1812 Apple Street, Kalamazoo, Michigan 49002
In May 1972 I found a Four-pull (Cat) tractor, made by the Fitch Four-Drive Tractor Company of Big Rapids, Michigan. I had heard about the tractor four or five years before I saw it, but could not and did not find it until Decoration Day weekend of 1972. After I found out where it was, I made several trips to where it was before I got to talk to the man that owned it. I told him I was interested in old tractors and would like to get it and restore it, as I had done with several other tractors, and showed him pictures of some I had fixed up. He said he would talk it over with his son and let me know.
Over the Fourth of July, I made another trip up to see him. This time we talked a little more about the tractor and he told me he had two of them and took me back in his woods to see the other. It was not a Cat but looked the same. Also he said, it was the last tractor the Company built. By this time I was so anxious to get them I could hardly sleep at night, but he still did not know whether he should let go of them.
Over Labor Day weekend I made another trip to see him. This time I got to see his son and together we talked about the tractors and together they agreed to sell them along with some extra parts they had, so I made a down payment on them.
It was about three weeks later when my son and I returned for the tractors I had purchased. The man was a little bit upset with me or upset about selling them, but I got the tractors loaded and told him I would return later for the parts. He said I could not have the parts, so I left with what I had.
I brought the tractors home and unloaded them. One of these tractors had rubber tires on it. The steel rims had been cut off and pneumatic rims added. The first weekend I hunted up some tires as two were of a different size and one of them was ruptured and flat. I spent two or three nights changing the tires. This completed, I tried to start it. It did run, on two cylinders.
The next weekend I took it to a truck and semi repair shop and had it steam cleaned. After about four hours of this they gave up and said take it to the junk yard. The junk yard wouldn't care if it was dirty, but they did get a lot of the dirt off.
By this time it was nearly deer hunting time, so deer hunting I went. After returning from hunting and no deer, then the work really began. I started in to scrape and clean the rubber tired tractor. It had been inside and did look to be the best one. I cleaned the engine first, then removed the exhaust manifold, and broke off one stud bolt, and removed the two heads. The engine is a Wakashaw engine. I took off the side plates to remove the valves, so I could grind them. Two valves were stuck open, so I soaked them with penetrating oil for a couple of days and got them loose and out. I got them all ground and was about ready to put them back. A friend stopped over, so I took him over to see the tractor. He suggested I put rings in it while I had the heads off, but I didn't want to pull the engine because it looked like an awful job. He said pull the side covers off and take the rod caps off that way. I worked about four hours getting the rod caps off and the pistons out, to find the crank shaft was worn, tapered one way and the connecting rods were tapered the other way. I had to pull the engine then.
My son, Ernest, and I removed the radiator. Oh yes, when I first brought this tractor home, it sat in the area where the neighbor kids played ball. They used the radiator for a baseball target and jammed eleven places in the radiator. I caught them doing it and asked why. They said they wanted to see how close they could throw to the same place every time. I had to make a tool to straighten the radiator fins and in about three or four nights I straightened the radiator all out.
By this time it was about April. When I pulled the engine I found the clutch plate of the twin disc clutch was broken half in two. I removed the flywheel, the pan, then the crank shaft. Took the crank to have it ground, poured new babbitt in the connecting rods and it didn't stick. I told a fellow and he told me what to use to make the babbitt stick, so I poured them again. I rough bored them in a lathe, then made a fixture and set them up in a boring mill and bored them parallel with the wrist pins to the size I needed for the reground crank. The mains were real good so I removed some of the shims and scraped the mains in. I blued the main bearing surface and used red lead on the crank shaft and scraped and scraped and scraped and scraped! Seventeen days I scraped! All day Saturday, every evening till way after dark and even a little on Sunday afternoon, after church. As I drive Sunday school bus and help maintain the busses, the Sabbath is pretty well taken up. Along with a night or two a week for bus repair.
The crank shaft weighed seventy-eight pounds so by the time I had it scraped in I was pretty tired. The first day I scraped, I lifted the crank shaft in and out 117 times. I marked it down while I got a rest each time. While I was scraping I noticed a ring around the front side of the cylinder walls at the bottom of the cylinders and a little ring at the top on the back side. Not much, but a little, so I talked to a fellow who does engine work and he could not explain the rings as they were. So during my scraping job I measured from the top of the cylinders to the bearings. There was .019 difference from front to back, so I went to this same fellow and we figured the rings that were worn in the cylinder as they were and the crank shaft and connecting rods work as they were that the cylinder and crank were not ninety degrees square of each other, so this created another problem.
