8-N Stories

Coming of Age with an 8N



When I start talking about old Ford tractors, most people who know anything about old tractors always know the 8N.  My first memory of our tractors was in 1951 when I was about four years old.  I was in the kitchen of our north Iowa farm home watching out the window as a truck delivered a new tractor to our yard.  It was the second 8N for our farm and would be the last tractor my dad bought.  Mom recalled that there was a tractor on the farm when they were married in 1942.  From her description, it must have been a 9N.  It was probably traded for the first 8N.


As was true of many farmers of that era, these tractors replaced a team of horses.  In fact, while Dad used the 9N, Grandpa, who farmed with Dad until he finally completely retired at near age 90, continued to use the horse team until the arrival of the 8N’s.  That was also near the end of WWII with the end of gas rationing.  Another motive may have been concern for the safety of my older sister.  Mom also told the story of one time finding my sister in the horse pasture (at that time it was the area between the house and the barn) standing under one of those huge Belgians.  While the horses were apparently not at all alarmed, my mother must have been.


Growing up on the farm, most of my friends were from farm families, too.  It seemed that they all had the big tractors, John Deeres, Farmalls, Massy Fergesons, Minneapolis Molines, and Olivers.  I desperately wanted Dad to buy a bigger tractor, but he insisted the 8N’s were just right for our 80 acres.  Every summer at the county fair, I would head to the machinery display and notice the growth in size of the newest tractors, including the Fords.  I was convinced we needed a bigger model.  Time spent working on the farm at that age seems forever and a tractor that could only pull a two-bottom plow or a one-row corn picker seemed much too small for our fields.  I wanted to be done and off fishing, swimming, hunting, or other worthy pursuits.


As I grew up, those 8N’s continued their excellent service.  Dad was also a pretty competent shade tree mechanic.  While others in our area would occasionally need to drive or haul their tractors into town for mechanical work, I don’t think our two 8N’s ever saw the inside of another mechanic’s shop while

Dad was alive.  A broken axle – no big deal.  Steering a little loose – not a problem.  Valves getting a little crusty – take a head off.  Minor mechanical work was done on-the-fly.  Winters were reserved for the major projects.  I remember many winters with our heated garage taken over by Dad with a stripped 8N and parts everywhere.  He would regularly enlist either my brother or me to help him, which we usually enjoyed.


It must have finally gotten to the point where it was more expedient to replace the engines than overhaul them one more time.  Dad would go find an old Dearborn combine and, after first making sure the engine was not frozen, haul it home and transfer its engine to one of the 8N’s.  “After all”, I remember him saying, “most of them only work hard only about 2-3 weeks a year.”


An 80-acre farm is not something one looks forward to supporting a family, even in the 50’s and 60’s.  All of us (four) kids eventually left the farm for city jobs managing paperwork and people.  When Dad died in the fall of 1991, Mom elected to remain on the farm.  Dad had been retired for several years by then and was leasing the farmland to one of our cousins who was a full-time farmer in the area.  Mom chose to continue that arrangement.  We talked about what we would do with the tractors and various implements dad had and briefly considered selling the whole works.


I can’t remember if I purchased or was given one of the Motorbooks’ publications on the 8N’s but I remember beginning to understand the value and place of these small tractors in farming history from one of these books.  I bought another and read more.  In many of them reference was made to a Palmer Fossum[1] near Northfield, MN.  Although we lived in Texas at the time of Dad’s death, in 1992 I had an opportunity to move closer to home and in the fall of that year we moved to St. Paul.  From there it was an easy two-hour drive down I-35 to reach our farm.  And I-35 went right past Northfield.


On one of those trips I had my son with me and we decided to find this Mr. Fossum.  We stopped at the local John Deere dealer in Northfield where the manager knew right away who we were looking for and gave us directions to Palmer’s farm.  As luck would have it, Palmer was home.  What a delightful man with a wealth of knowledge on the older Ford tractors and implements.  As a collector of old Fords, Palmer also dealt in parts for Fords of that era.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that he had known my father.  Apparently Dad had stopped by his farm shop once or twice to visit and buy parts.  If you’d ever met Palmer or had the chance to talk with him you would know how gregarious he was and how he liked to talk about his Ford tractors.  It was often difficult for me to politely get away as he always had something new to show or tell me.


That introduction was the beginning of my conversion from an owner of a couple old Ford tractors to an enthusiast.  When, in early 1993, we discovered that the rear wheel rims on one of the 8-N’s were rusted through at the valve stem and just about shot, Palmer steered me to a dealer in Minneapolis who makes new wheels for the 8-N and had me pick up one for him while I was there. 

We eventually decided to have the older of the two 8-N’s (and the one in the worst shape, except for the engine) re-build and restored.  Having never done something like this before we naturally contracted with Palmer for the job.  In the spring of 1994 I hauled the tractor up to his shop and left it with a promise that it would be done by early to mid-June.  Over the 4th of July that year, we were having a family reunion with relatives from Norway coming and I wanted to be sure to have the tractor ready to drive it in our local town’s parade.  When I visited Palmer in early June and found our tractor stripped to its essence I began to be a little nervous about the promised delivery.  By the end of June and still no tractor I was very nervous.  However, Palmer was motivated to have it done for the Norwegians to see and delivered it July 2nd  [2] 

The paint was still tacky, but it was beautiful.  Since that time, I have found and installed original headlights to replace the ones shown in this picture.  We hung a sign on her and I drove her in the 4th of July parade to the delight of all our relatives.



 1] Palmer Fossum died in early December, 2007 and was memorialized in the Spring 2008 issue of N-News.

[2]  I since learned to add about six months to any deadline given to me by Palmer when I had him do some work for me.  He and his crew were very competent, but they were so much in demand that his work outstripped his capacity and since I was not farming, others who needed their tractors for field work got priority.