Alone On The Plains

The old Oliver struggled

Content Tools

P.O. Box 134 Dupuyer, Montana 59432

On a fall day in 1980 the old Oliver struggled to a stop; the frustrated operator snapped off the switch and walked away. The tractor was one of the most powerful tractors made when it was new, but today it wouldn't pull a fat man out of bed!

Unknown to the operator, the spring connecting the governor to the carburetor had broken and fallen off, so that instead of opening the throttle when the tractor came under a load, the engine died.

For 14 years, through winter blizzards and summer heat, the old tractor sat alone on the northern plains of Montana. As they farmed around it, the valves became stuck, the pistons seized in the bore and the gasoline turned to varnish.

The owner passed away and left the tractor to his son, who gave me a call in June 1994 after hearing I was interested in old tractors. I drove out to his place and looked it over. It was an Oliver 99 with good sheet metal and good tires although they had sunk into the ground about a foot and needed air. The engine was stuck tight, but the stack had a rain cap on it which was encouraging. We discussed price but didn't come to an agreement at that time. I had purchased machines in the past with stuck engines and found broken sleeves and blocks, so I was reluctant to pay much for something that might require a large investment of time and money.

Five months passed and I almost for-got about it, until one day while my son was visiting and the conversation had turned to Oliver's. We went out to look at it and he was so enthusiastic about its overall condition that I decided to take a chance and buy it.

I spent the next two weeks cleaning the fuel and cooling systems, freeing up the valves and soaking the pistons and sleeves with penetrating oil. I took the cover off the top of the flywheel and pried against the teeth with a bar until I got some movement. I went from side to side on the tractor prying the flywheel back and forth, gaining a little each time, until after about two hours of this the engine had completed a full revolution and was free. The engine was equipped with distributor ignition and, after filing the points, I had good spark. I poured engine oil in the cylinders to help the compression and was ready to give the tractor a tow. It started in about thirty feet and ran great after it had burned out the excess oil.

I feel really lucky that this engine came lose as easily as it did; most take a lot more work. Buying tractors with stuck engines can be a real gamble!