5210 Springton Lane, Spring, Texas 77379
Well, where do I begin? The story of the Lee Traction Company Model L-2 tractor begins more than 10 years ago. As my wife Vicki will attest, I am a terminal pack rat, and the preparation and building of this tractor is a testimony to this. My friends also know of my affliction and they are more than willing to stimulate it. In reality, this tractor building project represents a decade of parts collection with the actual construction requiring approximately six months.
Before embarking on the discussion of this construction adventure, let's review the details of the Lee Traction Company Model L-2. Photo #1 illustrates the completed tractor. The tractor is a narrow front end design with the following specifications:
Length: 120 inches Width (rear wheels): 46 inches Height: 56 inches
Weight: Approximately 200 pounds (without operator)
Engine: Stover CT-2, 600 RPM, Hit and Miss, SN 276978 Transmission: 4 speeds forward, 1 speed reverse
Rear Axle: Chain driven with differential
Steering: Exposed worm gear Clutch: Hand and foot operated (dead man design) with drive shaft brake Brake: Belt tension design (foot operated)
Lights: Front and rear kerosene lanterns Fuel Capacity: 3 gallons (main and auxiliary tanks)
Whistle: Exhaust manifold type Ground Speed: 1 to 4 MPH Forward, 2 MPH Reverse
My interest in tractors is not limited to just the model L-2, but includes the large stuff, too! 1 have squirreled away in my parents' (Paul and Alma Lee) barn a 1937 Farmall model F-20 and a 1946 IHC model M. Both are restored and in good running condition.
To complement these tractors, I also have a 1920s vintage IHC corn shredder, a steel wheeled wagon, and the newest addition to my collection, a 1910s vintage horse-drawn mowing machine. Unfortunately, these are 1500 miles away from where my work is located (petroleum geologist in Texas) and I only get to 'play' with them when I visit my parents on vacation. This dilemma had to end, so what originally was a project to build a little cart to move my Stover CT-2 engine around in my garage, turned into building a tractor from the ground up.
My first goal was to make the tractor large enough to comfortably ride on. Since my power plant, a Stover CT-2, did not have a throttle assembly, I wanted a multi-geared transmission with a reverse. Finally, to run stationary equipment, a belt pulley drive was also desired. So, after a few rough sketches and measuring the available storage space in the garage and the width of gate to the back yard, I was ready to start construction.
The overall design was controlled mostly by what was in my shop materials inventory, or as my wife calls it... my pack rat nest. The collection of materials to build the tractor is a story by itself. I am always on the lookout for bar stock, shafts, gears, and drive assemblies etc. It is not too uncommon for me to scavenge the neighborhood trash to add to my inventory. My friends tell me that I am the only one they know who goes into a junkyard empty-handed and comes out with my arms full of stuff. I abide by the first law of the pack rat... 'Gee that looks interesting, maybe I could use that for something someday'.
With the above in mind, the search for the construction materials for the tractor began about ten years ago. The rear axle and differential assembly was given to me by my good friend, Mike Gilley, when we lived in Corpus Christi, Texas. That's right, when you move due to a transfer at work you also have to move all your stuff in the shop too. The last time it took about a third of a moving van to do the job. The Stover engine, seat, flat belt pulleys, worm gears, and manifold whistle were all purchased from the flea markets at the various National Threshers Reunions in Northwestern Ohio from 1985 to 1994.
The steel for the frame was a real find. I was grazing at a garage sale several years ago in my subdivision. I noticed a lot of and 1 inch square steel tubing on the floor of the garage. The owner had just completed a fence around his pool. The contractor bought too much steel and had never gotten around to remove it. There was about 200 feet of 1 inch tubing and about 400 feet of Vi inch tubing lying on the floor. I asked the owner how much he wanted for it and he said if you take it out of here today, you can have it all for $5.00. How about that for a deal!.
