3931 S.E. 80th Street Ocala, Florida 34480
A few months after my discharge from the WW II Navy, I acquired what we came to call 'a five passenger baler.' It was a John Deere field baler. It required one person on the tractor, one to feed the baler and drop the blocks, two to feed and tie wires, and one more to stack the bales on the trailing wagon.
This was to be my beginning as a custom operator. Now came the big hurdle. In 1946 I could not buy, beg, or borrow a tractor to pull the baler. Finally, a neighbor who had been a friend of my dad's (Dad died while I was away in the service), said he would lend me his Minneapolis-Moline tractor, because he could use his 'Doodle Bug' to pull his mower and hay rake.
His 'Doodle Bug' was my introduction to the homemade, shop-built tractor. It was a much modified old Dodge pickup truck. The cab and the bed had been discarded. A second transmission had been installed, close coupled to the original transmission. Then the rear axle had been moved forward as close as possible to create a short wheelbase. The excess frame was then chopped off and a drawbar bolted on. Now with a set of balloon tires (6.00x16) on the rear it became a tractor. Like the early Ford-sons there was no governor, but with a possible ten speeds forward, a hand throttle worked okay.
Now the idea was planted in my mind. Why not build my own tractor? However, it was not long until I acquired a tractor of my own. A couple years flew by while I accumulated more equipment and more work.
Then, before I ever had an opportunity to build a tractor, I was diagnosed as having rheumatic fever. This altered my plans considerably. After spending most of one winter flat on my back in bed, I sold out in Ohio and moved to South Florida.
On the muck lands, south of Lake Okeechobee, there were many large farming operations. I soon found employment in the shops, where we modified and built special equipment for work on the muck lands. It seems I had finally found my true vocation, as I spent most of the next forty-five years in the design and development of machinery and equipment for agriculture and light industry.
How fortunate I've been to have worked most of my adult years on jobs that were so interesting and exciting that I could hardly wait to get to work in the morning. But always in the back of my mind, was that urge to build a tractor of my own design. Finally, in 1959 and 1960 things opened up for me. Since then I've designed and built several specialty tractors, ranging in size from 9 HP to 135 HP. For several years I've looked through many farm and machinery magazines, always hoping to find articles about homemade tractors. Such articles are few and far between.
In the summer of 1995 at Ankeny, Iowa, I was discussing with Charles Wendel, the idea of having a series of articles in GEM about shop built tractors. He suggested that I start writing about some of my units, and maybe that would encourage others to contribute articles on tractors they had built, so here goes.
First off, let me say that over the last ten years I have attended more than seventy-five tractor and engine shows. I have seen some really ingenious and clever ideas in shop built tractors. However, practically all of these units were built for show, whereas most of what I'm interested in are tractors to do some particular work.
My first agricultural tractor was built in 1961 and 1962 and is shown in the accompanying photos. It was four wheel drive and powered by a 427 CID 6 cylinder Continental Diesel engine. The transmission was a 10-speed Road Ranger. The axles were Detroit Timken double reduction with a 10 to 1 gear ratio. The front axle steers. The transfer case was Dana with a 2.4 to 1 ratio in low range. The tires were 23.1 x 26, 8 ply and mounted on 20 inch wide rims.
The axles, transmission and transfer case were salvaged from an old ready mix concrete truck. The salvage yard had three of the Continental Diesels and they made me a good deal to take all three. I dismantled the three engines and rebuilt two good units. I then sold one of the two for a figure that covered the cost of the three, including the new rings, bearings, gaskets, etc. Thus I had a good rebuilt engine for my tractor at a very reasonable cost, just my labor.
The main frame of the tractor was fabricated from ?' and ' plate. The front axle pivot frame and the drawbar were from plate. The side panels and radiator housing from ' plate and the fenders ?' diamond deck plate. For the hood and fuel tank I used 10 gauge steel sheet. In order to give the tractor a short turning radius, I used a wheelbase of just 76 inches. The accompanying sketch shows how this was accomplished. The rear axle was actually the front axle of a tandem drive. Since the input shaft on this axle reached all the way through the housing, the transfer case could be mounted behind the rear axle rather than between them. The transfer case was left in low range. This turned out to be a very satisfactory setup.
The bare tractor weighed in right at 10,500 pounds, and with 900 pounds of water in each tire, this gave an operating weight of over 14,000 pounds. The 10 speed transmission worked out well, giving us speeds from 2 MPH in low to over 20 MPH in high. The engine was rated at 130 flywheel HP at 2400 RPM. Using figures from the Nebraska tests of tractors in this PTO HP range as a comparison, and being conservative, I would calculate the drawbar HP at close to 100 horse. This was a big tractor in its time.
The only time we had an opportunity to compare it with another tractor was on the muck lands. The farmer was pulling a big tandem disc harrow and a leveling drag with a D6 Cat. We hooked the Rider 4x4 to this disc and drag and without changing the load in any way, we were able to make five rounds in the same time it took the Cat to make four rounds.
In 1962 I bought a Rome offset disc harrow to pull behind the 4x4. The disc only cut a 7 foot width, but it weighed 7,400 pounds. It had 32' blades ?' thick. It would cut up about anything the tractor could push over.
On one job we disced 80 acres of muck land on which the brush averaged 16 to 18 feet in height. It was so thick you could hardly see the ground from the tractor seat. This condition is not unusual on undeveloped muck lands.
On another job, we broke up 150 acres of land (not muck) that was so hard that the owner's three-bottom disc plow, with 42' discs, would not go in the ground. The 4x4 and the Rome disc cut this land 9' deep the first time over. (We still have movies of that operation.) I used the tractor on custom work for several months and then sold it to one of the big farms south of Lake Okeechobee. I was able to keep tabs on the tractor for a couple of years, and it was still going strong the last I knew.
However, since this was 30 years ago, I'm sure the tractor was long ago sent to the scrap yard.
The success of this unit led me to build another tractor, again using the double reduction axles, but this being a smaller unit I thought I could get by using a smaller axle. There seem to be many things I've had to learn the hard way. (Make that 'expensive way.') What I learned this time was, if you're going to build a hard working piece of equipment you will be money ahead to start with planetary axles. Standard axles work fine on medium and light duty jobs, but if you intend to 'go to the max,' find some planetaries. I built three more 130 HP tractors on planetary axles and found that after twenty years service they were still in use.
Something else we learned, was that when subjecting equipment to extreme loads for long periods of time, consideration needs to be given to the cooling gear boxes. I learned from the service manager of a large construction firm, that using a molybdenum additive in the gear oil will greatly reduce heat. On my first big tractor the transfer case ran so hot that it burned off the paint. After adding the molybdenum, the temperature of the box was reduced to the point that you could almost keep your hand on it.
To sum all this up, if you have the time and are so inclined, it is possible to build a good piece of equipment using salvaged parts. It can be done at a reasonable cost, depending on your ingenuity, scouting ability and trading skills.
My hope is that this article will encourage some of you out there in Engineland, to write about tractors or self propelled equipment that you have built. My own experience covers a wide range of powered equipment. Maybe, just maybe, I'll find time to write about another of my own units. In the meantime, I welcome questions and correspondence, and will do my best to give an early reply.
When a young fellow can't think of the answer right away folks say, 'Oh, he was just distracted.' But when one of us old timers can't come up with an immediate answer, folks say, 'Oh, he is becoming senile.' But that's not always true. You have to remember that we have seventy years of information in the data bank, and it takes awhile to pull it up on the screen.
I heard about two old fellows who had just met. One said to the other, 'And what's your name?' The fellow thought for a moment and then asked, 'How soon do you have to know?'
Be careful, but have fun with your toys!