Ralph Ary and his Prize Winning Homemade Garden Tractor

Spark Plug of the Month Ralph Ary discusses his prize winning homemade garden tractor and the gas engine he added into his Harley-Davidson Motorcycle frame.

Harley-Davidson Motorcycle frame

Photo courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana.


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Ralph Ary discusses his prize winning homemade garden tractor and his other gas engine adventures. 

Dayton Daily News & Radio's "Joe's Journal".

"There goes Barney Oldfield to work," is what the residents of Darke county in western Ohio exclaim when they see a motorcycle streak past them with what looks like the figure of Ralph Ary at the throttle. But Ralph, impervious to the Oldfield image he's created, has two quite different objectives: one is getting to work on time, the other is saving on gas bills, both of which he's doing, thanks to his homemade, one-lung, gas-poppin' motorcycle.

"Boy does this thing save on gas," quoth the 63 year old Ary. "I can commute all week back and forth over the six-and-a-half miles from home and work much cheaper than in my late model Chevy. About a quarter's worth of gas a week does it."

It all came about recently when Ralph Ary decided to "upgrade" the horsepower on his homemade garden tractor by replacing its six-horse engine with an eight-horse in order to keep winning more trophies in those hotly-contested small-tractor pulls that have been leaping and growing all over western Ohio. With Ralph Ary building the tractors and adding more and more horsepower, by juggling pullies and sprockets, and his grandson, Kim Besecker, driving in the contests, the both of them always came home "with the bacon" in way of trophies and ribbons.

Ralph Ary adjusts 6 hp engine he transferred from Garden Tractor to Harley-Davidson Motorcycle frame.

"I finally decided it was time to see what an eight-horse engine would do in the tractor pulls," says Ralph. "I told my grandson, Kim, if he could forage around and find an old motorcycle frame we'd put his six-horse engine on it."

"Coming home with the bacon," one day, after hunting around junkyards for days, young Kim Besecker proudly unloaded an old Harley Davidson motorcycle frame with wheels and tires to boot, and all for only 8 bucks.

Grandpa Ralph Ary went to work in his little workshop at his newly-built residence in the country, south of Greenville, Ohio. Out of the little, prize-winning tractor came the hefty little 6-horse engine and in went the heftier 8-horse power plant. And, after a few alterations on the cycle frame, on went the little 6-horse that had won at least ten firsts in tractor-pull trophies.

Soon Ralph Ary was seen streaking like "Barney Oldfield" back and forth to work, 'twixt country home and city workshop where he is top shopman and welder, pocketing the difference in gas money and having the "fun of his life" (you can dern betcha).

"But what worries us the most now," sighs the versatile Ralph Ary. "is that the higher horsepower in our little tractor has forced us into the heavier tractor-pulling division. It's making it tough now for us to win."

"Barney Oldfield" Ralph Ary "Reus Throttle" on his "Motorcycle Doddlebug" shown leaving Greenville shop of McClain's where he works, headed for home 6.25 miles away. Says he, "This saves on gas bill only a quarter a week."

But Ralph Ary will soon settle that. For whenever grandson Kim Besecker is edged out of any tractor-pulling contest by another for first place, Grandpa Ary just has him drive it back into his workshop again and begins juggling more pullies and sprockets until there's enough beef to win the next one.

For whenever Ralph Ary gets through with his day's labors of welding, cutting and fitting steel for custom jobs at the McClain metal shops in Greenville, well, for "diversion" he just spends his leisure hours doing more welding, cutting and fitting of steel for his own fun (and grandson's of course).

Ralph Ary's been fascinated by small internal-combustion gas engines ever since as a young man he did a stint of 8 years in the garage business.

"I've worked on many an old Model-T Ford," says Ralph. "Yanked and replaced hundreds of Model-T bands. Drove many a Model-T myself," says he.

"But the most profitable deal I ever made was when an old fellow gave me an old gas upright engine. I've long forgotten what kind it was, but I traded it for an old 2-cylinder Excelsior Motorcycle with sidecar."

Then came a hitch at steam threshing, after Ralph Ary had acquired a wife and settled down to more civil ways of living for a spell. But he couldn't quite get those small popping and sputtering gas engines out of his veins. So back to them he went, despite the fact that he was raised as a kid on steam engines (his first love).

"Off and on I've made a lot of garden tractors. One of them had a motorcycle engine in it,' muses Ralph. 'And I've made a dozen or so racing Go-Karts for fellows to drive at the races."

And one of his pleasanter memories was when he and "hizzoner" Clark Davidson, mayor of Gordon Village nearby, formed a rather "gentlemanly" corporation, known as the A & D Enterprises (Ary & Davidson), from which has stemmed so many homemade steam jitneys and gas doodlebugs that you can't shake a stick at all of 'em.

This is a 3 hp I.H.C. Gas Engine pulling a 30 foot cord wood saw

Picture of John Deere D. Tractor at Ohio State Fair.

Cutting wheat at home in July, 1965.

Courtesy of Melvin Oiler, Walnut, Illinois.

I would like to compliment you on your fine magazine for us engine men.

About 2 1/2 years ago I wanted a hobby and a friend of mine gave me an old gas engine and that did it. I have been collecting them ever since. I take them apart and repair them and then paint them. It is a thrill to start several of them up at once. I operate my own Radiator Shop and in my spare time, I work with the engines.

Another Gas Engine Enthusiast

In this snapshot I am leaning on a DeLaval and to my right is a Weil made in Chicago.

This is a picture of several of my engines.

To Ralph Ary, gas engine gentleman and Spark Plug of the Month, our hat is off to you. May you ever have some kind of gas jitney or doodlebug to drive around in, to let folks know you're just as young as that tall, "straight-as-a-stick" frame of yours.

And from Spark Plug Ralph Ary comes this wise bit of philosophy for the rest of us common folk to ponder: "I'll never retire I want to keep right on working and making gas doodlebugs and jitneys so long as I've a muscle to move and a finger to throttle."