After visiting a friend’s farm Jim Rieff stumbled across a new hobby restoring antique tractors

The week after graduating from Farmington High School, Jim Rieff became a meat cutter in Prairie Grove, Ark., at Southern Mercantile. Then in 1959, he was offered an opportunity to buy into a new grocery store in Rogers, Ark., if he would run the meat operation. Jim and Katie Rieff decided to do just that and still live on 40 acres they purchased in 1973 in Rogers. Little did he know back then that tractor restoring would become an important hobby.
The couple has always raised registered Angus and were among the first to use embryo transplant. At one time they flushed a particularly good cow and produced five full sibilings, Jim refers to as “the fabulous five,” in the same calving season which garnered a lot of interest when they were shown. Jim said, “Some guy from Texas came and flushed our cow using Holstein heifers as recipient mommas. When the guy came back in 30 days to check using ultrasound, on the screen I saw little mouse-sized calves with four legs. It was all pretty amazing.”    
The couple also raises all their own hay which of course required using a tractor. When Jim gave up his last grocery store in 1997, he went looking for something to do. Later a friend called with a solution. Jim and Katie went to Mayesville, Ark., where Jim was shown a John Deere B that had been sitting out in a field for 20 years, which was long enough for a tree to grow up through it. The steering wheel and the PTO were the only things that turned, and Jim had to use a four-wheeler to drag the old tractor off his trailer. The old tractor was untouched, complete and almost all original, every tractor restorers’ dream. However, not a speck of green was to be seen through the pervasive rust.
Jim laughed and explained, “I walked around that tractor for a week looking for a place to put a key in it, not knowing it didn’t need one.”
Jim’s first step was to clean the tractor with a power washer and then start taking parts off. A friend of his gave him an original parts and service manual, which Jim ruefully admits he has just about worn out. This first restoration took two years to complete. One of the lessons Jim learned was that John Deere can supply almost any part though parts are expensive, as are aftermarket custom-made parts. He affectionately named the tractor “The Money Pit” but feels not playing golf more than makes up for what he spends on the tractor even though the tractor would probably bring only half of what he has in it. The Money Pit has gone to a few shows and parades and was part of his granddaughter’s wedding though most of the time the shiny, beautifully restored tractor sits in a barn protected and loved but mostly unseen.
When the first tractor was restored, Jim was anxious to find another. Poking around in a dusty shed on a creek bank, he found a little John Deere H whose 12 hp motor is not nearly as big as some modern lawnmowers or the two cylinder 22 hp B he had just restored. Jim said, “It was a classy, cute little tractor built in the ‘40s with a lot of power for its size, perfect for cultivating two rows at a time on smaller acreages. “The Money Pit II” took an additional two years to restore.
Jim’s current project is a Ferguson ‘48, a small four cylinder English tractor built for the English market. Castings are magnesium rather than iron because of the scarcity of iron after World War II and the abundance of magnesium from scrapped airplanes. The tractor is similar to old Ford tractors with a unique starter that will not start unless it is in a particular gear making a safety switch unnecessary. The tractor also has a unique Lucas electrical system which will require additional adaptations.
The biggest challenge in restoring tractors for Jim is painting because Jim sees himself as a mechanic not a painter. Jim learned to get the surface that he desires through trial and error, often sanding and repainting several times until he achieves the perfect surface. He believes in using John Deere paint with a small amount of additional hardener that provides a more shine and gloss, dries quicker and lasts longer.
For his own acreage Jim uses a 1986 Ford 2910 model partially because he went to school with the Ford dealership owner when he was looking to purchase a tractor for the farm. Jim said, “My little Ford is not at all pretty like the ones I restore, but I only need a small tractor that can be used for a cow/calf operation. On these Arkansas hillsides the wide base and low center of gravity make the Ford more stable.”


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