Power steering installation

In April of 1995 I became the proud owner of a 1955 Ford 850 equipped with a Ford hydraulic loader.  The purchase was arranged through Palmer Fossum (Northfield, MN), who had the tractor for sale as a consignment.  This was to become the real workhorse along side two 8-N’s on our 80 acre farm in northern Iowa.  Although I was a ‘hobby” farmer, there was plenty of work for a tractor when I did get to the farm for a long weekend.  This was the farm where, along with three siblings, I had grown up and, with Mom still living there, the tillable acreage was leased out to our cousin, who worked several farms in the area.


The first time I drove this tractor, I immediately noticed how difficult it was to steer.  I attributed it to problems in the steering mechanism and asked that all of the steering components be re-built or replaced before delivery of the tractor.  Palmer’s shop obliged and went through it thoroughly including replacing several bushings and bearings in the spindles.  I was disappointed to find that, after all this work, it was still a struggle to steer, especially with a load in the bucket.  For several years after this I continued to horse the steering and just lived with it.  However, my siblings, who share farm management with me, pretty much refused to drive this tractor as it took such an effort to steer it.


About a year after purchasing it, I returned it to Palmer’s shop for a full overhaul.  I had moved back to Texas by this time and did not want to haul it down to my city home nor did I have the time to spend on an overhaul in the brief periods of time when I did return to our farm in Iowa. 


Palmer and his son, Loren, went through that tractor with a fine-toothed comb and re-built or replaced every part that was worn, including new rear tires.  By the time I got it back, it was mechanically a new tractor.  In addition to all the basics, we converted it from a 6-volt system to 12 volts with a negative ground.  Rather than replacing the generator with an alternator, the existing generator was rebuilt and, with a new voltage regulator, also converted to 12 volts so everything, except the battery, looks original.


My trips to our farm involve an airplane ride from DFW to MSP and then a drive down I-35 to northern Iowa.  Every chance I had, I would stop off at Northfield, MN to visit either Palmer or his son, Loren to talk tractors and see what they had that was new.  I was envious of Loren’s 851 with factory power steering.  He had the same model loader as I did and knew from experience with mine what a difference it made.


In the spring of 2002 I was visiting with Loren to finalize arrangements with him for delivery of a 951 diesel I had purchased when we again discussed power steering.  At that time I asked him if he knew of any after-market power steering units.  He mentioned an advertiser he had seen in the N-NEWS (“The Magazine for Ford Tractor Enthusiasts”) and suggested I contact him.  When I got home, I dug out my latest copy and found it - Jackson Power Steering in Jetmore, KS.  The ad listed an e-mail address, www.jacksonpowersteering.com so I sent off an inquiry.  I received a reply within 24 hours with information, a digital video, and a quote.  The price was a little higher than I was expecting, but within the ballpark.  After a couple of weeks of e-mail exchanges – I would ask a question and Mr. Jackson would patiently reply – I placed my order.


With our farm located in northern Iowa and my home in Texas, trips to the farm were infrequent.  Delivery of the power steering assembly was scheduled to coordinate with an upcoming planned trip around the Fourth of July.  Mom had passed on the previous summer and my son had chosen to spend this summer following his senior year of college living on the farm.  My brother also came up for the holiday festivities giving us a crew of three to tackle the conversion.  Although Mr. Jackson had assured me that the process was very straightforward, I have never found a project involving an old tractor to be as simple as it seems on the surface.  Further, Mr. Jackson had done this a time or two and we were novices.


The instruction manual included with the kit was very comprehensive and included photos of the various steps in the process from previous conversions.  On a bright, sunny day in early July, we began the process.  I won’t bore the reader with the details; that is the function of the installation manual.  I will say that it was reasonably straightforward, but I very much appreciated the assistance of my son and brother with the process.  One step, for the attachment of the diverter valve, which moves the hydraulic oil between the loader spooler valve and the power steering valve, was modified from the description in the installation manual.  This new step and attachment position, with photos, has now been incorporated into subsequent versions of the installation manual for a tractor with this model of loader.


I couldn’t have been more pleased with the results.  Jackson’s engineering of the system and the parts supplied for the conversion were first rate.  A tractor that before the conversion took considerable effort to steer has become a tractor with virtually a one finger steering process.  The primary drawback, if it can be called that, is that the oil pressure to the cylinders, as set by the factory, is probably too strong.  The cylinders deliver so much force that it is too easy to bend the drag link rods.  I eventually replaced mine with custom built, heavy-duty drag links that will not bend.  The pressure setting is adjustable, but I did not change my setting and ended up with two very bent drag link rods before getting the replacements.


With the new tires, wheel weights, and our Dearborn blade mounted on the three point, this tractor has become the main go-to tractor on our farm.  Even my sister uses it regularly for her landscaping projects.