Joe Dear

Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390.

Joe Fahnestock

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Dayton Daily News & Radio's 'joe's journal'

Several years ago, Carl Secchi, as President of the Blue Grass Steam & Gas Show, Harrodsburg, Ky., began awarding a special plaque to every Spark Plug I wrote up for THE GAS ENGINE MAGAZINE. He informed me that he was doing it, in cooperation with The Champion Spark Plug Co., in recognition of the fellows who worked so hard and contributed so much to the engine shows.

In appreciation of this fine gesture, I wrote to Carl, asking for a snapshot of him holding the new plaque, so I could write up a bit of publicity for G. E. M.-- as a sort of 'Thank You' to both him and The Champion Co.

But in reply, Carl wrote, 'As originator and writer of these Spark Plug stories, you are the 'Chief Coil', and will receive the first plaque. So, you just write yourself up, along with the history of the Joe Dear.'

I might add that, outside of writing up the various 'Spark Pluggers' who work so hard to fix up the fine old engines that keep the shows going, my only claim to being a Spark Plug is the little three-wheeled garden tractor which many know today as the 'Joe Dear'. Most of these people might well think that I cobbled up the little tri-wheeled monster, solely for showing around at the reunions--and nothing more. Little do they realize that I made the little Delco-powered tractor, over a quarter of a century ago, just after the Second World War, and long before the gas engine reunions.

My younger brother, Stanley, would soon be returning from the European Theatre of the War. He always had a 'Green Thumb', was a fine gardener, and I felt that if I could make some kind of small, powered tractor or cultivator, he and I could do some real gardening out in the country, after he was mustered out. Later I learned that his young English bride had announced 'All that will stop, when I get there,' even before she had met the family. All of which explains why brother Stanley took no interest in the little tractor I'd made in his honor. Her prophecy had indeed proved true. For I don't recall him ever noticing it or even commenting about it, the many times they'd visited us in the country.

It was during a time when gas engines were rather scarce. To get one you had to swap another one, or pay an exhorbitant price. Somehow I had acquired a small Jacobson two-cycle engine, during the war, which we mounted onto an old reel hand-mower, making us proud owners of one of the first gas-powered lawnmowers in the neighborhood. Later I recall buying an old one-cylinder Maytag, then a two-cylinder Maytag, and finally a small Briggs & Stratton. I wasn't so much interested in gas engines, but they did speak loudly at the time as a bargaining agent in about any kind of swap a fellow could make.

The 'Joe Dear' has chugged across three generation gaps--Before I finished making the 'Joe Dear' almost thirty years ago, I had combed every junkyard and wrecking yard, visited every machine shop, all long since gone out of business, and wracked my brain on every kind of mechanical principle conceivable. I guess that's why it has lasted over the years. By the time I finished it, I felt I had grown up, my son also grew up on it. (He's NCR Technical Director in Computers for European Continent) and his four sons have ridden it in parades. At Blue Grass Show in 1970, a little gold Kentucky lady saw it and said, 'I'm a welder. I'll build one like it and bring it next year.'--Never saw her again.

GOLLY--How does one go about writing a story about himself? Guess I'll talk mostly about the 'Joe Dear'. Note the beautiful Champion Spark Plug plaque which Carl Seechi and The Champion Spark Plug Co. have been giving to each Spark Plug of the Month for the past several years. The old telegraph in the bay window was sold to me by a Sioux Indian who said her ancestors raided the narrow gauge depot in Colorado to steal the 'white man's voice box' to keep them from sending messages for more white people to come there. Western Union teletype machine and desk can be seen at far left in picture. Old candlestick telephone was given me by Spark Plug Wayne Whitenack, Wire Chief of Union City Telephone Company when he removed it from my Mother's home, some years ago.

Sometime later a friend of mine in Arcanum showed me a little tractor he'd made, using the small Delco light-plant gas engine. It wasn't a well-designed tractor, but he did a lot of bragging about 'how powerful' it was. 'The Delco is 5-horsepower,' he claimed.

Paying a visit to the Patterson Brothers' Junk Yard, at Winchester, Ind., I spotted a couple of the larger 850-size Delco Light Plants, which I purchased at ten bucks a piece.

'Surely if that guy's smaller Delco delivers five-horse, then these much larger ones will develop at least 7? horsepower'--so some fellows told me, and I really wanted to believe. Unloading the two old Delcos onto the barn floor, I picked which one I thought was the better of the two, by way of compression, etc. Then I took some parts from the other engine, which I thought were in better condition, and placed them on the one I was keeping, and sold the other one for $12.50 to another fellow who also used it for a riding tractor, I later learned. Making $2.50 over and above the cost on the engine I didn't keep was quite a profit I felt at the time. But if I knew then what I know now, I'd have been a lot smarter 'wheeler-dealer' to have kept the other engine rather than gloated over the paltry profit.

