Third-generation owner restores 4WD Versatile

The Fraynes have used the 835 Versatile in the field and to help clear snowbanks on highways

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An 835 Versatile, a fixture for three generations of Fraynes, has been given fresh life.

Gene Frayne brought back home the repainted and restored tractor this spring, and it will be going back to work in the field as it has for the Frayne family since it was purchased in 1984.

Gene’s grandfather, Eugene, and father, Paul, bought the 1983 model from Hyde’s Equipment in Hensall to do tillage and blow snow along the Highway 21 corridor where the Fraynes live near Kingsbridge, just inland from Lake Huron.

The Frayne family used the Versatile 835 to move snowbanks on Hwy. 21 near Lake Huron. photo: Courtesy Gene Frayne

Paul had planned on refurbishing the tractor, which had faded over the years, but had little rust despite years of moving snow banks on a highway where the snow can be prodigious and road closures frequent.

Unfortunately, Paul died of cancer on April 22, 2018, only 12 days after Gene’s 88-year-old grandfather and Paul’s father also passed away.

“Dad had wanted to paint it for the last eight to 10 years, but it never happened,” said Gene on a recent spring day with the wind blowing hard off the lake and swirling around the grain elevator, hog barn and drive shed on the Frayne farm.

His father’s wishes and the urging of local machinery expert Gerard “Butch” Howard convinced him to get the tractor painted — a tribute to his father and grandfather.

He thought about upgrading the tractor — it has done its time — but decided it still had more work to do on the farm. It’s simple, affordable power. The Cummins engine output was 240 horsepower when purchased, but tweaks over the years has put it closer to 300 now.

“The old Cummins engines are good on fuel,” Gene says.

The stripped down Versatile during its painting. photo: Courtesy Gene Frayne

The tractor has run 16,000 hours. Over the past 35 years it has laboured on the farm without a lot of repairs. It had the clutch redone, and the engine was over- hauled about five years ago when a seal failed at the bottom of a cylinder sleeve.

Tony Miltenburg at Ashfield Service Centre nearby has done most of the work on the tractor over the years.

The articulated four-wheel drive tractor in earlier days pulled a plow and a cultivator, although they don’t use a plow often on the farm anymore, so it mostly now hauls a vertical tillage unit.

But its greatest adventures have been in the winter, with a big blower on the front, helping to push back the snowbanks on Highway 21. Gene remembers one year when it quit on a bridge in a snowstorm, prompting some quick action to get it fixed and moving again.

The tractor’s detailing has been returned to original, with accurate paint and vinyl decals, custom fabricated just for the 835.

Gene drove the tractor across Huron County to Wingham to get the sandblasting and paint work done by Jared Harkness at Ivan Harkness Sandblasting.

The interior was also redone, including a new seat. New tires were also installed.

The Fraynes have installed autosteer on the tractor, so it has some modern amenities. Gene also fabricated a new set of lights to match the ones that were installed on the front of the tractor for when the snow blower was working. The new lights are LEDs, however, and much brighter than the original added set.

When the weather dries up, the old Versatile, given new life, will be working hard again on the Frayne farm, tilling the land as it has for 35 years.

x photo: Courtesy Gene Frayne

About the author


John Greig

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig



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