Some Antiques Just Keep On Keeping On

Drive to the line shaft

Drive to the line shaft (cover removed).

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3931 S. E. 80th Street Ocala, Florida 34480

Why, that sounds like an old John Deere. I thought it would sound like a real engine. This was my brother Harold's fun-poking remark the first time he heard me crank up my latest project.

Over the last forty years I have built about 15 different portable shops on trailers. These units consisted of, first of all, a good-sized steel work table fabricated of 3/8' steel plate with a good vise on the corner. Mounted on top of, or under, the table would be a welding generator, an air compressor, a 120 volt AC generator, and an engine or two to power all of this. Somewhere on the trailer would be a place to mount oxygen and acetylene tanks. Underneath the outer edges of the work table would be cabinets and drawers to hold hand and power tools.

A man could go to the field with one of these units and tackle almost any kind of equipment repair or fabrication. There is a reason for building the shops on a trailer. In the early days of my business as a job shop operator, I had built an elaborate portable shop on a truck chassis. This seemed like a good idea at first, but experience brought out a couple of things I didn't like.

If you were out on a job and found you needed some material from town, before you could use the truck to go to town, you had to put everything away. Roll up the welding cables, the oxyacetylene hoses, the air hose extension cords, store the grinder, the impact wrench, the drill and the trouble light. Don't forget your welding helmet and your gloves. Now close and lock all the cabinets and drawers.

Make the run to town, then come back and string everything out again. But that's not all. Sometimes I would have a helper along. If I was going to take all the tools away there wasn't much he could do until I got back, so I usually wound up paying him to ride to town and back with me. All of this led me to build on trailers. This allowed me to just drop the tongue and go.

One more advantage of the trailer is that when it is parked at the shop, where you may already have air and electricity, it is still a very convenient work station.

Five or six years ago, I started assembling the unit pictured here. The table top on this trailer is five feet wide, and eleven feet long. The rear axle has electric brakes. The front axle pivots on a 10' diameter fifth wheel for steering. Many times folks question the steering on my trailers. They want to know how I can tow this type of trailer on the highway without it weaving all over the road. Well, the secret is the fifth wheel steering. Folks are accustomed to farm trailers with automotive type steering that often do wander all over the road. But think about the big rigs on the road; even if they are pulling two or three trailers they are all fifth wheel steering.

When I first started building this style trailer, years ago, I would have to grease the fifth wheel about every 1,000 miles. Today you can put a nylon pad between the plates, grease it good one time and forget it for thousands of miles. There are some more advantages to this type of trailer. First, there is no tongue weight and no tongue jack. Second, you don't have to be real particular about balancing the load, and third, you don't have to be hooked up to a vehicle to load or unload the trailer. My engine display trailers also use a drop deck. The front five or six feet of the floor is 33' above the road to clear the pivoting axles. The rest of the bed is 21' off the road with wheel wells over the rear wheels.

The engine sitting up front has a double V belt drive through a hole in the table top to a line shaft under the table. This shaft extends all the way to the rear of the table. V belt drives from this line shaft drive a 5-KW Allis-Chalmers generator, a twin cylinder Curtis air compressor and a Lincoln DC welding generator. If the equipment on this trailer isn't antique, it's mighty close. The welder is a 180 amp Lincoln, belt driven, DC generator. Right after WWII, when farmers began to be interested in having their own welders, Lincoln Electric Company started building this model for the farm trade. You bought the generator and supplied your own engine. I have one of the manuals that came with the welder, and among other things it shows how to mount the welder on a tractor and run it off the belt pulley. Instructions are also given for mounting the welder on a trailer axle and building a step up drive from the PTO, to give the welder its no-load speed of 2,500 rpm.

This generator is a real solid piece of equipment in the 1950s, I had two of these welders that we powered with 4 cylinder flat head Jeep engines. Sometimes we would have welding fabrication jobs where we would burn 5/32, 6013 rod 10 hours a day, day after day. We wore out two Jeep engines, but the welders were still going strong. I realize they were not intended for this kind of service, but they stood up to it for us anyway.

I found the air compressor at a show in Republic, Missouri, several years ago. It was cheap because it had no compression. I don't have any idea of its age, but my friend Bill Warren at Air Power Plus of Ocala was able to find new valves that fit. With a good cleaning and the valves installed, it works like new.

