Tracing Your Tractor


1948 Avery V (4V426)

Marietta, Georgia – Although they were built in the same state where I grew up, I only knew of but one Avery in my home county in western Kentucky.  Perhaps that was attributable to my family’s owning the local Ford tractor dealership for nearly 50 years.  To my father, anything other than a Ford tractor was an “off-brand.”  A few years ago, I became interested in collecting and restoring antique tractors.  A friend and fellow collector here in Georgia suggested that I should get a B.F. Avery tractor because of our shared Kentucky origins.  I then researched Averys and developed a fascination with the company as well as its tractors.

Another friend who’s an expert restorer helped with the complete restoration of the tractor—disassembly, rebuilding the engine, transmission, rear drive, etc.  No part escaped our scrutiny.  It was taken down into component parts and then they were disassembled down to the frame rails.  Each part was then sandblasted, primed and base coated before reassembly.  Two coats of glossy acrylic enamel followed the assembly process.

In any event, I began the detective work of tracing the tractor’s history by calling the man I bought it from and by following the same process as I learned the identity of each of the previous owners.  It became similar to working a crossword puzzle as I actually found three of its four previous owners.  It was like working a crossword puzzle as I actually found three of its four previous owners.  A fourth one, actually the original purchaser, died man years ago.  Through these phone calls, I was able to collect significant information about the tractor’s history–how many crops it had produced, what parts had been replaced, and even followed the tractor around the Southeast as one of its owners moved around while he owned the little “V”.  In the process, I spoke with the 87-year-old second owner who actually did the most farming with the tractor.  Interestingly, I found the retired hardware store owner, also 87, who sold the tractor in the south Georgia town of Pelham.  He responded to my query about why he became an Avery tractor dealer.  “well, Avery made the finest plows and cultivators you could buy….I just figured that their tractors had to be good too…..”  Both of these senior citizens have a much better recall of events of long ago than I do, and I’m nearly 35 years younger.

Tracing this tractor’s history has given me a much greater appreciation for this inanimate object of ageless iron, and of the marked changes in agriculture and America for that matter.  During the sixty-five years that have passed since this tractor left the Avery plant in Louisville, KY, two of its five owners have died.  The hardware store where the tractor was sold, has long since closed its doors as have most other stores in rural country towns—replaced by a WalMart in a strip shopping center on the bypass on the outskirts of town.  A few years after my 1948 tractor was built, B.F. Avery and Sons was purchased by Minneapolis-Moline, and now both Avery and M-M are gone and neither tractor brand is made any longer.  For that matter, Ford tractors which my family sold for nearly fifty years are now sold under the name of their new owner—New Holland.  The number of farm equipment dealers diminishes with each succeeding year.  The small farmer for whom Avery and other similar tractors were designed is now extinct.  The crops themselves for which the tractor was used have changed.  Cotton, once the South’s premier crop, lost its prominence. Tobacco, the principal cash crop in many states, is continually under attack in Congress and in the court system.  Price support programs which have stabilized Southern agriculture since the Great Depression are threatened every year with abolition.  Other changes in American society came to mind as I tracked the little Avery’s ownership history.  The second owner paid $1,200 for the tractor.  He said he gave a pair of mules and a two-horse wagon as a down payment and the rest in $200 annual installments.  Such financing arrangements would be unheard of in today’s revolving credit or credit card economy.

From the first time that I saw the little Avery “V”, I thought it was a neat tractor.  Now that I have all of this knowledge of its history, it seems more like a member of the family than simply a restored machine.  I’ve read stories about restoring old family owned tractors and seen wanted advertisements with people offering sizeable rewards for old family tractors which have sentimental value.  Even though I’m this tractor’s fifth owner, I’ve grown very fond of it.

A few years ago, I was in Kentucky visiting my late mother, then 89.  I thought I’d bring back some fond memories of yesteryear and proudly took a photo album of the Avery V restoration project to show her.  She took one look, and laid my album aside with the curt comment: “Avery—why’d you waste your money on one of those.  Don’t you remember your father never thought much of them?”  Mom was still loyal to Fords and like  Dad, would never understanding.  Notwithstanding my mother’s admonition, and my family Ford heritage, I’m very proud of my tractor, its rich history, and of the historic Kentucky farm equipment company, B.F. Avery & Sons, that built it.

By Luther D. “Dan” Thomas
Author of B.F. Avery & Sons Pioneer Plowmakers of America