Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Out of the scrapheap and into a life of work

Fulfilling my wish list will turn this MF35 relic into a workable gem

Fulfilling my wish list will turn this MF35 relic into a workable gem
Fulfilling my wish list will turn this MF35 relic into a workable gem

Bruce Lett

Most people in the agricultural industry recognise the contribution that Harry Ferguson has made to the mechanisation of farming.

The 'Grey Ass' is a favourite among vintage enthusiasts and, while the Massey Ferguson 35 and 135 are as well, there are many that continue to serve on farms around this island.

One such specimen, a Massey Ferguson 35, played an important role on my family's farm up until recent years. It arrived second hand, about 30 years ago, to replace a four-cylinder 35 that went up in smoke in an electrical fire not long after a new starter had been fitted to it.

There was little left of it to be absolutely sure of the cause, but the four-cylinder tractors were notoriously difficult to start, so there is no surprise at the fitting of a new starter.

Despite losing the tractor, luck would have it that it was parked in the middle of one of the bigger sheds, surrounded on a couple of sides by recently harvested barley. Either side of the grain store there were sheds of hay and straw. The tractor could have just as easily have been parked in one of them -- and that really would have been a disaster.

The replacement Massey Ferguson 35 was sourced from a local trader who sold a lot of second-hand 35s at the time. It looked great with a new paint job, but underneath all was not well. After struggling with it for a year or so, it was decided that the engine needed to be done up. The engine was overhauled, along with the steering, which operated something like a vehicle out of the Beverly Hillbillies.

At that time a new Tachometer was fitted and the little 35 has clocked up 8,252 hours in its 30-year service. With the demise of both sugar beet and sheep from the farm in the past decade, it would have put up little more than a few hundred hours in the past 10 years.

My memory of it starting is that it always took a little heat from the thermostart to get it going in the morning and it would be relatively easy to start thereafter. Latterly, though, ether-based Easy-Start has been required on colder days and, when running, the engine is puffing like it's burning coal and oil.

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In its current condition it's worth very little, so rather than let it fade away into some dark corner of the shed I decided to do it up. Or a least do the engine up -- and it would do for the handy little jobs around the farm. Taking that a step further, I thought about making it a bit more modern and user-friendly.

The manual steering was always a pain. On more than one occasion it grabbed my attention when hitting a headland rut, nearly breaking or dislocating a thumb or two in the process. Then there is the hitch, or rather the lack of a pick-up hitch -- and so the list grew into what, at this stage, I call the 'wish list'. This is a list of items, modifications or modernisations which I would like to achieve on the MF35. In reality, all may not be possible as my budget is limited, so bigger items such as a cab might have to be sourced second-hand or the idea dropped all together.

There are many semi-retired Massey Ferguson 35 tractors like mine around the country. We will go through the reconditioning and modernisation process here over future months to evaluate the worth of such a project and tractor.

The wish list

Modernisation by the addition and fitting of:

  • Hydrostatic or power-assisted steering;

  • Spin on oil filter assembly for engine;

  • Alternator;

  • Full lighting including indicators;

  • Foot throttle;

  • Later-type hydraulic pump (with filter);

  • Suspended seat;

  • Pick-up hitch;

  • Cab.

  • Phase one

    The last time the Massey Ferguson 35 ran it nearly suffered the fate of the tractor it replaced. There was a short in the electrical system and this, combined with a leaking fuel-lift pump, set the side of the engine on fire.

    Safely started, the engine is running really poorly. Three cylinder engines by design often seem to run lumpier than four cylinder or bigger units. This one, though, is in need or a serious internal overhaul.

    With some degreaser and a good power-washing, there are parts of the tractor exposed that have not seen daylight for many years.

    Irish Independent