100yrs Old Doodlebug Tractor Preservation

November 15, 2021 3 min read

This week at the AMMO Studio, I’m working on an exceptionally cool project; a 1929 Doodlebug tractor owned by my mechanic friend Ted. Doodlebug is a slang name for a homemade tractor during World War II when tractors were in short supply. The Doodlebugs of the 1940’s were typically made from Ford Model A or T bodies from the 1920’s. Ted wants to preserve this tractor as its been passed down through his family for many years. The Doodlebug had been sitting in the woods for 8 years, so I was sure this preservation was going to take some work. 

Doodlebug tractor stuck in the woods for 8 years

After a tour of Ted’s picturesque farm and barn workshop, we headed down to the tractor which was completely hidden from view by brush. After clearing all the brush, Ted established a game plan to get the tractor running. I was in disbelief as the rusted-out Doodle had collected some “bugs” over the years, but Ted can fix just about anything. 

Getting the 100 year old doodlebug running again

Ted worked on the frozen transmission first and soon had the gears turning. Next, he worked on the distributor before pouring fresh gas in the tank. A new battery was installed, and the plugs sparked successfully. A borrowed alternator was installed and then we poured water into the radiator which didn’t leak. Good sign! Ted’s mechanical prowess was awesome to watch and soon enough all the plugs were out so he could squirt oil into each cylinder for fresh lubrication. With the plugs reinstalled, Ted was sure the Doodlebug would crank. After a quick pep talk and a couple tries, the engine sputtered into life for the first time in years! I could only whoop with joy as the Doodlebug motored out of the brush and back up to the barn. 

the doodlebug RUNS! Larry driving it out of the woods

Flush with excitement, I headed back home, and Ted worked on changing the fluids so he could drop off the tractor in the morning. The next morning, Ted arrived with the Doodlebug on the trailer, and it idled happily as he pulled it inside. Under the AMMO Studio lights, the rust and flaking paint were clearly irreversible. The goal was to clean it up and hopefully preserve the patina of this unique survivor tractor.

100 year old Doodlebug Tractor in the AMMO NYC Studio

Now that I had game plan for this preservation detail, I applied Titan 12 Degreaser to the caked grimy components before scrubbing with a wire brush. There was so much buildup that I let the degreaser soak while using compressed air to blowout the trapped leaves, spiderwebs, bugs, and dirt. On the engine, the grease just oozed off and covered the floor. Spurred on by this progress, I power washed the loosened grime and everything just poured off the old tractor. The Doodlebug almost sighed in relief as the years of caked dirt were blasted away. 

Disgusting 100 year old Doodlebug engine and dashboard 

With the Doodlebug a few pounds lighter, I used my new Boost Anti Corrosion Additive along with some Foam Paint Cleanser in the foam gun. I gave the tractor a good soak and used the suds as lubrication to scrub the flaking paint with a Scotch Brite Pad. This was by no means a traditional detailing method but necessary to prepare a smooth surface for the fluid film anti-corrosion coating. 

Using a scrub pad on the "paint" of the doodlebug tractor

With the Doodlebug rinsed and “clean”, I visited my local parts store aka my friend Steve across the street for the previously mentioned fluid film. Fluid film is manufactured using a unique heating and blending process of unrefined wool wax, lanolin, and corrosion inhibitors to create an active barrier that stops rust from penetrating metal further. Remember the goal is not to remove the rust, but to prolong the life of the Doodlebug for Ted who will enjoy running it on his farm. The fluid film left a thick visible coating on the Doodlebug and I’m glad I applied it outside as that stuff smelled strong! Finally, as a joke I applied Mud Tire Gel to the old spoke wheels to give Ted a good laugh when he arrived the next day.

Preserving the old tractor with wax and MUD Tire gel (as a joke)

The next morning, I opened the AMMO Studio early to make sure the Doodlebug was ready for pickup. Although by no means a Concours vehicle, the tractor looked miles better, and I could totally understand why Ted wanted to preserve it. I had come to respect the Doodlebug, not only for its important history but also its resilience in standing the test of time. This tractor came from an era when things were built to last instead of being dispensable. Mechanics like Ted could work on them with their hands and keep them running forever. Ted arrived and with a beaming smile clambered back onto his tractor. With no surprise, the Doodlebug started first try… good for another 100 years I think.

Ted picking up his freshly preserved Doodlebug tractor

Thanks for supporting AMMO NYC and stay tuned for more amazing detail stories! 


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