Electric Starters For Tractor

By Staff

The following article is reprinted from The Country Gentleman,
July 19, 1919 issue. It was sent to us by Pat Rixe of 1202 S. 211th
Street, Catoosa, OK 74015.

When electric starting systems were first suggested for tractor
motors four or five years ago, most engineers agreed they would be
very convenient if they would work, but none of them believed they
could be made to withstand tractor vibration. I know of several
experimental installations that had to be discarded on that

The vibration of the tractor shook the clamping nuts loose on
the terminals, displaced the spacing bars between the plates, broke
down the supports for the plates, and even shook the paste out of
the grids. Spring suspension under the battery boxes was tried, but
that did very little good. The tractor engineers concluded it was
no use experimenting any further and passed the word along the line
that electric starting devices for tractors were failures.

At the time these experiments were made by the tractor
companies, the market for such apparatus was limited and the
storage-battery manufacturers thought it was not worth giving much
attention. They were devoting their efforts to trucks and
automobiles and other installations where business was more

Then came the war, and there was a demand for motor trucks for
the Army, with starting systems of sturdier make than had been used
at that time in commercial work. The army engineers made up their
specifications and invited the various manufacturers to submit
samples for inspection and tests. The batteries all looked good and
gave a good account of themselves on stationary tests, but that was
not sufficient; they had to be able to withstand the hard service
of the army supply trains over bad roads, with bad care and hard

In order to make sure they would be able to perform reliably
under these conditions, the army engineers devised a testing
machine that would lift a battery three-eighths of an inch and let
it fall on a hard, unyielding surface 480 times a minute, or 28,800
times in an hour. In thirty-six hours a battery received more than
a million such shocks. It was a very severe test and the first
batteries that were submitted went to pieces considerably under the
half million point. In consequence of this poor showing, none of
the batteries were accepted and the manufacturers all went back
home to improve their products.

A few weeks later they returned, and, if I have been correctly
informed, all of them went through the tests without serious
trouble. All the batteries were able to stand two million drops on
the testing machine without showing any signs of distress. The
manufacturers had provided rubber supports for the battery boxes,
had used thicker grids, more substantial insulators and better
supports and distance pieces for the plates. They used better lock
nuts for the terminals and turned out much better batteries. The
improvement wrought in such a brief time surprised most engineers
and was the subject of no little discussion among the

In discussing the matter with an electrical engineer who has had
many years of experience, he said, ‘The battery makers knew all
along how to make better batteries, but for years they had been
trying to see how cheaply they could make them. Competition was
sharp, and in order to get business they shaved down the thickness
of the plates, used the minimum of material and produced a cell
that would give fair service under favorable conditions.

‘At the same time they were-making batteries for such
service as electric lights for railway coaches, where the vibration
is tremendous and the service much harder than on trucks. When they
had to turn out a good product and were not hampered too closely by
price, they had no trouble in fulfilling all conditions. It was not
ignorance on the part of the battery people that was responsible
for frail batteries, but business competition.’

Shortly after the government tests were made, one of the
engineers read a paper before the Minneapolis branch of the Society
of Automotive Engineers in which he predicted that tractors would
soon come to the use of starting and lighting systems. The
engineers present were skeptical and expressed lack of faith in
storage batteries, even after having been shown the results of the
tests. They believed tractor service is harder on a battery than
any other kind. Engineers who are acquainted with the various kinds
of battery service, however, tell me that tractor service is not
very difficult. It is not so severe, they say, as trucks and
automobiles, and does not compare with railway-car installations.
The greatest difficulties arise from lack of care during the winter
season when the tractor is laid up for several months.

If the battery is not kept fully charged it is likely to freeze.
When a battery is fully charged it will stand any winter
temperatures to be found in this country, but if permitted to run
down it may freeze at temperatures even above zero. The proper
thing to do is to remove the battery during the winter season and
store it in a garage where it will be properly taken care of.

Altogether about 10,000 starting systems have been put on
tractors in this country, and it was my privilege recently to
examine all the service sheets. Those for March were particularly
interesting because that is the month when the tractors were taken
out of winter quarters and put to work. Out of the total number of
installations less than one-fifth of one percent reported trouble,
and in all cases this was of a very insignificant nature, such as
loose or corroded terminals, which are easily repaired. Rust caused
more trouble than either frost or vibration, and even that was
negligible. If every other part of the tractor made an equally good
showing, tractors would be more popular than they are.

It is always rash to prophesy what will take place, but when one
considers how rapidly starting and lighting systems have been
adopted by the motorcar companies, it seems reasonable to expect
that tractors will follow the same line of development. No one
likes to crank a gas engine. It is not only hard work but dangerous
as well. Many broken arms have resulted from the kick-back of
motors, and low-grade fuel does not make starting any easier. Most
people would be glad to be rid of such trouble, and I have little
doubt that before many years pass the public will demand electric
starters on tractors.

This idea seems to be shared by a number of the more progressive
motor manufacturers, because they are sending out their new engines
with brackets to carry the generator and starting motor, and with
gear teeth cut on the flywheels to mesh with the armature shaft of
the electric starter. They are not as yet adding electric equipment
as a part of their standard product, but if the manufacturers of
the tractor wish to use such a system the motors will not need to
be changed.

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