The purpose of this article is to document my foray into the restoration of a Wheel Horse RJ58 Lawn and Garden Tractor, in the hopes that future RJ58/59 restorers might use this information to their benefit. By no means am I an expert at restoration, I am simply documenting the things I am learning and the decisions made during my restoration process. The information contained herein is a combination of my past restoration experience; my personal research into Wheel Horse's RJ-58/59 manufacturing processes; the sage advice I gleaned from talking to and admiring the work of other experienced RJ restorers; and the restoration "lessons learned" while returning this piece of history back to its original 1958 factory-new condition. My aim is to produce a restored tractor which holds to the original design and likeness of what was delivered to the Wheel Horse Dealerships in 1958, with as little modification to the original design as possible.
I have heard countless arguments on what is, and what is not, a restoration. By virtue of definition, a restoration is returning an item or situation to its former, or original state. My personal opinion is that anytime you preserve an antique or classic, by any method, you are performing a restoration. Even replacing a burned-out light bulb is a restoration of sorts. The word restoration needs additional words in order to adequately describe and define what "type" of restoration you intend to perform in order to prevent any arguments as to what defines a restoration in your case. What kind of restoration therefore, is important. It's important for you to fully define what type of restoration you are going to perform before you start, then attempt to hold to that objective throughout the process.
My definition of a restoration for this machine is to perform a 100% factory restoration of the entire machine. Every single piece, down to the last nut and bolt, will be repaired, restored, or replaced, to achieve a machine which contains at least 100% correct and accurate component parts. The Bill of Material contains 143 line items and covers over 308 individual piece-parts (not including the engine or any optional equipment), which I have personally removed from the machine, inspected to determine whether it can be refurbished or needs to be replaced, refinished or replaced as necessary, then reinstalled on the machine. This means that by the time this process was completed there was not a single piece-part on this machine which I have not handled and inspected several times over. My goal therefore was to return the machine to the same condition as it was when it was originally sold in 1958. I have made every attempt to vary very little from the original design specification. So now we arrive at my restoration "Mission Statement".
I define my intended restoration's as follows:
Return this machine, as closely as possible, to its original factory condition with 100% accurate parts and original configuration;
- Aside from hardware items (nuts, bolts, screws, washers, cotter pins, Zerk fittings, etc.) complete the tractor with 100% original Wheel Horse parts.
- Only deviate from the factory standard configuration, by addition; substitution; or modification; when an original part cannot be located or is too expensive to replace; when it preserves the longevity of the machine; and/or protects the longevity of the restoration work;
- Make no aesthetic changes except where they add value to either intent #1 and/or #2 above.
It is my sincere hope that future Wheel Horse, and particularly RJ-58-59 restorers, will find and use this article as a guide to their own restoration work. I believe this is a good starting point for those new to restoration, and those wishing to perform the same level of painstakingly accurate restoration work which I have done, in order to preserve the beauty, legacy and legend of the Wheel Horse brand.
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