The transmission came from a riding lawn mower. Prior to its use in my tractor, the transmission drove a sidewalk car for our two children (Jeff and Kate). When they outgrew the car, the frame was discarded, but the metal components were saved. After all, you never know when a person may just need them again! The origin of the steering wheel is also unique. I salvaged it from a wing valve assembly of a surplus oil field Christmas tree.
The belt tensioning idler pulley assembly for the clutch was part of a reel lawn mower given to me over thirty years ago by my uncle, Ted Schetter. The steel wheels were purchased at a junk store in Willis, Texas. The front and rear (tail lamp from a Model T Ford) lights were discovered at a flea market in Round Top, Texas. Now that the origin of the major components have been discussed, let's proceed with the details of the construction process.
On November 20, 1994, the first phase of the tractor construction began with the fabrication of the frame assembly. The material used in the frame was a combination of the 1 and inch square tubing. I knew that the frame must be strong enough to not only support the weight of the engine and the operator but also handle the vibration. I thought the best way to do this was to weld a frame with an I-beam design. To accomplish this, I took two lengths of the inch tubing and sandwiched a piece of inch tubing between them. This yielded an integrated beam of great strength and yet the hollow square tubing kept the weight to a minimum.
To test the strength, I placed one end of a seven foot length of the I-beam assembly on the ground and the other on the step to the patio. My wife and I then stood in the middle of the beam, and it did not yield a bit. Even with this strong fabrication design, I later had to add a truss assembly to the bottom of the frame to remove the harmonic vibration of the engine. I will-discuss the construction of this truss further on. I then cut the I-beam assembly to size using my circular hand saw with a metal cutting abrasive blade. The ' saw made short work of the metal cutting through out the project, thus saving a lot of hack saw arm motion. The frame was then welded together in the form of a rectangle. Two sections of the fabricated I-beam, which would support the axle assembly, were welded at right angles to one end of the frame. Eight short lengths of the 1' square tubing were then welded vertically to these cross members and the rear differential/axle assembly, complete with four roller bearing supports, was then bolted to the vertical supports (Photo #2).
This axle assembly, which came out of a junked 3 wheel ATV, was just what the doctor ordered, as it filled the requirement for a differential, and its large diameter drive sprocket provided the needed speed reduction from the transmission. At last, the project was taking shape, and I no longer had to worry that the trash men would mistakenly haul off the frame components if I stored them too close to the garbage cans.
Now I thought, what to do next? Lugging the frame around the patio was getting a bit old so it was time to put the rear wheels on the axle assembly. The rear spoke wheels are 30 inches in diameter with a rim of 4 inches in width. These wheels originally supported a large industrial fire extinguisher and were in pretty good shape. The hub area was large enough to cover the flanges attached to each end of the axle. The wheel hub had a 1.5 inch hole through it and the axle flange had a center that was recessed about 1/16 of an inch.
To make sure that I mounted the wheel square and true to the axle flange, I machined an aluminum jig the same diameter as the flange, with projections that matched the hole in the wheel hub and the axle flange recess. I then drilled holes in the jig that matched the holes in the axle flange. I took the jig and transferred the flange hole spacing to the wheel hub, then drilled the holes in the hub and taped them. To add strength to the wheel mountings, I used the jig as a spacer between the axle flange and wheel. Now I had the two wheels bolted to the rear axle and I could then proudly announce to my family. . . 'See, it is getting to sort of look like a tractor!'
With the rear wheels in place, it was now time to focus on the front wheel assembly. I toyed with several designs, but landed on a narrow front end configuration. The basic concept of the steering assembly used on my tractor is a steering shaft that rests on and turns inside a support sleeve which is welded to the frame. The steering shaft consists of a 3/4 inch diameter 36 inch long vertical steel rod with the front axle welded perpendicular to it at one end. A pipe flange, which supports the weight of the tractor's front end, machined flat and smooth, was welded to the steering shaft approximately 10 inches above the axle. Bushings were then machined to fit the wheels and grease zerks were added to the wheel hubs. The two front wheels are 16 inches in diameter and were originally used on wheel barrows. The wheels were then mounted on the axle and secured with cotter pins. The front steering shaft was then placed aside while the support sleeve assembly was fabricated and welded to the front frame of the tractor. This support sleeve assembly consists of a 24 inch long piece of 1 inch diameter pipe. A flange, machined flat and smooth, was then screwed to the bottom of the pipe. The flanges on the steering shaft and support sleeve perform a very important function. When the steering shaft is placed into the support assembly, the machined smooth side of these two flanges rub against each other allowing the tractor to turn while holding up the front end.