First of all, I spent quite a lot of work, removing the long bolts that held the electrical generator onto the back of the old Delco plant. After all, I was going to make some kind of gasoline cultivator or tractor, and wanted it strictly gas. (So I thought.) At the time I couldn't visualize exactly what I did plan to build. So I just loaded all the junk into our little farm trailer, hitched it onto the rear of the old family Model-A Ford Flivver and my father-in-law and I drove it over to Wes Duvall's blacksmith shop, northwest of the village of Coletown, Ohio.

We drove up the narrow mud road and parked in front of a rather dilapidated old frame building. We could hear the big gas engine that was running the long line-shafts that seemed to vibrate the little old blacksmith shop from their moorings overhead. Shutting off the power, Wes Duvall listened sympathetically to what we wanted to have built.

'I made a garden tractor for another fellow over a ways,' he said, as he looked over the big Delco engine and other scrap parts we were unloading in his yard.

'First of all, well need some kind of frame,' he said. 'I don't have any channel iron, but try Duffey's Hardware in Greenville,' he went on, looking over odd pieces of iron and steel scrap in the dark corners of his ancient shop.

'Channel iron's not available, due to the steel shortage and the war,' said the clerk at the local hardware store. 'I can sell you four pieces of angle iron, and you can have two welded together to make the same as channel iron.' The clerk dutifully sawed off the four pieces out to Sharpeye and had Orville Mong weld the two pieces of channel iron together to make one side of the frame, and the remaining two he likewise welded to form the opposite side of the frame. Taking the two sides of the frame back to Duvall's blacksmith shop, Wes promptly came out and began setting things up on wooden blocks, to give him a sort of visualization of what he was going to build. First he set up the channels for the frame. Then he began cranking his blower and getting hot coals in the forge, after which he began pounding and shaping some heavy bars into end pieces to bolt the frame together. Then we both lifted the heavy Delco Engine up onto the frame, and Wes began visualizing the steering mechanism. He reached for an old steel fork leaning against a tree, which he had fashioned out of a heavy wagon tire, and immediately cut it down in size to fit the wheelbarrow wheel I had. Meantime I was scouring every junkyard in quest of odd parts which I felt could be used. Lugging an old Terraplane steering column to his shop, Wes grabbed it, took one look, and in a matter of minutes he had pounded out a complicated piece to hold it onto the steering fork at the front end, fastening the rear of that support onto the Delco air-column jacket. And atop this, he set the Delco gas tank, lengthwise, givint it, for the first time, an appearance of being a tractor.

I'll never forget the spell that old Wes Duvall cast over me. He'd puff on his corncob pipe and look at the contraption taking shape, as if to visualize what we wanted. Then, in only a few moments, he'd be coming out from his shop again, with the finished piece still steaming. He rarely measured things, but merely looked at them, and the finished pieces always fit in place and were bolted together.

Then came the rear end. And I was off again to the Iddings junkyard, in quest of a '36 Ford V-8 rear end which I was soon lugging out to Mong's garage at Sharpeye, just up the road from where we lived. Mong dismantled the rear end housing. I took the rear axle to the old Ed Lohman buggy and telescope shop in Greenville, Ohio. I told Ed I wanted the axle cut down to three feet and eight inches, re-tapered, re-keyed and re-threaded on both ends. When I went to pick the finished axle up, (I'll give you a guess as to what he charged me for all that fine machine work.)--and asked what I owed him, he replied, 'A dollar and a quarter to you.'

I took the shortened axle directly back to Mong's garage, and Orville said he'd cut the housing down and weld it to fit the shorter axle if I'd trade him my old one-cylinder Maytag to put on his lawnmower, which I did. The old Maytag cost me only $2.50, and, with the $1.25 for the machining, the rear axle cost me only $3.75 complete to have it narrowed. After Mong assembled the rear axle and housing, I took it over to Duvall's Blacksmith shop, and we placed it under the rear end of the proposed tractor frame. A couple of new utility trailer wheels I had already purchased, we fastened onto each end of the narrowed rear axle. A new implement seat a friend had given me out of the old Kerr Hardware Store in Union City, when it went out of business long before, was found in our barn and Wes Duvall made a hole in the frame to bolt it right behind the iron steering wheel I had placed on the old Terraplane steering column. Placing the wheelbarrow wheel inside the front fork, and securing its bearings with a big bolt I had bought at a hardware store, the little tractor began looking like something we had visualized.

