Some Antiques Just Keep On Keeping On

By Staff
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Drive to the line shaft (cover removed).
2 / 7
My antique portable shop.
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A view of the fifth wheel.
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Under the rear of the table, the welder and air compressor.
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One of four tool drawers.
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Near the front of the line shaft, the drive to the AC generator.
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Ready on the Armstrong starter.

3931 S. E. 80th Street Ocala, Florida 34480

Why, that sounds like an old John Deere. I thought it would
sound like a real engine. This was my brother Harold’s
fun-poking remark the first time he heard me crank up my latest

Over the last forty years I have built about 15 different
portable shops on trailers. These units consisted of, first of all,
a good-sized steel work table fabricated of
3/8‘ steel plate with a good vise on the
corner. Mounted on top of, or under, the table would be a welding
generator, an air compressor, a 120 volt AC generator, and an
engine or two to power all of this. Somewhere on the trailer would
be a place to mount oxygen and acetylene tanks. Underneath the
outer edges of the work table would be cabinets and drawers to hold
hand and power tools.

A man could go to the field with one of these units and tackle
almost any kind of equipment repair or fabrication. There is a
reason for building the shops on a trailer. In the early days of my
business as a job shop operator, I had built an elaborate portable
shop on a truck chassis. This seemed like a good idea at first, but
experience brought out a couple of things I didn’t like.

If you were out on a job and found you needed some material from
town, before you could use the truck to go to town, you had to put
everything away. Roll up the welding cables, the oxyacetylene
hoses, the air hose extension cords, store the grinder, the impact
wrench, the drill and the trouble light. Don’t forget your
welding helmet and your gloves. Now close and lock all the cabinets
and drawers.

Make the run to town, then come back and string everything out
again. But that’s not all. Sometimes I would have a helper
along. If I was going to take all the tools away there wasn’t
much he could do until I got back, so I usually wound up paying him
to ride to town and back with me. All of this led me to build on
trailers. This allowed me to just drop the tongue and go.

One more advantage of the trailer is that when it is parked at
the shop, where you may already have air and electricity, it is
still a very convenient work station.

Five or six years ago, I started assembling the unit pictured
here. The table top on this trailer is five feet wide, and eleven
feet long. The rear axle has electric brakes. The front axle pivots
on a 10′ diameter fifth wheel for steering. Many times folks
question the steering on my trailers. They want to know how I can
tow this type of trailer on the highway without it weaving all over
the road. Well, the secret is the fifth wheel steering. Folks are
accustomed to farm trailers with automotive type steering that
often do wander all over the road. But think about the big rigs on
the road; even if they are pulling two or three trailers they are
all fifth wheel steering.

When I first started building this style trailer, years ago, I
would have to grease the fifth wheel about every 1,000 miles. Today
you can put a nylon pad between the plates, grease it good one time
and forget it for thousands of miles. There are some more
advantages to this type of trailer. First, there is no tongue
weight and no tongue jack. Second, you don’t have to be real
particular about balancing the load, and third, you don’t have
to be hooked up to a vehicle to load or unload the trailer. My
engine display trailers also use a drop deck. The front five or six
feet of the floor is 33′ above the road to clear the pivoting
axles. The rest of the bed is 21′ off the road with wheel wells
over the rear wheels.

The engine sitting up front has a double V belt drive through a
hole in the table top to a line shaft under the table. This shaft
extends all the way to the rear of the table. V belt drives from
this line shaft drive a 5-KW Allis-Chalmers generator, a twin
cylinder Curtis air compressor and a Lincoln DC welding generator.
If the equipment on this trailer isn’t antique, it’s mighty
close. The welder is a 180 amp Lincoln, belt driven, DC generator.
Right after WWII, when farmers began to be interested in having
their own welders, Lincoln Electric Company started building this
model for the farm trade. You bought the generator and supplied
your own engine. I have one of the manuals that came with the
welder, and among other things it shows how to mount the welder on
a tractor and run it off the belt pulley. Instructions are also
given for mounting the welder on a trailer axle and building a step
up drive from the PTO, to give the welder its no-load speed of
2,500 rpm.

This generator is a real solid piece of equipment in the 1950s,
I had two of these welders that we powered with 4 cylinder flat
head Jeep engines. Sometimes we would have welding fabrication jobs
where we would burn 5/32, 6013 rod 10 hours a
day, day after day. We wore out two Jeep engines, but the welders
were still going strong. I realize they were not intended for this
kind of service, but they stood up to it for us anyway.

I found the air compressor at a show in Republic, Missouri,
several years ago. It was cheap because it had no compression. I
don’t have any idea of its age, but my friend Bill Warren at
Air Power Plus of Ocala was able to find new valves that fit. With
a good cleaning and the valves installed, it works like new.

