Yukon Dreams

A 1941 Case LA Surfaces Deep in the Yukon Territory -Compared to Getting to it, Getting it Running Should be Easy


The Yukon River in winter; Jerry's snowmobile is just visible left of center.

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In the fall of 2000 I was having a quick one with Ed Kerklywich at Sourdough Saloon in downtown Dawson City, Yukon, Canada. It was the end of our mining season, and Ed was telling me about his homesteading experience on Krikman Creek about 100 miles up the Yukon River from Dawson City.

Ed had purchased a 1941 Case LA, serial number 4510451, to use on his homestead. Of course, that meant he had to get the Case there, so at one point he started building a raft out of 45-gallon drums to float the tractor to his homestead. As luck would have it, Ed was just about to finish his raft when a professional barge happened along, so the tractor was loaded onto the barge and delivered to Ed's place. Not too long after, but long enough to make it through a cold Yukon winter, Ed woke up to find the engine block on the Case had cracked. Combined with the other hardships of homesteading this was kind of the last straw for Ed, and he decided to move down to Dawson City. My first thought, of course, was whether the tractor was for sale. Fifty dollars and another quick one later and I had myself a tractor - at least in theory. As time passed I spent many a winter night wondering if the engine on the Case was stuck after sitting for over 10 years out in the bush. Ed said he'd put a rain cap on the exhaust to keep out water, but what if it had been vandalized? I had to know, so last April I borrowed a snow machine and bathtub sleds from my friend Earl, gas from John and $100 from Robert for grub. I loaded up and left Dawson on April 10 on a beautiful -10 degree F Yukon morning.

Heading Upstream

The trip up the river was great. I stopped in to visit friends Robin, Qigi and Lisa at Stewart Island, and it was a great evening as Claus and Darren stopped by. Robin showed us his old Beaver chainsaw, a real gem of a machine, complete with its original manual, and the next morning Robin got his shovel out and dug out a Gray Marine engine - I've always wanted a marine engine that was used up here. Nearby was a Wisconsin two-cylinder, complete with decal. Nice. Gigi filled my thermos with coffee and I was off to Kirkman Creek. It was another 30 miles before I got to Ed's cabin, and when I got there I started looking for the Case before I even started a fire. It wasn't where it was supposed to be and I couldn't find it, so I started a fire and unloaded my gear and looked again. This time I found it, hiding in the bush. It was gorgeous - what a sweetheart! But was it stuck? I lined up the crank and turned it gently. The engine rotated. Yes! I had to kiss it. My mouth didn't even stick to the cast iron radiator cowling.

Success! The Case LA spins over for the first time in over 10 years. Although it still needs a great deal of work, the engine is salvagable.

Thank you J.I. Case. Jerry kisses the Case emblem after getting the engine on the LA to turn over. You might get this excited, too, had you driven 100 miles on a snowmobile to rescue an old tractor.

Once I had confirmed the engine turned I cleaned the snow off it and checked it over. Amazingly the tires were still up, and it had 'new' rubber up front. Not only that, everything was still there, including the mag, the generator, the toolbox with ID tag, everything. All the operating levers were free, the seat swung (the decals on the rear fenders were faded) and the gauges were okay. It has a two-compartment fuel tank, so I assume it's a gas/kerosene engine.

Next, I decided to check the mechanicals a little closer. I pulled the head off and found three stuck exhaust valves, three bent pushrods and one broke valve spring. No problem. There were no cracks in any of the cylinders, but the head had some interesting cracks. Freezing water in the water jacket had pushed the interior casting out against an oil line tee, which pushed against the exterior casting and made an interesting bulge and attendant cracks. There were also neat cracks between the pushrod galleys and water jacket. The left side of the engine has a few cracks, mostly just hairline cracks except for one section about 3 inches long by 1/4-inch wide. I looked for a dipstick and found there isn't one, rather there's a neat brass try-cock for checking the oil level. Classy. Next, 1 pulled off the engine inspection plates and everything looked and felt good inside. I started a small fire under the oil pan so I could melt the ice and drain the water out of the block. I couldn't find any cracks in the pan, but I wondered where the oil had gone. Satisfied with what 1 had found, I sat on the tractor to take it all in. Sitting there brought back fond memories of my grandpa and grandma, their farm and their John Deere tractor, and my toy JD a salesman had given me when I was about four years old.

I oiled all the linkage and cylinders, and cleaned and flushed the fuel tank, fuel lines and carburetor. I covered the engine really well, and that evening I had sweet dreams in Ed's snug cabin beside the frozen Yukon River. In my dreams I was driving the Case in the Dawson City Discovery Days parade, towing my Mietz & Weiss 18 HP and assorted treasures on a trailer. I was using the tractor to move around the larger items in my yard and even driving it to Dawson City from my claims just to check my mail and get supplies. At 9 mph it would only take a few hours.

The next morning I loaded the head (wrapped up in an old quilt) into one of Earl's bathtub sleds and headed down river. I stopped in at Stewart Island again and Claus and Darren were there. I told them about the tractor, and Darren informed me that his dad owned a Case dealership in Lethbridge, Alberta, while Claus told me to stop by his cabin on the Yukon River and pick up an old engine and pump. Yes! I dutifully stopped for the engine, which turned out to be a single-cylinder Wisconsin, no tag, but showing casting number AA-81-H and equipped with a Wico mag coupled to a 2-inch high-pressure pump, number GSB V41RA. All in all a pretty heavy unit and mounted on a steel plate.

I finally made it back to Dawson - in the dark with no headlight - and Claus and Darren saved me from driving into some open water near town. Darren phoned his dad the next day and thanks to him I now have a Case LA operator's manual and service manual. The head is in my shop, dismantled and cleaned up for repair. I've gently straightened the three pushrods, I've managed to get the three stuck exhaust valves out and I've hand lapped the intake valves. The exhaust seats are taking a long time to grind. The factory manual says they're hardened alloy inserts that require valve grinding equipment to

properly cut, but since I don't have access to the I proper equipment I'll keep at it with the hand lap- I ping. I just hope I don't take the valves down too much before the seats clean up. I'm going to have to hacksaw a good piece of the head off to get at the cracks inside, and then I'll have to weld the piece I take out back in place. I think I should be able to JB Weld the block when I go back up river, and I'm phoning Darren's dad to see if I can get a valve spring for the LA. Getting the tractor from 100 miles upriver should prove to be fun. The Wisconsin I got from Claus runs nicely and pumps well, and I will put new packing in as soon as I find some.

I really want to thank Ed, Earl, John, Robert, Robin, Gigi, Lisa, Claus and Darren, who, by their financial and moral support - and hospitality -made my trip so great. Also, thanks to Mike and Kathy Pierzchala for the Case manuals. I'll let you guys know how the Case recovery turns out.

Contact engine enthusiast Jerry Bryde, Rabbit CR Mining at: Box 469, Dawson City, Yukon, Canada YOB 1GO.