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Rebuilding tractors no simple hobby

ONLOOKERS AT this year’s Riverboat Days parade, who might marvel at the shiny retro tractors that hum smoothly along as part of the procession, should know there’s a story behind them.

The big toy-like machines are a retirement hobby of Thornhill resident Dale Manary, who rebuilds what once plowed fields.

A former prairie boy, Manary grew up on the farm, sidekick to his dad who was the head mechanic in the area where they lived north of Prince Albert, Sask.

“Most farmers were pretty handy,” said Manary, adding a talent for fixing things came out of necessity.

But he and his brother moved west in the mid-’50s, leaving the farm life behind. He eventually established a business hauling houses and trailers before retiring six or seven years ago.

A couple of years prior to that, he and his brother managed to find an old John Deere tractor on their Saskatchewan family farm, which their father had bought new in 1948.

“It was dad’s old tractor. We pulled it out with my brother and tore it up and fixed it up,” said Manary, 71.

Manary has now sold 11 rebuilt tractors and kept a half dozen for himself.

Each one, he estimates, takes between 125 and 135 hours to finish.

“You do a complete tear down. You strip it all down from one end to the other and lay it down in the shop,” Manary said. “Then you order parts.”

He says ordering and getting the parts he needs is the most difficult step in the process.

“It takes 40 to 50 hours after you get the parts,” he said, adding that while he waits he typically has work to do that can be done locally, such as boring out engine blocks.

When the parts – items such as bearings, seals, steering wheels, pistons, gaskets and lights – arrive, it’s like Christmas time at the Manary house.

“I start to open boxes and begin to reassemble,” said Manary.

Once the machine is running, he then will take it to a body shop for the finishing touches. It’ll be sandblasted, the rims will come off, new tires will be put on, the parts are primed and fresh paint is layered on.

Back in Thornhill, a final reassembly and decals complete what is a fully functional, shiny tractor from a former era.

Manary’s rebuilds are tractors originally built between the years 1941 and 1954.

Five of them are the familiar looking green and yellow John Deere models, while one is a locally bought red, nine horsepower Farmall Cub built in 1947.

“I couldn’t turn it down. It’s a cute little tractor,” said Manary, who paid $75 less than its original price tag 60 years ago. “I wouldn’t have much trouble getting 12 grand for it.”

Manary, who says he puts in about $7,500 in parts per tractor, has two favourites that he’s kept.

One is the John Deere H, which he says is his favourite because of its compact size and manoeuvrability.

A close second is the John Deere GM, or G Modern made in 1942.

“They only made 747 of them that year. In 1943, all the iron went to the Second World War effort. They made it again as the G,” Manary said.

Like a proud papa, Manary says he’d hate to see them go to work, in fact he doesn’t even like taking them in a parade if it’s raining.

“I won’t sell them for a while,” he said, adding he has no new projects on the horizon.

He is, however, looking for a rare John Deere D made in 1928.

“It’s rare and expensive. They’re worth $50,000 to $60,000 rebuilt,” he said.

Rounding out the collection are a pair of one cylinder pump engines built in the 1920s that were mostly used to pump water.

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