The drive to the compressor is something that I worked out with Bill Warren several years ago. It has worked so well, I'll describe it here because it might help someone else. This is a control system for a compressor driven by an engine. Installed in the pressure line is a small valve called a differential valve. When the tank pressure reaches 110 psi this valve actuates a small air cylinder, (5/8' bore x 3' stroke), which kicks the belt tightener back. As the belt goes slack, the compressor stops. When the pressure drops to 95 psi, the air cylinder retracts and the belt tightener, being spring loaded, kicks in again. The pressure range is adjustable. I built the first of this type of drive seven or eight years ago and that unit is still working regularly. The compressor is a Curtis, two cylinder, single stage. Output is about 8 cfm at 100 psi.

The AC generator was originally sold as an attachment for an Allis-Chalmers garden tractor. Again, I have no idea of its age, but I haven't seen any Allis-Chalmers garden tractors advertised lately either. It is rated 5,000 watt at 120 or 240 volt. I bought this from a man whose name I can't remember, but he headed up the group who restored the old grain elevator at Atlanta, Illinois (Illinois not Georgia). I was 1,200 miles from home and had a breakdown. I needed a welder and a cutting torch. He opened up his shop and let me use his equipment to make my repairs. There are truly some good folks in this old machinery hobby.

By the way, their old grain elevator is worth a visit. Last I heard, it got listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Our house and shop buildings are scattered across three acres in a rural area. As an extension of the 5KW generator, I have buried an electric circuit that runs to both shop buildings, the shop office, the garage and the house. This circuit is isolated from all other electrical circuits. In the event of a power outage we can crank up the John Deere, energize this circuit, and with the help of a few extension cords, keep things going-things like lights, refrigerators, freezer, microwave, radio, TV, and even the submersible pump in the well.

The oxy-acetylene tanks stand in a pocket over the fifth wheel, just in front of the engine.

The first couple of years after I built this trailer, I powered the line shaft with a 16 HP Tecumseh engine (not an antique). Since I considered the equipment on the trailer antique, I began to look for an antique engine to power it. I needed at least 12 HP. This excluded an old hit & miss, because I wouldn't be able to haul the weight. Then one day I remembered the engine on my John Deere field baler that I had back in 1946 and '47. Since this was the same engine as used in the LA tractor, I looked it up in the Nebraska tests. Eureka! It had cranked out a little over 14 HP on the belt.

After a year and a half of looking, I saw one advertised in Gas Engine Magazine. I soon put in a call to Kenneth Woodward at S. Charleston, Ohio. He said the engine was in good running condition, it carried good oil pressure, did not smoke, and he had installed new valves. However, he said the tin is rusty and the radiator leaks. This sounded like something I could handle and we made a deal. The engine has turned out to be just as he said. Thank you, Kenneth. The only thing wrong was it had an Armstrong starter. I thought, well, I'll just rig an electric starter; however, I never have. It often starts on the first pull of the crank. Seldom more than a couple of revolutions and it's off and running.

This is an LUC, meaning it was a combine power unit. At the rear of the clutch, there was a gear reduction box to bring the output shaft speed down to 545 rpm. Since I needed to speed up the output shaft, I cut this gear box off and mounted a two-groove belt sheave on the clutch shaft. This drives through the table top to the line shaft underneath. With some calculations and experimenting, the engine is now governed at 1,725 rpm. The line shaft turns 2300. Drives from this line shaft now turn the generator at 3600, the welder at 2500, and the air compressor at 750 rpm.

If you like to hear an old 2 cylinder John Deere under load, you can appreciate how thrilled I am by the sound of the exhaust when I strike the arc on the welder. It sounds like you have just put the plows in the ground.

I grew up on Dad's 1928 D John Deere. Pulling a three-14' bottoms in alfalfa sod, the D would consume 60 gallons of tractor fuel and 10 gallons of water per day. Dad said, when you were going down the lane to the field, the D would go 'a spoonful, a spoonful, a spoonful,' but when you got in the furrow and tripped the plows the tune would change to 'a cupful, a cupful, a cupful!' I'm told that these were the good old days.

Of all the antique equipment I have worked with and displayed over the years, I've had more enjoyment from this project than any other.

If you don't tell anybody, I'll tell you a secret. Sometimes I crank up the John Deere and burn a couple of rods, even if there isn't anything needs welding.

If you have questions or comments, give me a call or drop a line. Have fun with your toys, but be careful.