The drive to the compressor is something that I worked out with
Bill Warren several years ago. It has worked so well, I’ll
describe it here because it might help someone else. This is a
control system for a compressor driven by an engine. Installed in
the pressure line is a small valve called a differential valve.
When the tank pressure reaches 110 psi this valve actuates a small
air cylinder, (5/8‘ bore x 3’
stroke), which kicks the belt tightener back. As the belt goes
slack, the compressor stops. When the pressure drops to 95 psi, the
air cylinder retracts and the belt tightener, being spring loaded,
kicks in again. The pressure range is adjustable. I built the first
of this type of drive seven or eight years ago and that unit is
still working regularly. The compressor is a Curtis, two cylinder,
single stage. Output is about 8 cfm at 100 psi.

The AC generator was originally sold as an attachment for an
Allis-Chalmers garden tractor. Again, I have no idea of its age,
but I haven’t seen any Allis-Chalmers garden tractors
advertised lately either. It is rated 5,000 watt at 120 or 240
volt. I bought this from a man whose name I can’t remember, but
he headed up the group who restored the old grain elevator at
Atlanta, Illinois (Illinois not Georgia). I was 1,200 miles from
home and had a breakdown. I needed a welder and a cutting torch. He
opened up his shop and let me use his equipment to make my repairs.
There are truly some good folks in this old machinery hobby.

By the way, their old grain elevator is worth a visit. Last I
heard, it got listed on the National Register of Historic

Our house and shop buildings are scattered across three acres in
a rural area. As an extension of the 5KW generator, I have buried
an electric circuit that runs to both shop buildings, the shop
office, the garage and the house. This circuit is isolated from all
other electrical circuits. In the event of a power outage we can
crank up the John Deere, energize this circuit, and with the help
of a few extension cords, keep things going-things like lights,
refrigerators, freezer, microwave, radio, TV, and even the
submersible pump in the well.

The oxy-acetylene tanks stand in a pocket over the fifth wheel,
just in front of the engine.

The first couple of years after I built this trailer, I powered
the line shaft with a 16 HP Tecumseh engine (not an antique). Since
I considered the equipment on the trailer antique, I began to look
for an antique engine to power it. I needed at least 12 HP. This
excluded an old hit & miss, because I wouldn’t be able to
haul the weight. Then one day I remembered the engine on my John
Deere field baler that I had back in 1946 and ’47. Since this
was the same engine as used in the LA tractor, I looked it up in
the Nebraska tests. Eureka! It had cranked out a little over 14 HP
on the belt.

After a year and a half of looking, I saw one advertised in
Gas Engine Magazine. I soon put in a call to Kenneth
Woodward at S. Charleston, Ohio. He said the engine was in good
running condition, it carried good oil pressure, did not smoke, and
he had installed new valves. However, he said the tin is rusty and
the radiator leaks. This sounded like something I could handle and
we made a deal. The engine has turned out to be just as he said.
Thank you, Kenneth. The only thing wrong was it had an Armstrong
starter. I thought, well, I’ll just rig an electric starter;
however, I never have. It often starts on the first pull of the
crank. Seldom more than a couple of revolutions and it’s off
and running.

This is an LUC, meaning it was a combine power unit. At the rear
of the clutch, there was a gear reduction box to bring the output
shaft speed down to 545 rpm. Since I needed to speed up the output
shaft, I cut this gear box off and mounted a two-groove belt sheave
on the clutch shaft. This drives through the table top to the line
shaft underneath. With some calculations and experimenting, the
engine is now governed at 1,725 rpm. The line shaft turns 2300.
Drives from this line shaft now turn the generator at 3600, the
welder at 2500, and the air compressor at 750 rpm.

If you like to hear an old 2 cylinder John Deere under load, you
can appreciate how thrilled I am by the sound of the exhaust when I
strike the arc on the welder. It sounds like you have just put the
plows in the ground.

I grew up on Dad’s 1928 D John Deere. Pulling a
three-14′ bottoms in alfalfa sod, the D would consume 60
gallons of tractor fuel and 10 gallons of water per day. Dad said,
when you were going down the lane to the field, the D would go
‘a spoonful, a spoonful, a spoonful,’ but when you got in
the furrow and tripped the plows the tune would change to ‘a
cupful, a cupful, a cupful!’ I’m told that these were the
good old days.

Of all the antique equipment I have worked with and displayed
over the years, I’ve had more enjoyment from this project than
any other.

If you don’t tell anybody, I’ll tell you a secret.
Sometimes I crank up the John Deere and burn a couple of rods, even
if there isn’t anything needs welding.

If you have questions or comments, give me a call or drop a
line. Have fun with your toys, but be careful.

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