Wes Duvall was a fast worker, an artist in shaping iron with hammer and forge. All the work he did, in building the parts and setting up the main outline of the little tractor, seemed only like a day, had the hours been placed end to end.

In mounting the support for the heavy steering wheel, Wes Duvall anchored it with only one bolt into the Delco Engine crankcase where the generator bolt had been removed. I could tell this would never hold, but didn't say a word. The last thing he did was to put on a sort of slip clutch, which I knew also would never work. When he said $20 for all that work, I nearly fainted--paid him, and loading the garden tractor onto our little farm trailer we drove it back to the farm where I proceeded to work out the finishing touches. I made a curved template out of cardboard, and asked Duvall later to make me a piece just like it out of iron. He did it immediately and I returned and bolted it onto the engine frame, and the single support he'd made for the steering wheel. From that moment to this, the steering wheel support never came loose and I was proud that it also lent a little artistic contour to my garden tractor. I had planned it that way. But I never breathed to Wes Duvall that the piece was to improve something he had already made. Diplomacy was the name of my game.

'Contact'--a jerk on the flywheel and 'Chug, chug, chug.'--After Wes Duvall laid out the general pattern and outline, I never changed a thing on the 'Joe Dear', except to add all the refinements, such as Pierce Governor, right and left foot brakes and hand brake, throttle linkage and clutch, all of which have remained the same for almost thirty years. Some modern factory-built lawn tractors may pull more, as I am using direct belts. But I'll wager it can do a pretty good job with the old 1-horse Delco--and still bet I have more fun doing it. You can buy a modern garden tractor at any store, but not a 'Joe Dear'. Oh yes-that's a W-18 Champion plug in the head.

Then came the working out of the clutch. I went back again to Iddings' Junk Yard, where I found two old Terraplane balance wheels, and I also got two old Pontiac connecting rods, out of a set of six, for which I got bawled out by John Iddings before other customers for getting the rods out of order. Those were the days when wrecking yards had 'everything'--even that ancient Baker Electric Car that Iddings had sitting in one store room, and no doubt wound up in some collector's exhibit. Next I found an old Dodge throw-out bearing that 1 picked up, paid for, and fetched along--just in case. You see, I was beginning to 'visualize' how I wanted my garden tractor to look and work--just like that blacksmith artist, Wes Duvall.

1 unloaded everything in at Conner Miller's machine shop in Greenville. I showed Conner the two Terraplane balance wheels, and he made a pattern for me to have the Union City Mold Company to cast. This piece was to have double grooves cut on it by Conner's lathe, for the double V-belts, serving as part of the clutch on the Delco drive shaft. Conner said the piece was imperfect, that the Mold Co. had welded some cavities shut and it would be too hard on his lathe tool. He asked me to return it and demand a re-make. This the Mold Co. foreman promised to do. But when I went to get the second piece, Conner said, 'They didn't remake it, but sent the original piece. I'll just cut it anyway, despite the welding.'

Conner Miller did a wonderful job. We finished the clutch, even to the clutch facing. Then I took the tractor back to the farm, where I proceeded to fit the two Pontiac connecting rods onto the frame as supports for the Dodge throw-out bearing. Having found an old iron pedal on a shoe-cobbler's outfit at a junkyard, I fashioned some linkage and hooked up the clutch which has worked ever since. I then proceeded to mount an old Pierce governor I found in my father-in-law's barn, and connected it by linkage to an improvised 'throttle arm' that I had taken off an old planter. Then I had a gas pedal made and welded, which I connected independently to the throttle linkage, so either the governor or foot-feed could operate independently of each other. After this, I made two templates of cardboard, for the foot brakes, which I had Duvall heat and pound out of iron.

These I mounted onto bearings which I improvised from some kind of implement parts made to serve another purpose, but which performed perfectly the function I intended them for over the years. Then I clamped rubber peddle treads onto the forged brake pedals, and linked them up to the rear brake drums. I had nice, professional-looking brakes, for either right or left rear wheel, or both together for straight stopping.

Twenty-five years later, I visited Wes Duvall's old blacksmith shop and found him still pottering at odd jobs in his shop. 'The tattered weatherboarding looked the same as it did when we made the 'Joe Dear' at the close of World War II. Wes looked the same too. I got a picture of him at the door of his shop, hammer in hand, holding his pet cat.

