An Engine To Reminisce With

| November/December 1996

  • Fordson tractor

  • Fordson tractor

1535 Peach Clovis, California 93612

This story began a few years ago when I started looking for the components for a small riding tractor. Our grandsons would soon be in need of a larger toy. I wanted a Fairbanks-Morse 1 HP dishpan engine with battery ignition. During WW II Dad had pulled one of them off the junk pile under the old fig tree and proceeded to work on it. He said it was needed to power a hay elevator under construction. I was dubious, but in a couple days it was running and it pushed many tons of baled hay up into the barn that summer. You could almost guess how many bales were on the elevator at any time by the rhythm of that hit-and-miss engine.

In 1989 my wife and I were visiting family in Elmwood, Illinois, where I found the running gear of a discarded garden tractor. One of the advantages of a fifth wheel trailer is that there is always room for pieces of rusty iron. An understanding wife is important, too. Since that time I had been looking for one of the engines. From American Gas Engines, these engines were introduced in 1922 as a competitive engine for $44.50. Needless to say, they have a higher price tag today.

In the spring of 1995, Dick Hamp of San Jose said he had an engine for me if I wanted to do the restoration. At a fair price, I thought it a collector's dream. It was a basket case, but he made sure all the parts were in the basket and usable. I restored it for the shows last year, so this past winter I started tractor construction. The foundation of any machine is the frame, and I settled on 3/16 x 1 x 2 angle. A lot of consideration went into placement of the engine relative to the axles and leg room. It is narrowed for the engine to nest into with the rear half matching the transaxle housing. A countershaft beneath the engine makes it possible for the necessary ratio for travel speeds of 1, 2, and 3 mph. The belt from countershaft to transaxle has a spring-loaded idler and pedal for operating as a clutch. The countershaft is also belted to a Delco-Remy starter-generator calculated for 2,000 rpm at an engine speed of 500 rpm. I had no idea whether the engine had enough power to drive the generator and the wheels at the same time so a belt tension knob was provided to the generator. The deck, fenders and dash were fabricated from old shelving material. A battery with sufficient cranking power was mounted below the deck and is used for ignition and a Model A Ford motor horn. Switches are provided for ignition, starter and horn. Other controls are throttle, clutch, and brake. A Fordson tractor tool box was mounted on the dash ahead of the steering column. A combination V and flat pulley was fabricated to power the tractor and drive stationary machines. The only new parts were two belts, two pulleys, the battery, starter switch and electrical wiring. I give thanks to the rusty iron pile, a collection of stuff too good to throw away, and many friends.

The tractor performs as designed. It's fun to drive with adequate power. It could be debated whether this is a tractor or a self-propelled hit-and-miss engine. After driving it some, I think a frame of 3' channel would have been a better choice. With a high speed air-cooled engine, the angle iron should be okay, but with this engine the tractor keeps ahead with every power pulse and the frame acts as a spring member.

The tractor will be driven in the tractor parade at the California Farm Equipment Show in Tulare, April 20 and 21. One of my grandsons will be at the controls.


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