The Craftsman lawn tractor was too small for plowing snow, grading gravel, and hauling firewood. So I started seriouisly looking for a real tractor in the fall of 2004. I did not speak tractor and had no idea what used farm tractors should cost. Browsing the classifieds was very frustrating. Everything less than 10 years old was either WAY out of my price range or a complete basket case. In order to find something in my price range, it was going to be something a lot older. A 10-year old automobile will be ready for the scrap yard unless it was carefully maintained and only driven to church on weekends by a little old lady. It seemed like tractors held their value much better. That was hard to believe since it appeared to be standard practice to just leave tractors in the field to rust between chores.
My search led in many directions. I became interested in Grey Market tractors. Grey Market "GM" has absolutely nothing to do with General Motors. Grey Market tractors are inexpensive used tractors imported to the U.S., mostly from China and Japan. Apparently it is a status symbol in those countries to buy a new tractor every few years. There is very little local market for the used machines, so they are shipped to the U.S. and sold by various importers. The major down-side to grey market tractors is a lack of local dealer support. All of these grey market tractors are made by the same companies that also make tractors sold in the US through various dealer networks. Those dealer networks correctly view all Grey Market tractors as unfair competition. Tractor models that were intended to be sold in the US had to meet higher safety standards and were more expensive. These cheaper tractor cousins may be able to use many of the same replacement parts, but the dealers are not going to be of much help cross-referencing parts when they find out what you have bought.
After that dead-end, I knew I was looking for an older model tractor that was made in U.S.A. The model I was looking for would have been made in enough quantity that there would still be a large number of them in use. If there are still a lot of them in use, parts should be easy to find. There is only one tractor that kept coming up in every search, the Ford N-series Tractors.
The Ford N-Series tractor started a revolution in tractor design but there were going to be drawbacks to a tractor built more than 50 years ago. Even though they were built from 1939 to 1952, prices for all of the Ford N-series tractors appeared to be about the same. So the search was quickly narrowed down to a 1948-1952 8N. That way the tractor would have as many factory improvements as possible.
The results of my research are not unique. Many other first-time tractor owners have done the same research, and come to the same conclusion. The N-Series tractors are plentiful, very inexpensive, and they are the first mass-produced tractor with a "standard" 3-point lift suitable for most modern implements. For these reasons many first-time farm tractor owners end up choosing one of the Ford N-Series tractors. The tractors remain very popular, and there seem to be more web sites and parts suppliers dedicated to these tractors than for many newer tractor makes and models.
Now for the drawbacks - The N-Tractor 3-point lift is basically a Category 1 but not exactly. The Ford/Ferguson lift was developed by Harry Ferguson many, many years before there was any standard for such things. The N-Tractor lift may not match up perfectly to every implement. Vehicle electrical systems back in the day were 6 volts, positive ground. Running any modern 12 volt, negative ground accessories would require a separate 12-volt system, or a conversion to 12-volts. Safety features such as Roll Over Protection Systems (ROPS) were not standard equipment. Live Hydraulics, and Power Take-Off (PTO) did not appear until later models. The hydraulics and PTO on the older tractors generally do not work separately from the drive train. Step on the clutch, and everything stops. This makes it difficult to use some implements since you cannot decrease ground speed without also decreasing the PTO speed. You cannot raise the hydraulic lift when the clutch is depressed. Having the PTO directly connected to the drive train also creates a dangerous condition with implements that store energy such as rotary cutters. The rotating blades in a cutter have a lot of momentum. Depressing the clutch only disconnects the engine from the drive train. The PTO runs off the transmission input shaft AFTER the clutch, so the implement will continue to power the tractor tires until the blades stop turning! This feels like trying to stop a truck with a large trailer behind it. You stand on the brakes, but it just keeps going, and going... That is a really good way to knock down a fence, run into a tree, off a cliff, or any number of other things that will just ruin your day (if you are lucky).
