Co Limerick enthusiast knows as much as anyone about these early internal Worthy owner of trio of the surviving Overtimes
When external combustion, using steam, gave way to internal combustion, using the new liquid fossil fuels, at the start of the last century, many attempts were made to harness the new technology, and apply it to tractors. This crossover period led to many designs that owed more to the legacy of the traction engine mindset rather than the recognition of the new opportunities that small, light, compact power units offered.
The upshot of this somewhat confused period was the creation of machines that are barely recognisable as tractors today, with an engineering tussle going on between three main camps.
They were: the motor plough, which attempted to bolt an engine and cultivator together. the Wallis ‘combination frame’, which was the forerunner of tractors as we know them today. and last, but not least, the external frame type, where the various components were a r r a n g e d s e p a r at e l y o n a chassis.
It was, of course, the Wallis Cub that won the evolutionary race, but that does not mean to say that the others did not possess merits of their own.
Of the frame types, one of the better-known tractors that found its way over to European shores was the Overtime, an American tractor built by the Waterloo Boy Gasoline Engine Company of Iowa, who started shipping them over in kit form to the UK during the First World War.
Before he went on to develop the modern agricultural tractor, a gentleman by the name of Harry Ferguson was appointed the Overtime tractors agent for all of Ireland, and he sold a good number over here, five of which are still known to be in working order.
Three of these are in the more than capable hands of Billy Donegan, who is based at Feenagh, Co Limerick. How Billy came to have such an interest in these machines is more a case of happy circumstance rather than a particular pre-occupation with tractors from that era.
He was building a successful car dealership with agencies for Daihatsu and Seat in the village where he still lives. Like all garages of the time, he would rarely turn away any sort of work, so he also found himself dealing in tractors, and other items of farm machinery, which is when he came across the remains of his first Overtime, which also became his first ever restoration project.
The scale of the restoration task should not be underestihave mated, because there were no off-the-shelf spare parts for this tractor, and very little in the way of manuals or any other sources of information. An ambitious start, and very little progress was made, in fact none at all for many years, because he was busy with the motor business. Yet, he was happy that this piece of Irish farming history had been rescued from an ignominious end of rust and nettles, and that its time to shine would come again. In fact, it took over 30 years for that moment to arrive, after a great deal of hard work and research in the period leading up to its completion in 2000.
The problems were numerous, but Billy, who had served his apprenticeship with a Limerick-based Morris agency, is a resourceful chap, and a natural mechanic, two qualities that were very much needed for the task.
As spry and fit as ever, he walks around the machine, pointing out the major jobs that needed attention. The biggest was the complete replacement of the chassis rails, which were made of 6” by 2” channel.
This was a standard dimension in America. But, over here, the closest he could obtain to that size was 6” by 3”. Undeterred, he set about cutting an inch strip off each side of the channel wall to ensure dimensions were correct and all the parts would fit. These were then pressed into shape and assembled to form the ‘milk bottle’ shape of the frame, which was rebuilt with only a 1:32 scale model as a guide. Billy quietly confides that his first Overtime is actually a couple of inches shorter than it should be, but I think we can forgive him that slight transgression, given the circumstances.
The front axle is of a beam type, with steering by chains, just as we find on traction engines, while the rear axle is at least blessed with a differential, although it has only one speed forward and one speed in reverse.
The standard 2mph top for field work can be increased to 2½ mph for road haulage, by literally changing the gears. The drive cogs can be replaced with slightly larger wheels, which necessitates that the rear axle is drawn back, to accommodate their larger diameter, an operation of some hours, not quite as slick as the average gear change of today, so Billy keeps it in race trim for shows and events, where the extra velocity is useful in parades. Resurrecting the drive wheels was a task that would daunted a less capable man, because the pair required a complete rebuild, with the correct number and type of spokes particular to the year of production. Such mundane items as wheel spokes may hardly seem a cause of consternation, but Billy has an urge for detail that requires they be considered as thoroughly as any other component, and he will list the types and the years in which they were fitted.
The ‘T’, the ‘L’ and oval, each have their place in the history of the tractor, and Billy knows exactly where they fit in.
Such expertise has not passed unnoticed, and the name of Billy Donegan is known as far afield as America, where he has been credited as knowing as much about the make as any other man alive, an accolspeed
“Billy quietly confides that his first Overtime is actually a couple of inches shorter than it should be, but I think we can forgive him that slight transgression, given the circumstances
Billy Donegan, Feenagh, Co Limerick, who has three of the five Overtime tractors in working order in Ireland.