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Published June 25, 2010, 12:00 AM

Shared vision for tractors

Friends restore old machinery
Francis Dufault had to give up his electrician business in 1997 after two strokes left him legally blind. But recently he’s picked up a new hobby, thanks to a friend who shares his vision.

Francis Dufault had to give up his electrician business in 1997 after two strokes left him legally blind. But recently he’s picked up a new hobby, thanks to a friend who shares his vision.

Dufault, 69, and fellow Moorhead resident Dave Gierszewski, 65, have restored two tractors for the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag, Minn., and are working on a third, a 1937 International F-20.

“At the rate I’m going, this one may make Rollag yet this fall,” Gierszewski said last week.

“Depends on how much work I get,” Dufault joked.

The friends met more than 15 years ago at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Moorhead and discovered they had a lot in common.

Both grew up on the farm – Dufault on a dairy and grain farm near Crookston, Minn., and Gierszewski on a small grain and livestock operation along the Red River near Drayton, N.D.

They both flew airplanes. Gierszewski was, and still is, a corporate pilot for Butler Machinery of Fargo, while Dufault flew as a private pilot before giving it up when he started Fran’s Electric in 1975.

Both men also served in the military, Dufault in the Army and Gierszewski in the Air Force.

And both were handymen. Besides being a pilot, Gierszewski was a certified diesel engine instructor who trained mechanics to work on Butler’s heavy equipment. Dufault worked as a carpenter before becoming an electrician.

Nowadays, Dufault doesn’t think of himself as quite so capable. He’s blind in one eye and can see just well enough with the other eye to maneuver through his cluttered shop north of Moorhead. He strains to see small objects, even with the magnifying glass that always hangs from a string around his neck.

“If I drop something on the floor, it’s gone,” he said.

But Gierszewski said Dufault downplays his ability in the shop. While it may take him a bit longer, Dufault can accomplish “just about anything,” Gierszewski said.

“It’s amazing what the guy can do,” he said.

After Dufault suffered the two strokes, Gierszewski dragged him to Rollag. Dufault immediately took a shine to the reunion, which occurs every Labor Day weekend.

Another friend, Brian Nelson, talked them into taking home a 1922 International 8-16 tractor that was donated to the reunion for display and had sat idle for years, exposed to the elements. They picked it up in July 2007 and had it back running in Rollag’s parade the following year.

The extensive restoration process involved tearing apart the engine and replacing or refurbishing most of the parts, including pistons, rods, carburetor and the magneto. They fashioned new fenders and a hood and had it painted and decaled.

Along the way, they received in-kind help from local businesses such as Gremada Industries in Fargo, which built the front axle, and Schefter’s Sandblasting & Painting.

“It was get down into the guts of it and really clean it out,” Gierszewski said.

Both the 8-16 and the 1930 International 10-20 they tackled next are in working condition at Rollag.

“They almost look like new tractors now,” Gierszewski said.

The old tractors run on kerosene, which Gierszewski extracts from sump jet fuel – which sets up an easy joke for Dufault.

“It doesn’t go fast enough yet to get off the ground,” he deadpanned.

The friends enjoy working on the old tractors.

“It’s kind of reliving your childhood a little bit,” Gierszewski said.

This year’s reunion in Rollag is Sept. 3-6.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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