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13-ton tractor lives again. Renovation of 100-year-old behemoth a 'team effort'

Tractor owner Mike Smasal talks with men inside the cab of The Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. one hundred year old gas engine tractor as the restoration of it is finished just prior to the 2016 show at the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion this Labor Day weekend in Rollag.Dave Wallis / Forum News Service

As Bill Forester, of Versailles, Mo., said while he was in the process of getting the large century-old engine started, "It's a real team effort. If it runs, it'll eventually need fixing. Things always need fixing."

Forester was talking about the 27,000-pound gas engine tractor that will be one of the featured tractors this Labor Day weekend at the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion at Rollag, Minn. The four-day event starts Friday, Sept. 2.

About a dozen people have been working in three states to get the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. tractor into show condition this summer, with much of the work being done at Larson Welding and Machine in Fargo.

"This 35-70 is probably one of only a handful left in running condition," said Kevin Lang, a machinist at Larson's.

Lang said the gas engine on the 100-year-old tractor was well-engineered and "way ahead of its time."

"Everything has to be custom-made. They quit making these a couple of days ago," he added with a smile and a chuckle.

Custom creation

A big project that started early this summer was to extend the width of the rear wheels. Rim extensions on big steam and gas tractors are 10 inches, but to make the extensions for the 35-70, they found a wheel in Ohio and cut it in half to get two 15-inch rims. Hubs for that were cast from an original hub they found elsewhere.

Charlie Leach's job was to make the spokes to connect the rims to the hubs. Each spoke had to be precisely measured, cut and welded.

While he was busy with the rear wheels, another Larson employee, Gary Anderson, was busy brazing parts on the smaller front-wheel axle assembly.

When the spokes were in place, the extension rims were removed from the wheels and set horizontally to enable Ken Griffis to position a large custom-made press into place to squeeze red hot rivets into holes to secure the traction bars to the rims.

"That's why I come 750 miles (from Missouri). The work here is done right. Larson Welding is one of the few people doing this type of work," said engine owner Mike Smasal, who pitches in working with the employees.

"This might be the only one in the world with 15-inch extended rims," he said after looking at the progress of the project.

One more stop in Fargo was to Custom Truck and Auto Shine, where the rims were sandblasted down to bare metal before getting painted.

When everything was put together, it was loaded onto a flatbed and trucked to Rollag. Along the way, and even though it was strapped down securely, the cab of the tractor blew off because of dry rot and was destroyed.

Smasal, Forester and others fabricated a new cab when they got back to Missouri. The new cab was hoisted into position on the engine with the help of workers on "the hill" at Rollag this past weekend.

Mel Rufsvold, of Fort Ransom, was one of the spectators watching the engine start up. His involvement was to rebuild the engine's magneto. "It's been a 20-year hobby of fixing magnetos for guys on the hill," he said.

Before the cab was hoisted onto the tractor, Nicole Muhl, licensed steam operator and Minneapolis expo committee member, used thick sign painters paint to apply a thin bright yellow pinstripe to the new red spokes of the rim extensions.

Not just for show

Smasal, a consultant to the quarry mining industry, said be bought the tractor from a collector in Pennsylvania in 1995. "It was sold new and did its farming north of Minneapolis," he said.

From there, it went to a collector in Ohio for about 35 years and then on to the collector in Pennsylvania.

Smasal took it to Missouri, where he rebuilt the engine and brought it to Rollag about five years ago. This summer was spent adding the rims and new cab.

The tractor originally started life in 1910 to 1912 as a model 40-80. At some point, it was sent back to the factory. They modified the engine, radiator and cooling system and sent it back out as a 35-70. The standard Nebraska horse power rating test wouldn't prove that higher power, so they had to lower the rating of the tractor so it was more accurate and it wouldn't be considered fraudulent in those days. The model numbers represent the horsepower of the tractor. The first number is for the draw bar power and the second is the power using the belt.

It's not just for show, its owner said.

"We'll be plowing, threshing and sawing lumber with it this weekend. It''ll be used just as the day it was new," said Smasal, who added he'll be plowing with it at the Steam Threshers Reunion on Saturday, Sept. 3. "We bring things here to use them."

Smasal also owns a steam engine and another gas tractor that will be on display at Rollag.

This is set to be the largest Minneapolis Expo, ever with about 20 Minneapolis steam engines and tractors and equipment of Moline Plow Works, Twin City and the merged Minneapolis Moline. The theme for the expo is "From Steam to Modern Machine."