By this time it was Decoration Day 1973, so my wife and I went visiting. Our daughter lives near where I got the tractor and while I was there I went over to see the fellow I got the tractors from, but he had passed away in April.
I had to have the cylinders bored. Before the cylinders could be bored, the top of the block had to be milled parallel with the crank, so I had to remove the head stud bolts. In removing, I broke off thirteen of them. Just half, so I had to remove them from the block. I took some 9/16 bolts and drill holes in them starting at 1/4 inch and increased the hole to 27/64 but ended up using a 3/8 pilot. Then I got an easy out and ground it down so it would go in a 1/2 - 13 threaded hole and with a lot of patience, I got them all out. I then made up a shaft to fit the main bearings and put in the engine, borrowed a set of precision V blocks from the shop to set it on and put two bolts in the pan flange to level it up. Then I had the block milled, bored and dry sleeved and bored back to the standard piston size. Then I turned the piston ring grooves square, put in a spring ring spacer, then the rings, and then assembled the engine except for the head and manifold gaskets. I wrote a letter inquiring where I could get new gaskets. Finally I found a place I could have gaskets made, so I ordered them. In the meantime there was other work to be done.
The transmission needed repairing, the upper shaft was bent, so I straightened that. The gears that run the belt pulley had a pin broken out and needed replacing. When I got into that, the pins in one gear and the holes in the other gear did not line up. I bored them both out, and in order to bore out the gears, as both were hardened, I had to make up a special boring bar with a carboloy tool bit that would cut the hardened gears. With them both bored out, I made the new pins out of 5/8 Allen cap screw shanks and ground them to fit. Then into the transmission further, I had to make spacers for the next shaft down. The bottom shaft was nearly worn out in the front, where the front drive shaft connects. The front drive shaft had been broken and was welded. Both the front and rear flanges that connect the front drive shaft to the transmission were worn out, so I bored them out and put in a plug and rebore them out, then made a broch pilot and rebroched a six spline broch for the transmission shaft and key way for the front drive shaft hub.
While I was at my daughters over Decoration Day 1973, she told me of a man she worked with that had some parts for these old tractors, so I went to see him. He said no he did not have any, but his father-in-law did, so I looked him up. I told him about the tractors and what I was doing, so he hunted up the parts. I didn't know what I had then, but it turned out I got a new transmission shaft that I needed, as the old one was worn real bad on the front end and a new front drive shaft that I needed, as the one in the tractor was broken. How lucky can you get!
I got the transmission out to put in the new shafts and the transmission was cracked open on the bottom. Apparently when the pin came out of the belt pulley drive and went down through the gears, there was not room between the gear and the transmission case and it got cracked, so I and another fellow welded it up. I borrowed an acetylene gas outfit from a friend, and with mine, one to pre heat and one to braze with, we got the transmission cracks brazed back together. With all the parts back in shape and a complete new set of bearings for the transmission, I assembled the transmission. In between all this I went to the junkyard and got a flywheel off an old car engine to make a clutch plate. I had a hard time getting clutch facing for the clutch. Finally got some from a truck repair shop. I bored out and bushed the flywheel for a new pilot bearing. The flywheel weighed 187 pounds. I made a new shifting yoke for the belt pulley drive, new take up nuts for the front drive shaft, new bronze bushing for the front drive axles, and new stud bolts for the engine head. As I went along, I painted the parts.
By this time it was Decoration Day, 1974, and I was about ready to start to assemble. With a new set of bearings for both front and rear differential, I started in on them. Everything was fine until I got in the front differential. The rivets were all loose on the ring gear so I had to rivet them all down. The front steering arms on the front hubs were broken and had to be welded.
My other daughter and her husband bought a house across the road from my house, and my son-in-law, Harold Betz, was real handy for needed help and I sure needed some of this last winter. He helped me a lot with the heavy lifting. Allan Bair, an elderly fellow I know, who is interested in old tractors and steam engines came out this spring and summer and helped me as I was assembling this old tractor. He helped paint, tighten bolts and assemble. I painted a lot of it as I went along. The color of the engine and wheels are orange-red and the rims and remaining parts are blue gray.