After everyone has left the Rushville, Indiana Show, I tried to climb the big grassy hill and the 'Joe Dear' made it. Early next morning I did it several times again. The wife got one picture in the dim dawn's light. It's steeper than it looks and long, with heavy grass. It reminded me of my first hill climb in the woods, long before seeing a threshermen's hill-climb.

I was the envy of the neighborhood farmers, who watched me use my little one-cylinder tractor to pull a farm wagon up to the next job, tow the car when the battery was dead, or drag out a fair-sized apple tree trunk, which my father-in-law didn't think it would do, but it did. One time the fellows unhitched a team and let me hook onto the hay fork rope. 'We'll really put on enough to stall him,' I heard them say up in the mow. But the little tractor slid its wheels, then gripped the driveway and pulled their heavy load right up till they yelled, 'stop'.

Later I found an old used corn-cutting sled at Iddings' Wrecking Yard, and we took it home, repaired it, and for several seasons we pulled it, cutting corn as fast as my father-in-law could yell 'Stop' and 'Go' to me, driving the little tractor. This saved much hand work and arm aches over the years. On more than one occasion I took the little tractor and hitched the family trailer to it, going either to Greenville, Ohio, or Union City, Ind., to buy lumber, or get gravel, or cement, when we added a room or two to our house. I could go ten miles an hour in high gear, once going around an old John Deere, as my son and I headed for Union City, ten miles away, for some roof joists. This was long before the companies began production on the little lawn and garden tractors we know today. I was looked upon as sort of a 'little king' chugging on my little homemade tractor up and down the roads. One farmer called up one evening and wanted to know if I'd sell my tractor. Another neighbor started to make one like it, but gave up before he got started.

Many an evening I would hitch my son's soap-box racer back of the little tractor, and race in high gear around the barnyard in big circles. During the day, it would serve well in various odd jobs, such as stretching fence, by placing it in first-gear and turning the big heavy fly-wheel. I always started it by turning over the fly-wheel, and this made me feel it was somewhat akin to a John Deere. More than once I'd drive it, along with the farm trailer, back to the woods, half a mile down the lane, pick up fire wood and fetch it back to the house. Once, when I had loaded the trailer, I picked up just one more piece of wood, and out flew some yellow jackets. This was my first encounter with them, and the first sting pushed the flesh of my hand back like a seven-penny nail. 1 ran up the hill, with several clinging to my sweater, leaving the little tractor still running and attached to the trailer at the bottom of the hill. Finally, after twenty minutes, I crept back to the tractor, waving my arms and fighting off those sadistic critters all the way. I gingerly got onto the seat, threw it into first, and proceeded to pull my trailer of firewood over the hill and back up the lane, to the house. But I noticed one solitary yellow jacket had perched himself on the front steering-column, like a figurehead on an old ship, and he rode that way clear up to the house as if to make sure I got home--and never came back. On more pleasant occasions, I would drive down to the woods and goose the old Delco Engine, then see if I could climb the steep hill, out of the natural ravine. And I always made it, even though it was rough. 1 had my own hill-climb long before I ever heard of a hill-climb at a threshermen's reunion.

Some years later, Maurice Warvel, a neighbor friend, told me, 'If you don't clean that little tractor up and paint it and put it in The Darke County Threshers parade, then I will.'

'I'll just give you that job,' I replied. We took it to his farm, out in the country, and he proceeded to clean the old rust off of it. I pitched in and helped what I could. When it came to painting, Maurice was an expert. He said, 'What colors do you want it?'

I replied, 'It's always reminded me of a John Deere. Just paint it green and yellow, like a John Deere.'

After Maurice got it painted, he then asked, 'What name do you want on it?'

To which replied my wife, 'Well, why not call it 'Joe Dear', spelling it 'D-E-A-R',' she laughed. I saw the joke immediately, whether Maurice did or not. But he eventually caught on. I was so proud of the pretty, shiny green and yellow 'Joe Dear' that I drove it into our place in Greenville, the whole five miles, across the public square and right through traffic. It was always the nicest little tractor to ride on. You could either drive it, sitting on the seat, or stand and drive it just as easily.

