Topeka, Kansas, Man Builds Two Scale Tractors for his Granddaughter
I live in Topeka, Kan., where Gas Engine Magazine is located. My inspiration comes from the articles of special small projects GEM has covered over the years. In retirement I do what most old farm boys do; restore, build and improve machinery. I have built a couple of scale tractors I think readers may find interesting.
Growing up, we farmed 120 acres with four mules, and it really changed our life when electricity came in 1951. Yes, 1951. We didn't have a tractor, but for a few summers in the early 1950s, I worked for my Uncle Mike at his Allis-Chalmers dealership, the Yost Motor Co., in Atchison, Kan. Raymond Spencer, a neighbor who had farmed with horses, bought a new International Harvester M. The talk at the table was he paid $1,200 for it and how much corn it would take to pay for it. When I was 10 or 11, I remember plowing under the 12-acre alfalfa field with our three-mule riding sulky and 16-inch plow. I would watch the mules' flanks very carefully and I needed to stop about every half round to let them rest, and every round in the shade of the hedge row I would change out a mule. Each time we rested I could hear Charlie Tull's Johnny Popper, poppin' away over the hill. I knew we would never get a tractor.
My Uncle Mike had built everything from real airplanes to toy cars in my grandfather's blacksmith shop as a young man and could do anything. He got the bug from his father and I think I got the bug from him. When I found I was going to have a grandchild, I started my first retirement project. Living in town now, a full-size tractor was out, so I thought a miniature Farmall would be just her size.
I wanted something I knew would last for many years. I began by going to the local Honda motorcycle dealership. I bought a very small 1-1/2 HP, 31cc Honda garden tiller for $350. I threw away all the tiller parts except the dirt shields; they looked like good fenders to me. What I didn't know was the tiny 4-cycle OHV engine idles at 3,000 RPM and has a working speed of nearly 10,000. The Honda guys said not to worry about laying the engine down and tilting it a quarter turn; it would run just fine even upside down if I wanted it to. I geared it down with a 5-speed Peerless transmission and down some more to the differential.
The hood is from a Western Auto-type pedal tractor. I cut a 2-inch-wide strip for the center so I would have room for the Honda recirculation fuel tank. A few small dents from a child's hammering and a small rust hole remain for nostalgia. The seat is from a small toy tractor I found at a junkyard for $12, bent and beat to a pulp. I straightened it, reinforced it and made it adjustable so I could set my 200 pounds on it. My granddaughter Bailey's 28 pounds would just spin the wheels on loose gravel when pulling other children in a small hayrack I made, so I put a 100-pound cast iron weight under the belly, so she can now pull a car.
The original pedal tractor steering was direct-drive to a single front wheel, so I made a chain-drive reduction gear box, 2-1/2-to-1 for the wide-front end, but probably should have been 3-to-1 or 4-to-1. I couldn't find a steering wheel I thought was the correct size, so I used tubing I bought at the hardware store and bent it with my conduit bender. I made a jig to hold everything in place, brazed it and polished it before taking it to the chrome shop. All the neighborhood children and everyone Bailey knows has driven Bailey's little Farmall tractor.
The next winter I began my second project, something a little bigger for her when she gets older. My grandfather George Yost was a farmer in Atchison County, Kan., and had a Rumely in those early years. Like many, I always wanted a Rumely like Grandpa's, so I thought I'd just build one - 1/2-scale. I knew I wanted the best, modern, open flywheel engine ever made, so I started looking for an International Harvester LB. I found just what I was looking for at the 2003 Ottawa, Kan., Power of the Past Antique Engine and Tractor Show - a 1948 1-1/2 - 2-1/2 HP LB. I bought it for $165 and had it running just 20 minutes after I got it out of the trunk of my car; all I had to do was clean the points in the magneto. I also pulled the piston just to make sure the rings were free, only to discover the whole engine was like new; the timing gears weren't even broken in yet.
Over the 2003-2004 winter, I took many pictures of the building process of my 1/2-scale 1917 Rumely OilPull Model H. I built the axles, wishbone, frame, platform and radiator with exhaust evacuation, from the many pictures and measurements I had taken. I made the roof, radiator and fuel tanks from copper I bought at Vincent Roofing here in Topeka. Gail Robbins, an Atchison County childhood friend of mine and retired vo-tech sheet metal teacher, showed me the proper way to draw out the smokestack for braking. Gail gave me some green stuff to paint the top of the steel roof and the underside of the copper with before I attached it to retard electrolysis. The copper roof has no rivets or anything to hold it on, just the roll around the 1/4-inch steel rod on the outer edges. I have trailered the Rumely to Kentucky, Arkansas and Iowa engine shows, and the copper roof is still tight as ever.
I tried to find some old wheels that were the right size, but nothing suited me, so I built them from scratch using 1/4-by-8-inch flat stock for the rims and 1/2-by-1-inch for the spokes. Topeka Foundry did a fantastic job of rolling the rims for me, and I bought regular farmer gears from Tractor Supply for the hub flanges. Central States Machining & Welding, owned and operated by a former welding student of mine, cut the teeth off the hubs I welded and made several axle shafts. I made the spokes using all the math I could muster. I used Grandpa's Wheelwright measure to mark the spoke placement on the inside and was shocked after assembly when I spun the wheels to find them to be absolutely true.
A Rumely radiator is really special. The exhaust is routed to the top of the radiator, then elbowed straight up through the stack to pull cool air in the bottom, up the cooling tubes and out the top by the exhaust. I drilled and tapped a hole in the head near the exhaust port and routed the brass tubing to the top of the radiator and back to the engine drain hole for return. The natural convection cooling works well after we run it for a while.
I made a long clutch lever on the right side and a shifter on the lower left - as close as I could to the old Rumely style. I just used the original LB throttle. I checked the weight at a garden tractor pull; it weighs right at 1,000 pounds. Bailey wanted me to install an old manual "Aoooooga!" horn we had, so of course I found a place for it.
My understanding wife, Jeanne, says it took nine months of 12-hour days to build, but was finished in time to drive in the 2004 Atchison County Fair Parade in Effingham, Kan. I always walk along beside Bailey to remind her which way to turn to keep it going the right direction. Once, I paused to say hi to some old friends. Bailey, now 4, was heading toward the curb, and the crowd was parting in a hurry. I ran after her and we got it turned in plenty of time, but the sight of a 3-year-old heading at them sure made them scurry!
A lady at the end of the parade asked the name of the little girl driving. I told her she was my granddaughter, Bailey Welch from Topeka. She must have been from the Atchison Daily Globe, because the next day I had calls from friends in Atchison County telling me there was a big picture of Bailey in the newspaper, driving in review. Bailey thought it was really nice to have her picture in the paper, and that is why I wanted to build a scale replica of that wonderful old Rumely.
Contact engine enthusiast T.G. Shipman at: 4020 Kimball, Topeka, KS 66617.