Ralph Ary discusses his prize winning homemade garden tractor and his other gas engine adventures.
Dayton Daily News & Radio’s “Joe’s
“There goes Barney Oldfield to work,” is what the
residents of Darke county in western Ohio exclaim when they see a
motorcycle streak past them with what looks like the figure of
Ralph Ary at the throttle. But Ralph, impervious to the Oldfield
image he’s created, has two quite different objectives: one is
getting to work on time, the other is saving on gas bills, both of
which he’s doing, thanks to his homemade, one-lung,
“Boy does this thing save on gas,” quoth the 63 year old
Ary. “I can commute all week back and forth over the
six-and-a-half miles from home and work much cheaper than in my
late model Chevy. About a quarter’s worth of gas a week does
It all came about recently when Ralph Ary decided to “upgrade” the horsepower on his homemade garden tractor by
replacing its six-horse engine with an eight-horse in order to keep
winning more trophies in those hotly-contested small-tractor pulls
that have been leaping and growing all over western Ohio. With
Ralph Ary building the tractors and adding more and more
horsepower, by juggling pullies and sprockets, and his grandson,
Kim Besecker, driving in the contests, the both of them always came
home “with the bacon” in way of trophies and ribbons.
Ralph Ary adjusts 6 hp engine he transferred from Garden
Tractor to Harley-Davidson Motorcycle frame.
“I finally decided it was time to see what an eight-horse
engine would do in the tractor pulls,” says Ralph. “I told
my grandson, Kim, if he could forage around and find an old
motorcycle frame we’d put his six-horse engine on it.”
“Coming home with the bacon,” one day, after hunting
around junkyards for days, young Kim Besecker proudly unloaded an
old Harley Davidson motorcycle frame with wheels and tires to boot,
and all for only 8 bucks.
Grandpa Ralph Ary went to work in his little workshop at his
newly-built residence in the country, south of Greenville, Ohio.
Out of the little, prize-winning tractor came the hefty little
6-horse engine and in went the heftier 8-horse power plant. And,
after a few alterations on the cycle frame, on went the little
6-horse that had won at least ten firsts in tractor-pull
Soon Ralph Ary was seen streaking like “Barney Oldfield”
back and forth to work, ‘twixt country home and city workshop
where he is top shopman and welder, pocketing the difference in gas
money and having the “fun of his life” (you can dern
“But what worries us the most now,” sighs the versatile
Ralph Ary. “is that the higher horsepower in our little tractor
has forced us into the heavier tractor-pulling division. It’s
making it tough now for us to win.”
“Barney Oldfield” Ralph Ary “Reus Throttle” on
his “Motorcycle Doddlebug” shown leaving Greenville shop of
McClain’s where he works, headed for home
6.25 miles away. Says he, “This saves on
gas bill only a quarter a week.”
But Ralph Ary will soon settle that. For whenever grandson Kim
Besecker is edged out of any tractor-pulling contest by another
for first place, Grandpa Ary just has him drive it back into his
workshop again and begins juggling more pullies and sprockets until
there’s enough beef to win the next one.
For whenever Ralph Ary gets through with his day’s labors of
welding, cutting and fitting steel for custom jobs at the McClain
metal shops in Greenville, well, for “diversion” he just
spends his leisure hours doing more welding, cutting and fitting of
steel for his own fun (and grandson’s of course).
Ralph Ary’s been fascinated by small internal-combustion gas
engines ever since as a young man he did a stint of 8 years in the
“I’ve worked on many an old Model-T Ford,” says
Ralph. “Yanked and replaced hundreds of Model-T bands. Drove
many a Model-T myself,” says he.
“But the most profitable deal I ever made was when an old
fellow gave me an old gas upright engine. I’ve long forgotten
what kind it was, but I traded it for an old 2-cylinder Excelsior
Motorcycle with sidecar.”
Then came a hitch at steam threshing, after Ralph Ary had
acquired a wife and settled down to more civil ways of living for a
spell. But he couldn’t quite get those small popping and
sputtering gas engines out of his veins. So back to them he went,
despite the fact that he was raised as a kid on steam engines (his
“Off and on I’ve made a lot of garden tractors. One of
them had a motorcycle engine in it,’ muses Ralph. ‘And
I’ve made a dozen or so racing Go-Karts for fellows to drive at
And one of his pleasanter memories was when he and
“hizzoner” Clark Davidson, mayor of Gordon Village nearby,
formed a rather “gentlemanly” corporation, known as the A
& D Enterprises (Ary & Davidson), from which has stemmed so
many homemade steam jitneys and gas doodlebugs that you can’t
shake a stick at all of ’em.
This is a 3 hp I.H.C. Gas Engine pulling a 30 foot cord wood
Picture of John Deere D. Tractor at Ohio State Fair.
Cutting wheat at home in July, 1965.
Courtesy of Melvin Oiler, Walnut, Illinois.
I would like to compliment you on your fine magazine for us
About 2 1/2 years ago I wanted a hobby and
a friend of mine gave me an old gas engine and that did it. I have
been collecting them ever since. I take them apart and repair them
and then paint them. It is a thrill to start several of them up at
once. I operate my own Radiator Shop and in my spare time, I work
with the engines.
Another Gas Engine Enthusiast
In this snapshot I am leaning on a DeLaval and to my right is a
Weil made in Chicago.
This is a picture of several of my engines.
To Ralph Ary, gas engine gentleman and Spark Plug of the Month,
our hat is off to you. May you ever have some kind of gas jitney or
doodlebug to drive around in, to let folks know you’re just as
young as that tall, “straight-as-a-stick” frame of
And from Spark Plug Ralph Ary comes this wise bit of philosophy
for the rest of us common folk to ponder: “I’ll never retire
I want to keep right on working and making gas doodlebugs and
jitneys so long as I’ve a muscle to move and a finger to