Another section of the I-beam assembly was welded cross-wise to the tractor frame 5 inches back from the front edge. After bracing this I-beam to the main tractor frame, the steering support sleeve assembly was welded to it. To give this support assembly added strength, two additional braces were welded to it and to the front edge of the tractor frame. The complete steering assembly is illustrated in Photo #3.
Completion of the steering shaft and the front wheels was another milestone in the construction process. At this point I could push the tractor from the patio area to the driveway or into the garage if it were raining, to continue the building adventure. The next step in building the tractor was the installation of the transmission. After welding on the various cross members and vertical supports in line with the drive sprocket on the rear axle, the four speed transmission with reverse was then bolted to the frame. After welding on several cross braces to the vertical supports, the transmission installation was complete and the tractor was ready for the next step (Photo #4).
The transmission is driven by a horizontal drive shaft which is located along the center line of the tractor underneath the engine. The drive shaft is supported by two flat pieces of steel (2 inches wide), which were welded to cross braces attached to the frame after drilling two holes to accommodate the drive shaft. Two roller bearings were then fabricated and welded to the flat steel pieces, and the drive shaft was then installed through the bearings. The next trick was to install the flat belt drive pulley on the drive shaft and connect it to the transmission.
Even though the transmission, engine, and frame were all connected in line, I still thought that some flexibility between the drive shaft and the transmission would be appropriate. To accomplish this, I went to a surplus auto parts store and obtained the universal joints from a used steering column. The universal joint was placed in line on the drive shaft between the flat belt drive pulley and the transmission. Now the drive train could tolerate a slight misalignment and still not shake the entire frame to pieces when the drive shaft was rotated.
Now the decision, what to do next? You have those problems when you are building a prototype model and are working without the benefit of plans. I always felt that drawing up a set of plans took too much away from the precious building time. Well, at this point I felt it was time to mount the Stover gas engine on the tractor frame. At the location where the engine was to be installed, I welded two cross-wise I-beam members to the tractor frame. Always being mindful of the environment, a drip pan which the engine would be placed in was installed. The bottom of this pan was beveled and a drain valve was installed at the lowest point.
To minimize the effects of engine vibration, two strips of 1 inch thick foam rubber were placed in the pan for the engine to rest on. The pan assembly was attached to the frame, and holes for mounting the engine were drilled through the I-beams and drip pan. Now came the time for placing the engine on the frame. To match up the pulley on the engine to the drive shaft pulley underneath the tractor, the engine had to be installed with the line of the crank shaft parallel with the long axis of the tractor.
With my son Jeffs help, I set up a block and tackle over the strongest beam in the garage and moved the engine stand underneath it. The engine was then lifted off its stand, the tractor frame rolled underneath, and the engine lowered onto its new home. And to my amazement, the frame did not buckle when the weight of the engine was placed on the frame. I optimistically thought, maybe my I-beam concept will actually work!
Now, I thought it was time to take the pair of vise grips off the top of the steering shaft. I had them clamped to the top of the steering shaft and was using them to steer the front wheels when I was moving the tractor frame in and out of the garage. It was now time to install the worm gear assembly. I realized that this was not going to be an easy task, as a support assembly had to be built to house the worm gears, and it had to be lined up with the steering control shaft which traveled back to the steering wheel.
At this time, I also noticed that the heights of the engine flywheels were too high to run the steering control shaft in a direct straight line from the steering worm gear assembly to the driver's seat in the rear. So now, I was forced to actually sketch a design out to make sure everything lined up right. Here is the path I took to handle this part of the building adventure.
