During the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, father and son duo, Mervyn and Stephen Agar from Bagenalstown, Co Carlow, fully restored their 20,000-hour International Harvester (IH) 574 tractor.

Now the pride and joy of the second and third generation, the tractor was formerly owned by the late Fred Agar, Mervyn’s father and Stephens’s grandfather, who bought the 1973 Galway registered IH 574 in “as new” condition in 1974, with a mere 600 hours on the clock.

“Wanting to upgrade his Fordson Super Major at the time, Dad [Fred] approached Derry Moody in Tullow (the local IH dealer) to buy an IH 674.

“Derry informed him of a IH 574, a slightly smaller model that was for sale in Galway at better value. It was under a year old, with just 600 hours on the clock. Being a relatively large tractor at that time, it didn’t suit the previous owner. It was priced at £2,750 and a deal was settled at £1,500, along with the Major as a trade,” Mervyn explained.

Of the 77,000 plus IH 74 series tractors sold new, the 68hp 574 was the most popular seller. \ Philip Doyle

To this date, the purchase receipt from 1974 still remains in Mervyn’s possession.

‘Ahead of its time’

“Coming from the Major, the 574 was a significant advancement and arguably ahead of its time – the hydrostatic steering and synchromesh gear box being prime examples of this. It was the main tractor on the farm for many years. From ploughing with a three-furrow Kverneland Stenomat plough, to sowing with an MF-30 drill and spraying with the Hardi sprayer, it did everything,” Mervyn explained.

The IH 574 served as the primary tractor on the farm up until 1980, until another International arrived, this time a larger 784 model. This, to an extent, saw the 574 take a backseat. It was then fitted with a Mills front-end trip loader previously fitted to an MF 135 that belonged to Fred.

The International 784 was later traded for a newer 955 model and later a 956 XL, which was the last tractor Fred bought. Mervyn said that his father never bought or saw the need for a 4WD tractor, given the land they worked.

By 1995, the 574 had clocked up over 20,000 trouble-free hours (aside from the occasional clutch replacement), and continued to work, but to a lesser and lesser extent. Unintentionally, it then sat parked up for a number of years.

The tear down

In 2010, Mervyn and Stephen decided to pull the tractor out from behind the hedge where it lay for years.

“It was a sorry looking sight. The cab had blown off with the wind, and the rust had set in. To see the extent of what we were going to be working with, we tried to start it. To our surprise, it did after pulling it about three lengths of itself,” Mervyn explained.

Mervyn Agar and his restored 1973 IH 574. \ Philip Doyle

The lads got it into the shed and stripped it during their spare time. Pretty much all the mechanical work it needed was done.

“Roberts Engineering fully overhauled the engine from top to bottom. This included polishing the crankshaft, cylinder head rebuild, new pistons, linears, bearings etc. Up until this, the engine was untouched and still fitted with the original injector’s after 20,000 hours.

“In the meantime, we were getting busier with our haulage business and Stephen was busy with school. As result, there the tractor sat in multiple parts until 2020.

“One day during lockdown, 10 years later, Stephen and I were in the shed. At this point, the tractor was taking up quite a bit of space. Stephen mentioned putting the tractor back together just to make space as much as anything else. With the free time on our hands, we got back at it. Needless to say, it kept us busy for a couple of months.”

Fred Agar's purchase reciept from 1974.\ Philip Doyle

Aside from rebuilding the engine, the only other mechanical work it needed was a new clutch and pressure plate, and the front axle re-bushed. Hydraulics and brakes were all in good shape, according to Mervyn.

The rebuild

In terms of its cab and body panels, the tractor was in a state of disrepair. The lads sourced a second hand cab of MDE Agri Parts, Kesh, Co Fermanagh to replace what remained of the original cab.

“We later discovered that the second hand cab was from a later 1974 built tractor. Tractors post-1973 featured tinted windows and interior upholstery for sound-proofing,” Mervyn stated – only the eagle-eyed International enthusiast will notice this, he laughed.

“We repaired what we could and sourced new parts and components too. Intra Trac (Intanational Tractor Parts) in the UK provided us with any of the bits we required, including a new seat, grill, headlights, window rubbers and track rods, just to mention a few. Some parts were sourced locally too from F. Jenkinson Ltd and Farm Industrial Supplies.

“The tyres and rims were rotten, so we had Agrigear build us a set of rims and have them fitted with 18.4-34 rear and 10.00-16 BKT front tyres; a slightly wider combination to what would have been fitted originally, but we felt it helped the look of the tractor.”

The tractor was fully prepped and painted by a family relation. Mervyn pointed out that the attention to detail was second to none.

A new lease of life

By the end of 2020, the 50-year-old International 574 had been returned to its former glory, and to a standard Mervyn is confident would have been similar to that when his father originally purchased it in 1974.

“From start to finish, the restoration is standing us in the region of €12,000 (including VAT). But it’s not about the money, it’s about the memories and the history over those 49 years that it has been in the family.

“We tend to only take it out to vintage runs and rallies for the sheer enjoyment. We take part in the Carlow to Cork tractor run every June bank holiday weekend, which is a great event and a great opportunity to raise money for a very worthy cause – Crumlin’s children’s hospital. To date, the run has raised over €530, 000,” Mervyn said proudly.

A number of parts and components were soruced from UK IH part specialists Inta Trac. \ Philip Doyle

“One of the few things we have left to do with the tractor is to refit new cab upholstery, which I’m sure we’ll get around to now at some point.

“It currently sits parked away alongside a restored Massey Ferguson 135 Multi-Power tractor, also bought by my father in 1968, and a restored County 1164 which belonged to my late brother, Ken.”

IH 74 series – brief history

The 68hp IH 574 formed part of the Worldwide Series built at the International Harvester (IH) factory in Bradford and Doncaster between the years of 1970 and 1978.

Both it and the 52hp 454 model were regarded as the first true Worldwide tractors and featured German-built IH engines. They were later joined by the 354, 374, 444, 454, 474, 475, 574 and 78hp 674 models.

A synchromesh gearbox providing eight forward and four reverse speeds was fitted as standard. The optional ‘Torque Amplifier’ transmission doubled the number of available gears.

IH then introduced an optional hydrostatic gearbox for both the 454 and 574, which proved particularly popular with loader users. It offered infinitely variable travel up to 20mph, and the lever-controlled transmission was supplemented by a low range which boosted torque for heavier work.

Having lain outdoors for a number of years, the tractors was in a state of disrepair before its restoration.

The 74 Series integrated a number of modern features as standard, such as oil-immersed, self-adjusting disc brakes, pendant style pedals and a user-friendly cab layout.

Category I and II rear linkage was standard across the range, while optional extras included hydrostatic steering, wheel weights and a pick-up hitch.

Irish tractors were commonly fitted with a Victor cab, which had a removable roof and doors, sliding side windows, and an opening rear window.

IH also introduced a new safety cab for the range, with full glazing and sound-deadening.

Approximately 77,000 74 Series tractors were produced before the range was superseded by the 84 Series models in 1977.

The most popular model in the range was the versatile 574.