A Fordson feeds the hungry…again

Jerry Toews of Goessel poses by the 1918 Fordson tractor he restored at the request of George and Edna Dyck of Newton. The tractor will be auctioned at the Mennonite Relief Sale in Hutchinson April 13 to raise money for the worldwide relief work of Mennonite Central Committee. One of MCC’s first projects was to send 50 Fordson tractors like this one to Russia to reignite agriculture after the Bolshevik Revolution devastated South Russia and drove many Mennonites to starvation.

by Don Ratzlaff

Eighty-two years ago, Mennonites in North America formed Mennonite Central Committee as a way to save fellow Mennonites in Russia who were dying of starvation amid the bloody chaos of the Bolshevik Revolution.

In about 10 days, to raise money to help fuel what has become MCC’s worldwide relief and development efforts, the most tangible symbol of that initial inspiration will be sold on the auction block at the Mennonite Relief Sale in Hutchinson.

Thanks to a small but dedicated cadre of folks in the Goessel area, interested buyers will bid on a fully restored 1918 Fordson tractor-a machine nearly identical to the 50 Fordson tractors shipped with Oliver plows by MCC to Russia in 1922 to help restart a devastated agricultural economy among the Mennonite settlements there.

“When they arrived in Russia, those tractors gave them such hope to re-establish agriculture again,” said Jerry Toews, a retired Goessel High School band teacher who did most of the restoration work. “Most of the horses they had been using had been eaten in an effort to stay alive.”

Toews has been working with few breaks since mid-December to restore the vintage tractor on his farmyard on the edge of Goessel.

The story actually begins with George and Edna Dyck of Newton. George, a retired psychiatrist, and Edna, a pastor at Tabor Mennonite Church near Goessel, decided to find, restore and then sell a Fordson tractor at the relief sale as a way to raise money for MCC and recognize the ordeal his parents experienced in Russia during those difficult days.

“My parents, who lived in the Mennonite settlements there at the time, later talked about ‘the bad times’ as they faced starvation due to lack of food,” Dyck told Toews for an article that appeared in Gas Engine Magazine.

“My parents were married in January that year. Grandmother just invited the officiating minister and used her last flour to bake some rolls. There was no more to be had.”

Dyck approached Toews, who also attends Tabor Mennonite, if he would restore a vintage Fordson if Dyck could locate one.

“I told him sure, go ahead and see if you can find one,” said Toews, who had restored a 1927 Durant Star automobile that was sold at last year’s relief auction.

Dyck located a Fordson through the Internet near Winkler, Man. Ironically, it was owned by a Mennonite who had intended to restore it but lost interest.

After a deal was struck, Toews arranged for an Indiana company to transport the tractor to his place. He and Dyck began tearing down the machine Dec. 10.

“We took it completely apart, taking every nut and bolt out of it,” Toews said. “I have restored all the parts and just got it running this past week. I’ve got a few things to do it yet, but basically I have it pretty well finished.”

The rear end of the tractor was completely disassembled and cleaned and new bearings were put in the transmission where needed. The engine was bored and fitted with new pistons, the crankshaft reground and new bearings poured.

Toews said he tries to involve other local specialists in such projects, and this time was no exception.

Russ Abraham of Abraham’s Engine Service & Supply near Goessel did the valve work and put in new guides.

Lowell Heinrichs, a Goessel body man, took the dents out of the gas tank and painted the tractor.

Local wood craftsman Rod Abrahams created a replica of the original walnut steering wheel.

Orlando Voth contributed some Fordson accessories.

Don Haury near Halstead contributed authentic Fordson tools to create the full set that would have come with the tractor back in 1918.

“It should be just as good as when it rolled off Henry Ford’s assembly line,” Toews said of the tractor.

Even though the Fordson is now in exquisite condition, Toews said he isn’t sure what kind of value it has as a collectible.

Ford Motor Co., in an attempt to provide consumers with an affordable and more maintainable alternative to the “bigger-is-better” trend in tractor manufacturing during the early 1900s, built some 750,000 of the diminutive Fordsons from the time it was introduced in 1917 to the time the line was retired in 1927.

“Fordsons aren’t particularly rare,” Toews said.

The Fordson underwent almost no design changes during the years of its manufacture, he added, but the fact that this tractor is one of the earliest models should increase its value because it still is the original version.

“Casting dates on all pieces of the tractor are 1918, and it has the early, open-ladder radiator sides,” Toews said. “The early Fordsons came out with six-spoke rear wheels, which had a penchant for breaking spokes. Ford soon changed to a seven-spoke design, but we found a six-spoke wheel in Paxico, Kan.”

As word of the project has spread, a few interested buyers have already surfaced, Toews said.

Regardless of what price the tractor brings in Hutchinson next weekend, Toews said he’s glad to be a part of the project and feels his many hours of careful work have been well invested.

“(Wife) Leanne and I both support the MCC sale a lot, and so it’s just been fun to contribute with the gifts that we have,” he said. “It’s one of the talents that I have, so I’m glad I can contribute to the sale effort and help feed people who aren’t as fortunate as we are.

“I also enjoy working on old tractors and engines,” he added. “It’s always a challenge to figure out what you can do to make things work when you can’t get a certain part, or whatever. That’s always fun.

“Sometimes you have to sleep on it, but there’s always a way to figure things out.”

Edna Dyck said she and her husband have been surprised by the attention the project has generated.

“I didn’t think it was that big a deal, but it has kind of grown like Topsy,” she said.

As for the auction, Dyck added, “I think it’s going to be fun to see what happens.”

More from article archives
Partly Nonsense
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOEL KLAASSEN It’s a lot easier to roast marshmallows on...
Read More