In 2012, Brian Burrows (left) bought this Ford 8N tractor that hadn’t run in years. He enlisted the help of Rick Geisbrecht (centre) and Al Holmberg to find the parts and put in the elbow grease to get it working again. (Photos by Larry D'Argis / Winnipeg Free Press)
When you think of collectable vehicles and those that merit restoration, the Ford N line of tractors may not be at the top of your mind.
Rest assured, however, there are owners and enthusiasts out there who find Henry Ford’s little workhorse not only a collectable, but still very much a useable tool on the farm.
Produced from 1939 to 1952, the N series included the 9N and 2N, but it really reached it’s peak with the 8N produced from 1948 to 1952. Weighing just over 2,700-pounds on a 70-inch wheelbase, it’s a compact yet rugged design. The 27-horsepower, inline, flathead four-cylinder engine coupled to a four-speed manual gearbox proved to be a reliable combination and played a major part in ensuring a farm was successful.
For Brian Burrows and Dianne Swain of Miami, Man., their two restored Ford tractors both have a use on their farm. “Our farm is 480 acres and has been in the family for 125 years, so they’re used for everything from hauling, cultivating and harrowing,” Burrows says.
In 2012, there was a ’48 Ford 8N for sale locally that hadn’t run in years and it wasn’t selling. While not really needing another tractor, Burrows still decided to buy it and haul it home.
“To see if the engine was loose, I asked Dianne to help me turn it over and we got acorns popping out of the exhaust,” Burrows says.
The strong affection Burrows has for the Ford flathead V-8 engines, which powered many cars and trucks from the 1950s, got him thinking.
“The flathead V-8 ran smoothly and accepted punishment, similar to the little red-bellied Ford tractor and although it was never a Ford option, today there are basic kits available to replace the four-cylinder with a V-8,” Burrows says.
Burrows found a disassembled flathead V-8 from a 1952 farm truck. In need of a complete overhaul, Burrows delivered the boxes of parts to John Bird at Bird’s Engine Machines. Bird’s experience on the flathead V-8 went a long way to returning it to running condition. To complete the overhaul, Burrows obtained a rebuilt two-barrel carburetor and water pumps from Norm Dumontier at Mid-Canada Suspension in Winnipeg. At 255 cubic inches and with roughly 100 hp, it makes nearly four times the power of the original four-cylinder.
Burrows teamed up with his friend Rick Giesbrecht in Stephenfield in 2016 for the majority of the restoration work and engine installation. It even led to their V8 T-shirts with the logo 2 Heads R Better Than 1, a play on the fact that the flathead V-8 has two cylinder heads as opposed to the one on the four-cylinder. For the build, they sourced a kit to convert the tractor to V-8 power from Dave Knasel at Awesome Henry located in Maplewood, Ohio.
“A kit is never complete and it requires a skilled person to make it work,” Burrows says. “My experience with Rick is that he loves a challenge and he really came through.”
With the tractor completely stripped, all of the parts were sandblasted and repainted in the original colours and new tires installed. Geisbrecht performed all of the bodywork, prep and paint on the engine cowling, fenders and radiator shell.
The kit included a special aluminum adapter plate to mate the V-8 engine to the tractor’s original manual transmission. A tight fit within the confines of the tractor frame, it also leaves only a few thousandths of an inch clearance between the inside of the adapter and the engine ring gear.
With the engine painted with heat-resistant paint and clear-coated it was installed along with dual cylinder head temperature gauges and 2.25-inch diameter dual exhaust with glasspack mufflers.
One of the more difficult items to locate was a six-volt tachometer. Friend Al Holmberg managed to source a supplier for the Westach short-sweep, zero to 3,500 r.p.m. unit, from Westburg Manufacturing Inc. in Sonoma, California.
With the tractor complete, it’s a sight to see. It looks new and the flathead V-8 conversion looks right at home in the chassis, but you really have to appreciate the special fabrication skills and talent involved in the project. Turning the key ignites that familiar hot rod rumble the Ford flathead V-8 is known for.
The combination should now be good for a top speed of about 100 km/h, if you’re brave enough to hang on.
Awesome Henry serial number AH392 should make its show debut at the July 1 Roseisle Canada Day Celebration Parade and Tractor Show. As for working down on the farm, Burrows admits, “It’s going to see some light use, possibly for hay rides or pulling a sleigh.”