prefer to make cheese from raw milk if we could. Once we’re settled on our farm and have Bessie (or whatever we name our milk cow) in full production, we’ll be able to try all of the preserved milk products (cheese, cottage, sour cream, etc). Thanks for sharing!

  2. Heather says:

    I’m proud of you, dear! It was a lot of hard work, but you did it! And it’s mighty fun to drive around the cul-de-sac, I might add!

  3. Paul…Diana and I both very much enjoyed meeting you…and hearing about the next chapter in your life. I find it very exciting. It is not unlike what we hope to do in our next chapter in a few years…but we lack the fortitude to do it without what we hope to be enough saved to not have to depend up on the farming. I’d love to stay in contact, and perhaps indeed visit you at your farmstead a year or so in the future and see what you’ve learned, so that we may learn as well. My email address is dwshanks@yahoo.com. BTW, I do think you are a good writer (I also appreciate your honesty!) and I think you should keep chronicling (sp?) extensively as there could be a book in here somewhere. If you’d like to learn more about maple sugaring, you are invited to our farm in VT any time. Maybe you’d like to come in March sometime and watch the process. Good luck to you…and please stay in touch.
    Doug Shanks

    • Doug,
      It was an absolute pleasure meeting you and Diana, thanks for taking such good care of us while the group was visiting! You both are welcome at our farm any time, and I will almost certainly take you up on the offer to visit in the future. I appreciate your opinion on my writing skills, even while I don’t quite believe it! I’ll keep the blog posts coming though, and honesty will continue to be one of the hallmarks of Pastured Providence Farmstead… it’s a concept we believe very strongly in, especially as it pertains to those responsible for feeding others. By the way, Heather and I looked at your blog this evening and loved the pictures of your farm in VT… absolutely beautiful! Take care, and we will absolutely keep in touch.

  4. Frank says:

    Hello Paul, I found your blog from reading The Deliberate Agrarian site. You left a comment on his sons discharge papers.
    I too have similar experience regarding money. My wife and 4 children are still waiting on our permanent farm. We have moved out of our home in the city and are living in a TT(1 yr) on some land my family owns. We have cows, goats, chickens, etc. and we love it. We are not sure we are suppose to be here, so we are in a mobile mode you could say. Looking to lay a footer some where.
    God bless you and your family on your quest. It’s great knowing the Jeremiah verse that we saw. We serve an Awesome God!

    • Frank,
      Welcome to the blog, I’m so glad you stopped by! Congratulations on your move to the country and all that means to you, even as you search for someplace to set down roots. We do indeed serve an awesome God, and can rely on his providence every day!

  5. Paul… I thought you and your wife might like this. I was reading a book yesterday and there was a poem in it that I had not read since high school: The Red Wheelbarrow by Williams Carlos Williams. When I saw your blog on the rain barrel , I though how its simplicity speaks the truth…and how it reflects on your new life! Here it is:

    so much depends
    upon

    a red wheel
    barrow

    glazed with rain
    water

    beside the white
    chickens.

  6. Pingback: Kubota RTV And Stock Trailer Purchases - Pastured Providence Farmstead

  7. Dave says:

    Great looking cub. I have one myself that I have been considering working on as well. I’m curious, as to see what I will be getting myself into, can you give an estimate of the actual hours and cost to do this? Not trying to be nosey, just wondering what I am getting myself into.

    Thanks, Dave

    • Absolutely! Of course, this sort of thing is very situationally dependent, but I spent the better part of 2 years and $5000 on the restoration! I was working as an Air Force pilot at the time, and so only had a few hours a week to dedicate to the project. In addition, I had committed myself to digging deep into the tractor in an effort to learn more about engines, mechanics, etc. So admittedly, I tackled a few projects that probably didn’t NEED to be done, but that helped me understand how the whole machine operated. I’m told that the street value in my area of central Ohio for a amateur restoration like mine is about $1200, so needless to say I didn’t make any money doing this! But I enjoyed and was educated by the process, Cub parts are very easy to come across or purchase, and it was a perfect scale for a 1-bay garage project. Thanks for reading and commenting, and good luck if you decide to tackle your own tractor!

  8. Randy says:

    Did you use IHCase 2150 color paint on the tractor?

    It turned out very nice. I am working on a similar project- hope it turns out as well as yours.

  9. Jeff Troyer says:

    You did exactly what I’m doing with a ’42 Farmall H. I’m doing it in half of our 2 car garage and I’m taking it completely apart for the challenge and experience. I’m reminded often that it’s not necessary. I was admiring the work you did on your tractor and was surprised to see you live in Chilicothe, since I live in Millersburg.

  10. Richard Michalski says:

    Hi Paul,
    Hope you are still on the page. Just bought a 1955 Cub. Just getting the head off and plan a moderate restoration. Hand painting and all gaskets are the basis for the project.
    I was also in the USAF. Enjoyed my hitch and love seeing the old stuff flying from time to time.
    Best Regards Richard

  11. Dean Glover says:

    Great job on the Cub Paul. I owned my family’s 1953 Cub, which was bought new from the factory by my grandparents. My dad had just rebuilt the engine for me, and I was beginning the cosmetics. I was using it for cutting cordwood with the attached saw one weekend, and instead of putting it back in the barn, I left it hooked to the saw by the woodpile. That night lightning struck a tree, which fell on the Cub totally destroying everything on it….a total loss. Unfortunate since it was a family heirloom, and I hoped to keep it for life. Had every implement needed for a small farm. Glad to read about your success, may God bless and keep you.

    • Wow… what a story! So sorry to hear about losing the Cub, it’s amazing what an important symbol a tractor can be sometimes, isn’t it? For me, rebuilding the Cub was a symbol of our agrarian future, as we planned for starting our farm from scratch. Unfortunately for me, since I’ve been operating the farm full time for the past 5 years, I simply don’t have time for the Cub and it sits dusty in a corner of my pole barn! The very thing it represented has supplanted it! I have to wonder though: maybe its time for mine to move on… if I knew someone who would “treat her right” was interested in it, I’d certainly consider selling the Cub at a good price.

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