Gas Engine Magazine

Thinking Back

By Staff

5328 E. Hermosa Vista, Mesa, Arizona 85205

Some 63 years ago two boys with no plans started to build a
self-propelled contraption. An early model Z Fairbanks 1? HP
furnished the power. An old buggy supplied axles and springs.
Wheels from two old horse walking cultivators were added. The hubs
didn’t fit the axels, so the wheels wobbled considerably.

Limestone spreaders and end gate seeders used large sprockets
clamped to rear wagon wheels to drive a 55 cast chain. One of these
was mounted on one rear wheel. A junked manure spreader supplied a
cross shaft with a small sprocket for chain to rear wheel. Pump
jack pulley on the other end of the shaft was belted to the engine
with an idler or belt tightener which acted as a clutch.

The steering shaft was an old water pipe run vertically through
the floor with the steering wheel on the top end and the chains
from the front axle wrapped around the bottom. The seat was
borrowed from a gang plow, and an old cartridge box on the front
end held 4 dry cells, a coil and starting crank.

We hadn’t considered RPM, the ratios of pulleys and
sprockets, nor the direction of shaft rotation. We were quite
surprised when it ran backward and much too fast. We turned the
engine around, changed ends with the cross shaft, traded rear
wheels and took the large pulley from a burr mill to replace the
smaller one. These changes made it run forward at about 3 miles per

The Ford dealer was always teasing us boys, so my Dad offered us
$5.00 if we would drive in the front door of the dealer’s
garage and out the back door without stopping or saying a word
regardless of what was said to us.

As we neared the garage, we met a large car. The driver stopped
in the center of the street to get a good look at our oddity. This
car was in line with the doorway, so we had to detour around it.
Winding the steering chain was slow, requiring too many revolutions
of the steering wheel. Gasoline pumps were set on concrete islands.
Two wheels went over the islands, but the steering shaft caught on
the island breaking the chain. This caused a sharp turn, so we hit
the door post dead center at a 45 degree angle!

To add to our embarrassment, the implement dealer and the
blacksmith from next door came over to look over the wreck. They
started an argument as to which was the front end of our vehicle.
The rear view mirror mounted on the water hopper was the
determining factor. Luckily, for us, the Ford dealer was not there
at the time, so we missed his teasing!

Now, large old walk behind self propelled reel type lawn-mowers
can supply engines, axles, differentials, clutches, sprockets,
chain, wheels and other parts to make toy tractors. Tractors 30 to
40 inches in length are too small to ride on, so short trailing
carts with implement seat and foot rest provide operator

Front ends can be narrow rowcrop or regular wide axle. One was
made with one-piece axle pivoted in the center as used on steam
engines. Chains on either side wind around the shaft using parts
from old car jacks.

Continental, Reo and Maytag single cylinder engines were used.
The Maytag required the most alterations. Kick starting pedal was
removed and chain sprocket replaced the starting ratchet. V-belt
pulley was remade into a flat belt pulley with a slot cut to
receive the end of the starting rope. The exhaust was run into
boiler made from a freon tank. Vacuum cleaner wand provided
stainless steel smoke stack. Too much oil provides smoke. Chain
steered front axle and dummy steam dome with gauge and coal bunkers
add to the appearance.

  • Published on Aug 1, 1988
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