The circular gear of the worm gear assembly was placed on top of the steering shaft and secured with set screws. This was the easy part! I then fabricated a support structure to hold the worm gear and welded it to the top of the steering support column at the right height so it would mate with the circular gear and be at the correct angle so the steering column would bypass the engine flywheels. To bypass the steering column around the engine, I welded a vertical support to the frame just forward of the engine in line with the worm gear assembly. After running the steering column from the worm gear to the vertical support, I placed a universal joint in the column, which turned its direction parallel to the frame and straight back to the steering wheel.
The whole assembly may appear somewhat crude, but the mechanical advantage gained with the worm gear is very effective, as I can steer the front wheels with just one finger. This Rube Goldberg steering assembly is detailed in Photograph #5.
The next step in this adventure was connecting the drive pulley from the engine crank shaft to the drive shaft pulley. This was done with a spliced two inch flat belt. Once that was accomplished, the clutch assembly was next on the list.
The clutch consists of an idler pulley belt tensioning device. This particular idler pulley was part of the belt clutch in a 1950 reel type lawn mower that my uncle, Ted Schetter, gave me when I was 12 years old. Since then, it has seen service in my first go cart, built when I was 15.I also used it in the sidewalk car that I built for my children, and now at age forty five, I found it to be a valuable component in my tractor project. Just goes to show, you cannot violate the first law of being a pack ratyou can never throw anything away! Oh well, I have digressed enough and now on to the discussion of the clutch linkage
While sitting one evening pondering my next step, I began to wonder if, when the clutch was disengaged, would the drive shaft pulley stop rotating. If the drive shaft pulley would not stop turning, then shifting gears would present a problem. To avoid this, I designed a linkage assembly consisting of a brake shoe which is pressed against the drive shaft pulley when the clutch is disengaged and is released when tension is placed against the drive belt. This motion is controlled by a single movement of a dead man style clutch, which can be operated by either hand or by foot. Photos #6 and #7 illustrate my innovative clutch/brake assembly.
The seat, gear shift lever, and drawbar were attached in quick succession without any significant problems. Now it was time to stress test the frame. The best way to accomplish this was to start the engine and see what effect the vibration would have. Well, after filling the gas tank, water hopper, and checking the oil, I attempted to start the engine, which had not been run in over two years. I set the choke and spun the flywheels . . . and spun the flywheels again and again. . . . The engine would not start! Even after priming the cylinder, I only got an occasional explosion but still nothing!
The thought had not occurred to me while I was building the tractor that the engine would not run. So, I sat there contemplating the meaning of life, and why my vintage Stover would not start. Checking the spark yielded a good arc from the Wico magneto. The solution suddenly came to mecheck the fuel flow. I took apart the carburetor, which seemed in order. 1 pulled the gas check valve from the tank and there I found the problem.
The 50 year old spring-flapper check valve assembly was covered with gum and dirt. After carefully cleaning the check valve and re-assembling it, I set the choke and brought the piston up to compression and gave the engine a spin. The vintage Stover came to life, running as it had over fifty years ago.
As the engine came to life, so did another design challenge. The running engine was producing a very noticeable vibration in the tractor frame, especially in the middle. I didn't think my welding could handle this prolonged abuse with the whole tractor shaking to pieces. It was obvious that the frame was not rigid enough to absorb the vibration of the engine. The best way to solve this problem with the materials that I had on hand was to fabricate a truss assembly to stiffen the frame. Surveying my garage, I noticed that I still had a large quantity of Vi square tubing lying on the floor. I took a piece that was approximately 18 inches longer than the distance between the rear and front axles. I bent an S turn at both ends of the tubing. The piece of tubing was welded underneath one of the I-beams which ran between the rear and front axles. The S-turns in the tubing provided for approximately 5 inches of clearance between the tubing and the bottom of the tractor frame.