It was getting along toward show time and I wanted to have this tractor at our show this year (1974). The time seemed to just fly by and the show was just a week away. The tractor was almost all together except for the fenders, the deck, and the seat and oh yes, the head gaskets had not arrived yet so I called about them. The fellow said they would be shipped on Monday morning. They arrived Wednesday and show time was the next Saturday and Sunday. This last week was sure a busy one, all these fellows helping to put the finishing touches on this old Cat. Now with only three days away from the show the gaskets finally arrived. Stuart Webster came over and installed the head gaskets besides helping with other jobs.
We got the gas tank on, the carburetor to quit leaking and still did not have the engine running yet.
Friday, the day before the show, I had to haul some other tractors, so I took a day's vacation to haul tractors to the show. When I arrived with the first one Friday morning, a fellow club member, Gene Furry, was at the show grounds. He asked if I had more to haul. I said yes, so he came along with me. We went and loaded up a tractor and swung by my place to get another. That was the first this fellow knew I had this Cat, so he started to help. The tractors to be hauled just sat on my trailer. Gene made the playwood deck while Allan Bair and I installed the fenders.
At supper time Gene Furry called his wife and told her where he was, because when he left with me in the morning, she wasn't there yet and he wasn't expecting to be gone that long.
About four o'clock on Friday afternoon, my son took the tractors that were loaded down to the show grounds. At 4:30 P.M. my daughter, Laura Betz, showed up with a new seat cushion. At 11:30 P.M. on Friday night we were ready to start the engine. At 12:00 midnight it fired the first time. The engine was so stiff it was hard to turn over. My son came back from delivering the tractors and figured from the sound of the first bark it was slow on timing. He advanced the mag one notch and away it went. Was that ever a good sound! After a few minutes of running time, we all retired to bed, at my house.
My wife had gone down to the show grounds in the car right after supper. We had our travel trailer there for the show and she was expecting me down there too. She got a little bit worried when I didn't show up and had no place to call from. I didn't sleep too well and had an uneasy night because of the excitement and a lot of long hours.
Morning finally arrived. We all got up and had a good breakfast, then went over to the shop to finish up the tractor and take it to the show.
We still had the seat to bolt on. We got it on, but then we could not get the engine started. I decided to take it no matter what, after all that work. We decided to pull it up on the trailer with another tractor. My son-in-law, Harold Betz, went to get a John Deere tractor to pull the Cat on with and it was out of gas. We drained some gas out of my truck for the John Deere tractor. All this time Gene Furry was cranking the Cat. We just got the gas in the John Deere when the Cat started and everyone returned to the Cat. I drove it out of the shop. My daughter Laura was there with the camera to take a picture. We loaded it on the trailer and in a few minutes were ready to leave.
We arrived at the show ground at the Boot Hill Ranch at about 10:00 A.M. the morning of the snow. By the time I got back up to the ramp to unload, there were so many people around the trailer and on the trailer, I could hardly get it off. Well I cranked it and on the first quarter turn it started. I got on the tractor to drive it off the trailer and the engine stopped. I had forgotten to turn on the gas. That is when I found out how much choking it needed to start it.
There is one thing I have not mentioned and will note here. The name plates I had made. They had to be photographed and retouched and then printed. They were in real bad shape to start, but look real good now.
My wife thinks I spend more time with this tractor than I do at home and I guess, this last nearly two years, I have. So I want to dedicate this article to my beloved wife.
Also to say Thanks to the shop foreman and department head for letting me work on this tractor after hours and on vacation time, and to all the people that so faithfully helped to make the restoration of this old 1929 Four-drive ('The Cat') tractor, #3009, a reality.
There are over 4700 hours in the restoration job, along with the disappointment, the anguish and the heartbreak. The long hours of work make a fellow nearly give up, then the joy and anxiety of seeing it go together and the thrill of hearing it run sure is rewarding and gives a fellow the spirit to try it again. This must be what people mean when they say you've got it in your blood.
I still have to make a draw bar or hitch and a hood for it. So if anyone, anywhere, has any literature or knows of one of these tractors, I would surely like to hear from them.
I did get the rest of the tractor parts and along with them a complete set of iron wheels that I want to get ready for next year.
When I finish this one, I am going to slowly tear into the other one. In about two or three or more years and the Lord willing, I hope to have it going.
Respectfully, Ray B. Noel
1812 Apple St. Kalamazoo, Michigan 49002