22711 N.E. 16th Street, Camas, Washington 98607
Some of you may recall the article on my 1930s vintage Cat 22 from the September 1997 issue of GEM. It is a small Caterpillar farm crawler with a Holt blade, a hand crank start, and illusions of grandeur. I purchased it during a weak (in the head) moment without really knowing what I was getting into. Since that last article, Cat and I have had lots of new experiences. This little bulldozer continues to have a mind of its own and an aversion to normality.
As time has passed I have begun demanding more from my machine, asking it to do all kinds of odd jobs around the homestead. It has been clearing huge old burn piles filled with tree stumps, spreading gravel and rock, and dragging tree limbs and boulders, not to mention ripping up the usual mole hills. However, it hasn't been willing to do any of this without constantly reminding me just who the boss is in every case.
We have a long gravel driveway that needed refurbishing, so I had fifteen yards of crushed rock delivered to right in front of the house. It's hard to relate just how large a fifteen-yard pile of rock is, but I wasn't worried. I had my trusty Cat. Apparently my trusty Cat took one look at all that rock and decided that it wanted to take up a different line of work, like maybe yard art. In spite of having run perfectly for weeks, it now refused to run on any more than half of its cylinders at any one time. Needless to say, it wouldn't move any rock. By the time I had traced the problem to closed-up points in the magneto, my wife, three-year-old son and I had spread all that rock with shovels and wheelbarrows while the Cat pouted over in the corner.
After I rebuilt the magneto and cleaned up the throttle linkages and governor, the Cat was running along just great for at least a week. I decided all was well and ordered a huge pile of dirt delivered for another project. The Cat, of course, took one look at that dump truck full of dirt and apparently decided that a vacation in Baja was more attractive. It started fine, sounded good, and ran great for about five minutes, just long enough for me to begin to relax. Then it chose the moment when it was climbing up the dirt piles and was nearly to the top to blow its stack, literally. Smoke, steam, cobwebs and mole guts blew out sideways from under the hood, the stack blew off, and all forward motion ceased. There I sat, on top of that three tons of iron, teetering back and forth, and exploring my reserves of forgotten swear words.
The Cat 22 has a rather oddly designed cast iron intake/exhaust preheater arrangement that all the rest of its engine breathing apparatus bolts onto. The machine originally could run on either gasoline or reconstituted compost, and this cast iron box made the appropriate arrangements. Being over sixty years old now, I guess it simply chose that moment to pass on to the preheater Valhalla in the sky. It literally went out with a bang. This seems to have been a chronic weakness in little Cats because this particular part appears to be only slightly less rare than an honest politician. In desperation, I decided to build one. My wife has always thought my actions were occasionally somewhat suspect in the practicality department, but I think this one really may have pushed her over the edge.
I am a machinist, and have access to lots of fun machining equipment. I glued the old casting back together with epoxy long enough to get some dimensions from it, gathered together a small pile of rusty steel blocks and started whittling away on them. Basically I just kept cutting away anything that didn't look like my part. I welded them all together, ground and dressed all the surfaces, and drilled and tapped all the holes. Amazingly, it all fit together! In the process I cleaned up, straightened, and refaced all the manifolds and painted all the pieces yellow with high temperature paint. I made all new gaskets and installed stainless steel bolts. It started within the first one hundred cranks. I was so pleased! I ran it around a little, stopped, went to put the hood back on, and all the high temp paint caught on fire. Argh!
In spite of the occasional wisp of smoke and lingering fragrance of burning paint, I was in business again! We then embarked on our largest project yet, constructing a building! We had a contractor come in and begin the excavations and the concrete work, while we handled the crushed rock situation. I could tell the Cat was getting nervous again looking at all that work to be done. When we had about fifty yards (yes, 50) of rock accumulated, the Cat reacted like a twelve-year-old boy at the school dance: it went catatonic! It absolutely refused to move its blade up or down. Since the blade was down in the rock at that time it meant that it would only go in reverse. Fine, except to back up it had to go through the building foundation! While my wife, my three-year-old son and I moved the rock with shovels and wheelbarrows, I contemplated calling the local scrap dealer.
I didn't speak to it for quite a while after that. When curiosity finally got the best of me I discovered the problem was basically only low hydraulic oil level, worn seals, a worn pump, a plugged line, high cholesterol and a vexed astrological sign. No problem. So now I had to become a hydraulics expert too.
Soon all was back together again and I started in on one more little earth-moving project in the backyard. The engine was running great, the paint smell was all but gone, and the blade actually went up and down. It felt like old times; dirt and rocks and molehills flying everywhere. I had just made a pass, was backing up, and suddenly there was a 'WHOOOSH!' as the entire contents of the hydraulic tank emptied out of a ruptured hose under high pressure! I can now guarantee that no part of my backyard, the side of my Cat, or any of my clothes will ever rust!
It is now winter in our part of the country. The Cat is well covered up in the backyard and peacefully resting. I have taken up knitting to calm my nerves, and the EPA tells me that portions of my backyard may be able to grow grass again within the decade. I am happy again, knowing that the Cat is slowly running out of things to go wrong.