I then proceeded to weld vertical and angled struts between the frame and the tubing the entire length of the tractor frame. I then repeated this operation for the other side of the frame. Now for the acid test. I moved the tractor to the driveway and started the engine. To my amazement, the vibration was been reduced about 90%. The truss assembly did its job (Photo #8)!
At this point, the tractor was almost complete. The next step was to route the exhaust system to the front of the tractor between the engine and the steering support column- At this location I installed an exhaust splitter valve with one end going to the engine muffler and the other end connected to a manifold whistle. A control line from the splitter was then run back to the seat. The exhaust assembly was then covered by a sound baffle box to help deaden the noise. This baffling system was a consideration to my neighbors in the subdivision and the details of it can been seen in Photo #1.
After priming and painting the tractor I was ready for the big day the road test! It was a sunny Memorial Day, 1995, when I rolled the tractor out of the garage, filled the gas and water tanks, greased and oiled all the bearings and gears, set the choke, brought the piston up to compression, and spun the flywheels. The Stover came to life on the second spin. I climbed up on the seat, grasped the clutch handle and applied the brake to the drive shaft pulley, and placed the transmission in first gear.
Well, I thought that this is the point where the rubber, steel in this case, meets the road. The efforts of several hundred hours of work came down to this moment. Would the engine pull the weight of the tractor? Would it pull the weight of the driver? All of these questions passed through my mind as I pulled the clutch lever back, releasing the drive shaft brake and applying tension to the drive belt. The governor began to respond to the increased engine load, releasing the catch on the magneto linkage, causing the engine to fire more and more frequently. From my vantage point on the seat, I could see the drive shaft pulley starting to rotate, the chain drive from the transmission turned, and the tractor began to move under its own power down the driveway.
I turned the tractor into the street and away I went. The tractor was moving under its own power, the project was a success, and the neighbors cheered! A sense of great accomplishment came over me as I came to closure on another project. I thought that Henry Ford and Thomas Edison must have shared these same thoughts as their projects came to life for them also. As a fellow gas engine and steam hobbyist, I hope that you, too, are able to share these feelings, as your projects come to completion. It's a great feeling.
Since the road test, I have had the tractor out several times making adjustments and additions. I have installed an axle brake to complement the one on the drive shaft. It's a simple design where I attached a large (10 inch) V-belt pulley to the axle drive sprocket. I then took a V-belt, cut into it and attached one end to the frame ahead of the axle. I then ran the belt through the V-belt pulley on the axle and attached the other end to the frame in front of the axle.
I then installed a small pulley on a linkage controlled by a foot pedal in line with the bottom of the belt. Braking is initiated when the foot pedal is depressed. This forces the small pulley against the belt. The belt in turn is compressed into the large pulley on the axle which applies resistance to the turning axle. Crude, but it does work.
On a recent trip to the Round Top, Texas, antique show, I found a kerosene tail lamp from a Model T Ford, and a large lantern. I bolted the tail lamp to the tool box on the rear left, side of the tractor and attached the lantern to the front frame. I now have tractor lights, because you never know when you may have the opportunity to run after dark! I have also mounted strips of tire tread on the steel rims of the wheels. This addition greatly reduces the road noise and provides for a somewhat softer ride. My latest modification to the tractor consists of a flat belt pulley for operating stationary equipment. The power source for this accessory is from a V-belt pulley attached to the front of the drive shaft located underneath the engine. The belt pulley, 8.5 inches in diameter, is located on the right side of the tractor just ahead of the engine (Photo #9). The major component of the belt drive assembly is the right angle drive transmission. This component originally was the self propelled drive mechanism from a lawn mower rescued from the neighborhood trash. I have not belted up to anything yet, but I have a reciprocating water pump and a small buzz saw which hold great possibilities.
The tractor project is now complete and I enjoy riding it around the neighborhood. I get many comments about it and people find it very interesting learning about the old technology that helped develop this country before the age of the vacuum tube, transistor and the computer chip. I am happy to have the opportunity and resources to help preserve this old iron and keep it running. I sincerely hope that you have enjoyed reading about my tractor building adventure and I look forward to reading about your projects in GEM.