Enter good old American ingenuity! The solution to the lack of Live Hydraulics on the N-Series tractors was designed by a gentleman named Zane Sherman in Talledega, Alabama (RIP 1935-2018). The "secret" to adding live hydraulics is really very simple. All you need to do is mount a small hydraulic pump where it can be driven by the crank or the fan belt. Then run a some hydraulic hoses to draw fluid from the bottom of the sump, and provide pressure to the test port on the original hydraulic pump. The most difficult parts are fabricating the pump brackets, and making an adapter to connect a hydraulic hose to the test port. The intent is to provide pressire to the hydraulics whenever the engine is running, so your lift will still work when you hit the clutch.
There are some operational glitches with this setup. With both pumps running and the engine revved up, you may need a heavy implement on the lift for it to go down. You will certainly notice that the lift goes up much faster than it goes down. This is because the valving in the pump is now seeing double the original flow. In order to get around this, I usually leave my PTO switched off. This lets me run a back blade with about the normal hydraulic flow so my lift works as it should.
Another glitch is that with the typical front-mount pump, the lift will no longer stay up when you switch the engine off. The system now has a path to bleed down through the pump as soon as it stops. The simple solution for that is to add a one-way valve somewhere in the new plumbing that will plug the leak when the pump stops.
You can use a larger pump and add valves if you want to run things like a FE loader. However, the plumbing can get complicated. Also, the hydraulic system on these tractors cannot handle more than about 2 GPM. If your accessories need more than 2 GPM you will probably need to add, valving and another line to divert the extra flow directly back to the sump. Again, this can get complicated. You need to work with someone who really understands hydraulic systems in general as well as the system on these old tractors.
The live hydraulics pump on my front distributor engine was easy to see.
The live hydraulics pump on my 52 is tucked under the hood above the generator. I also added a strainer with a gauge so I can see when it is time to change the strainer cartridge. Adding any filtration to the hydraulic system is a good thing, however even the most open filter element causes problems with cavitation when the fluid is really cold.
My page dedicated to Live Hydraulics systems is at this link: Live Hydraulics
The solution to provide safe use of the PTO is an over-running clutch. This is basically a ratchet that only allows the PTO to power the implement and freewheels when the implement tries to drive the tractor forward.
If you are using a front end loader or even a front blade on your 8N tractor, Jackson Power Steering has a complete bolt-on power steering unit for your 8N.
ROPS on an older tractor is more of a problem than I thought. For something that looked no more complicated than a roll-bar, it should not be that hard to build. A ROPS of course has to be strong enough to support the weight of the tractor, but there are serious legal issues with building your own ROPS, especially if you ever sell the tractor and someone gets hurt. A ROPS should be properly certified, and tested. There are very few companies making a ROPS for the N-Series tractors and they seem rather expensive to me. For now, my philosophy is to just be safe and not do ANYTHING that might cause a rollover.
Here is a link to a company that does make ROPS for the 8N tractors: Hercules
The USA and Canada distributor for Hercules is Just Tractor Parts of California. Last time I looked their site was still under construction, but there was a working shopping cart and a phone number to contact them at: justtractorparts.com
I've spent much time searching for ROPS. Hercules was usually the only one available, but the price with shipping was more than I paid for a couple of my tractors! Finally, stumbled on a link for CROPS = Cost-effective Rollover Protective Structures. I was stunned to see the source, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at USA.GOV! I know it's hard to believe, but you can download plans and installation instructions to build your own ROPS and seat belt. The web site states that the available designs can be used either by an individual to build a NIOSH CROPS for their privately owned tractor, or by a company to build and sell a NIOSH CROPS. There are some disclaimers and stipulations like "all welded parts must be welded by a professional welder using the appropriate welding procedures...". NIOSH CROPS
After pricing steel and hardware to build the CROPS, it appears the design completely fails to be "cost-effective" by several hundred dollars. There are also several things in the plans that do not appear consistent with a design that might be built by an individual, unless that individual has access to a machine shop and is a certified welder. Most individuals will not be able to consistently bend 1/2" steel plate. The factory-built certified ROPS that are available for the N-Tractors are a much simpler design, that would be cheaper to build. I will leave the link since the CROPS is the only known solution that the government says can be built by an individual.
Many people have built their own ROPS based on the simple commercial design. One way to get around the legal issue of selling a tractor with an uncertified ROPS is to make a big label that stating something like: "WARNING, This accessory is only a roof support. This is not a certified ROPS or FOPS."
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