Rebuilding a Farm Tractor one repair at a time is a great way to save money and learn new skills. As a farmer, fixing the tractor seems to be a never ending chore. We were very fortunate to get a working backhoe for the farm and drive it home last year. It is a 1968 International 544 with a 3121 backhoe and a model 2000 front loader. Manufacturers only provide parts for their equipment for a limited time. Since it is an older model, we were on the edge of getting parts and support from the manufacturer. With research, we found that most everything would be available.
Our new tractor had been used extensively in its lifetime, showed the wear, and received only minimal repairs over its lifetime. We were able to find a very basic manual for the tractor, it included other models of International tractors. Most of them were strictly for row crop farming style, not the backhoe style tractor we had purchased. We would do our best and learn to be creative for repairs and maintenance.
When we first got it home, we had a short list of items to fix:
- replace one front wheel
- 2 new front tires
- oil change
- oil pan gasket
- hydraulic system filters
- change all of the fluids
Not really that many repairs to start for an old tractor that had been rode hard and in need of attention.
Now that we have a working tractor with backhoe and front loader attachments we are ready to start building our farm. To grow food, we need to have water available. Our first order of business was to dig a ditch from the well to the planned greenhouse area.
Digging the Waterline Ditch
The requirements for the water line included not only the ditch being 10 feet deep and 220 feet long, but also a place to put the water reservoir. Everything needed to be buried deep enough or insulated properly to prevent freezing in the winter. The tractor did the job without any major problems.
Once we dug the 10 foot deep waterline ditch and the hole for the water reservoir, the tractor was asked to dig the greenhouse hole.
Digging the Greenhouse base
We live at 8,800 feet in elevation with extreme high winds on an open plain. The winters can be severe with sub-zero temperatures being the norm. By building the greenhouse in the ground, we will have the added insulation from the cold and the wind.
Since the greenhouse has to be protected from the cold and the wind, it has to be mostly underground. A big job, but with a backhoe and front loader is should be easy right?
The rear wheel lug bolts broke
Within a week of starting to dig the greenhouse, the tractor had shown us that it needed some more attention. Starting with the lug bolts breaking on the back wheel while moving dirt. A loud crack was heard and the right rear wheel laid over to the side. Another opportunity to continue rebuilding the tractor!
We changed all of the bolts in the rear wheels as well as some on the front wheels. Life was good for the tractor, except for some minor fluid leaks.
Oil Leaks grow on front engine cover
We started losing about of 1 quart of oil per day. We discovered the problem and repaired the leaks from the front engine cover. To make a permanent repair, we were going to have to take the front panel off the engine. That meant that we would have to remove the majority of the front of the tractor:
- Air Cleaner
- Many small parts
This could mean losing a few weeks of work. Since it was cold and freezing off and on, we decided to just tighten the bolts a couple of times per day. That worked to stop the leaking temporarily.
We would repair the tractor later as the weather warmed up and we had the greenhouse dug.
Hydraulic leak on Attached Backhoe swing arm pump
We also had a small leak on the left swing arm pump for the backhoe. We were told by a dealer that we would have to take it apart and have the surfaces milled. When we first got the backhoe, there had been silicone sealant on the fitting which brought the hydraulic fluid to the pump.
We finally drove the 60 miles to the nearest Case/IH dealer in Pueblo and talked to the Service manager and lead technician. They took the time to look up the backhoe in their computer and found that there IS a small o-ring that should be on the connection to the swing arm pump! Even better, they had the parts in stock!
When we got back to the farm, we placed the o-ring onto the part and no more leaks!
Popping and a Crack?
Once the leak was stopped, the tractor was ready to work, so we thought. The tractor had a small hairline crack on the right side of the main support for the front loader. We had planned to just pull out the rest of the dirt then get it welded. Sounds good right?
Three bucket loads into the new day, and behind the drivers seat we heard a Loud “Crack”! What the heck was that? A bracket and bolts that support the main frame for the front loader had broken. What was worse, is that the small crack that had been repaired before opened up under load. Ripped and pulled apart.
Taking the time to fix it right
We decided to take the time to disassemble the tractor to pressure wash it, fix it right and get back to work.
After pressure washing the tractor, we identified all of the cracks and leaks on the hydraulic systems and engine.
We started by removing the bolts that allowed the front cover of the engine to leak. One bolt at a time was removed, threads cleaned up, added a thread locker and then reinstalled the bolt to proper torque settings. We then painted the areas where it had leaked to keep tabs on the “Fix”.
For the front loader support that attaches to the rear axle, we welded the plate back on and installed new case hardened bolts. We also painted the fix red to remind us to keep an eye on the repair.
The main support tower had to be welded on 5 sides. The only side that was not cracked was the back part of the support that you see painted red. A grinder was used to prepare the cracks to allow for a good weld. The cracks were welded to make sure that good penetration was accomplished and then the “Slag” was removed. Slag is the melted flux that sits on top of the weld when completed. The slag was chipped off and ground to remove sharp protrusions. Once again the cleaned welds were painted red (after stress testing the repair) to remind us to watch the area.
One hydraulic repair left to complete
There is one area that we were unable to repair at this time. One more item left to do!
The hydraulic control valves that control all of the backhoe functions are in need of repair. The parts need to be purchased, and installed. With the delay of finishing of the greenhouse, the decision was made to leave the cover off of the valve assembly and start digging again.
One day, this tractor will have a complete paint job, but for now it is a work horse for us. It is enjoyable having the tractor work right with one very small leak. Each day is an opportunity to improve the tools, land, and the soil.
The tractor also got a new seat that has a shock absorption system on it! This a lot better than a metal plate.
Just because an older tractor has been used and abused, it can still be a great deal. Learning how to properly maintain and use a tractor can save you many repairs. As you can see small items can turn into big problems. The sooner you discover a problem, the less it will cost you to repair.
We have had requests about equipment troubleshooting and repair. So much so, that we would like to know if it would be helpful for you to learn the tips and tricks of equipment maintenance.
I have over 45 years of maintenance and repair experience. Most of my experience is “In the Field” troubleshooting and repair. Contact me at http://hisfarm.org/contact if you would like some help with farm equipment.