When Three became one - Emerson Brantingham Tractor Restoration story

Story & Pictures by Don Cottam


Way back in 1992, I saw an Emerson Brantingham (E.B.) tractor advertised at a clearing sale at Bealiba, Victoria.  At that stage, I’d never seen or heard of one before.  As I couldn’t get to the sale, I rang the agent to ask if they would bid on my behalf. That night, I received a call to say I had won it for $500.

It might possibly have been the only bid as, when I saw it, I was quite disappointed. The engine had let go and was destroyed, and the rest of it was just a rust bucket. Consequently, it sat in my yard for years, until one day a friend of mine, who had a farm at Howlong on the Murray River, told me about an old tractor that had been dumped in the river many years ago to stop erosion of the banks. I went with him to have a look, and it turned out to be another E.B.

We dragged it out and, of course, there was very little that could be used. However, I desperately needed a sump and cylinder block as, without those, I couldn’t get on with the job of restoration. Then, by chance, I was talking to a chap who told me of a wreck at Macedon and that he had removed the engine. Evidently, an old gold miner had used it to drive his battery, but when he passed away, vandals set fire to his hut and pushed the E.B. down the hill into a tree, which wrecked the radiator and bent the front axle, so there was not much left of that one.

I had three tractors – one with a blown engine, one with no engine and one rusted away. The only steering box I had was the one from the river, so that had to be rebuilt.

I organised to have the crank ground and bearing re-metalled, then honed the cylinders and fitted new rings. The only radiator I had was almost beyond repair. I had to make new mudguards, bonnet and fuel tanks. I picked out the best gears for the transmission and fitted new bearing seals and rebuilt the clutch (which is a cone type).

A fellow collector helped me out with an original seat and steering wheel. He also found me a K.W. magneto and, luckily, I was able to obtain the correct Stromberg carburettor. Of the six wheels I had, there was not one that didn’t have to be repaired.

A.H. McDonald imported and sold this model 12-20 in around 1926. It is interesting to note that one of these tractors had a P.T.O. with a one inch shaft made by McDonald, as the E.B.’s never had one, and this may be the only surviving example.

After working on this tractor for countless hours I can see why they dumped it in the river! On second thoughts, I think I should have left it there! *Don Cottam

• Above: Rear view after the restoration.

• Above: The tractor after it was pulled from the Murray River at Howlong. It only surfaced on the odd occasion when the river was low.


• Above: A close-up of the engine. The magneto mount was broken and had to be repaired.


• Above: Rear view showing PTO that was
made by A.H. McDonald.

• Above: Don, with the tractor, after three years in the workshop.