If I had to do over, of course, I would have put a more powerful engine on it. For years I thought the heavy old Delco was around 71/2 horse. Then one day Carlton Weisel, at the Darke County Threshers, almost insulted me by telling me, 'That Delco's only a horse-and-a-half.' Sam Schnur, who heard it all, said, 'Let's settle it once for all.' Grabbing one of Jack Egbert's shingles, he tried what he called his 'trusted old method' of figuring horsepower. 'According to my method, it's only one-and-a-half horsepower,' said Sam. 'But it develops a lot more, (torque), after it goes through your pullies, transmission and rear-end.' After attending gas engine reunions, and seeing what the older, low-compression, slow-firing gas engines will do, I resolved to resign to my fate, and be happy that the old 'Joe Dear' can do as much as it does on only one-and-a-half horses. Over the years I've never changed a bolt, a piece of linkage, or anything, to preserve the antiquity of the old 'Joe Dear'. I never tried to file out the anvil marks that old Wes Duvall's mighty hammer beat into the pieces. To me he will ever remain a grand old soul, a great old smithy whose work was a credit to the blacksmith's art. Though I still plow a large garden every spring, pulling a 9-inch plow, little did I ever envision the 'Joe Dear' would someday participate in so many parades, or grace the engine show grounds where it has stood beside 'Uncle Elmer's' IRON MAN and GAS ENGINE MAGAZINE subscription stand. To me, the thrill of the old engine is its slow-firing, through the long exhaust pipe which seems to add twenty more horses to its chugging power. For the crowds that have come to congregate around it, to fondle the steering wheel and controls--year after year--it has become the best leaning post and place to lolligag on the reunion grounds. Little boys have begged me to take them a ride, or just let them sit on the seat. Once, early in the morning at Bluffton, Ohio, a little boy who had been gathering firewood for the steam engines, came up with an armload. He looked all around the 'Joe Dear', then said to us, 'Where's the firebox? I have some wood for it.'

15-30 Hart-Parr Tractor an 8 Ft. Moline Binder. I am next to the tractor and a boy I hired to ride the binder. Photo was taken in 1924 on a 280 acre farm which I operated in Benton County Iowa, near La Porte City. I own and operate a Hart-Parr, 3 Internationals, and a John Deere, a Twin-City and a Minneapolis-Moline. They were all good.

This is a 60 HP Holt Cat which I operated while grading roads for Ben-ton County, Iowa. In 1916-17 until the war started then Uncle Sam had a different job for me. I worked with tractors and steam engines until my retirement. I have 11 gasoline engines which I gathered and restored as a hobby.

30-60 Aultman-Taylor Tractor used for threshing near lona, Minnesota. Photo was taken in 1923. I am standing beside the rear wheel while visiting relatives.

At Rushville, Ind., this summer, I heard an old John Deere climb the high, grassy knoll, and his engine slowed down considerably before he reached the top. Memories of my old 'hill-climbing days' back in the woods with the 'Joe Dear', riled my blood a little. After everyone had left the grounds that Sunday evening, I crept alone down at the bottom of that knoll, gunned the old Delco, and surprisingly I climbed right to the top. I could hardly believe the little old tractor would do it. Next morning, I tried it several times again, before the crowds arrived to clean the grounds. I told my wife to take a picture with my old blunderbuss, and she did, but it was still quite early in the morning for picture taking.

Several years ago, I tried a set of reduction pulleys on the 'Joe Dear', which gave it a third more power, made it plow easier, climb hills, and do chores with less effort on the engine. I thought my tractor troubles were now over, but then the belts, being single each way, wore out very quickly. One hot day, at the Darke County Threshers, Greenville, Ohio, I had promised to pull John Burocker's gas engine trailer in the afternoon parade. Fred Leather-mon had just taken a ride on the 'Joe Dear', with the hand-brake on. This wore out what was left of my chewed-up belts. I took the clutch apart, removed the double-pulley reducer and worn belts, and resorted back to my original direct pulleys with the double belts. The mighty 'Joe Dear' does well enough that way, and I am still preserving the originality as we worked it out the first time, over a quarter century ago.

No-the 'Joe Dear' is not a 'toy' I hastily put together to show at the reunion parades. It appeared on the horizon and was doing odd farm chores, as well as lending fun and recreation, long before I ever heard of a steam threshermen's reunion or a gasoline alley.

And, many a time, I give the old 'Joe Dear' fly-wheel a whirl, just out-side my door, plop down in a comfy old chair, and have my own one-tractor gas engine show, listening to the 'music' of the old Delco chugging through its long, organ-pipe exhaust. Glory Hallelujah.

Pictured is part of my antique cuyme collection, I thought it might be of interest to the GEM readers. There is an 8 HP Fairbanks Morse Model N, 6 HP Galloway, 6 HP Waterloo Boy, 10 HP Witte, 2? HP International Famous, 7 HP Economy. Three model engines in front and 12-20 Model W Cletrac at the left.

I show my engines and models at Rollag, W. M. S. T. R.

2 HP side shaft Domestic engine I recently found and bought. I do not think this is the right color and would like to ask the fellows what color it should be--On photo it is a medium yellow.