130 Wimbledon Crescent SW Calgary, Alberta, Canada T3C 3J3
That's what I told the fellow that ran the antique and yard ornament business that I visit once in a while. 'But I brought it in because I thought you were interested in old stuff,' he said. I replied that I was looking for old engines, the kind with big flywheels that weigh lots, used by farmers to pump water and other chores. Besides, I thought, the price was a bit steep. So it sat in his storage yard.
Every once in a while, I would stop in and see what sort of good stuff he had in his antique shop. Over the next two years, I bought a Briggs and Stratton WMB and an AP engine off him. All the while, the little garden tractor sat in his yard. Poor little thing, sitting there in the cold and the snow. It sure gets cold in the wintertime here in Calgary; sometimes it can get to 40 degrees below zero. Fahrenheit or Celsius, the scale doesn't matter when it's that cold! All covered with snow, amid the old rusty pumps, plows and other junk. Actually it was not in that bad a shape. It looked complete, all rusty with traces of green paint and yellow paint on the wheel hubs. Further inspection revealed that it was a Bolens Handi-ho garden tractor. It had two tractor wheels in the front, and a small plow behind with two wheels. The front of the tractor was cast iron with the name 'Bolens' cast into it. Over the engine was a metal shroud going to the gas tank. The engine was a small Briggs and Stratton Model 6F. The engine had no compression and a very feeble spark-but it still ended up sitting in his storage yard.
Springtime finally came, the snow melting as it warmed up. A lot of people started thinking about yard work and growing gardens. I stopped by the antique shop like I normally do once in a while to look at all the good stuff. The owner approached me, and after the usual greetings and formalities, asked me to make an offer on the garden tractor. (Must have seen me looking at it.) He needed it cleared out to help make room for concrete yard ornaments of which he was expecting a large shipment. I said I was not sure, since I was not really into garden tractors. Finally he said a figure, and before you know it, I said, 'Sold!' Money exchanged hands. I went home to get my trailer, and in a couple of hours, I had the tractor home and unloaded. For a small tractor, it sure seemed heavy. Now it sat in my garage.
Spring turned into summer. With summer came holidays and other good things. The tractor sat in the garage, with stuff piled around it. The fall came and we decided that perhaps we should make some room in the garage so the car could at least be put in one side of our double garage. Actually it was not as bad as it seems; most stuff I was able to put away without any problem. There still was the matter of a certain little tractor. It did take up a fair bit of room. By unbolting the plow, I could put that outside and keep the tractor in the garage. It had spent enough winters outside anyhow.
Around November of that year, I was out in the garage, finding myself staring at the tractor. It would not take much effort to take the top cowling off, and the cast iron front, and the engine, and the wheels, and the drive sprockets, and so on. Besides, my kids had asked several times when I was going to repair it. So next thing you know, there were tractor bits all over the workbench. Well, if it's already half apart, I might as well keep going and restore it. It can't be that bad to work on. So the decision was made to go ahead with it, even though I had started on an International 'M' engine a month earlier. The International needed to have its piston soak in oil, anyhow.
So, just about anything that could be taken apart was. The frame had layers of oil-soaked dirt on it that was scraped off. Drive gears and sheet metal parts were cleaned. A few cracks in the metal were brazed. A shaft with a small sprocket at each end was removed and cleaned of old grease. This shaft ran in needle bearings that I ended up replacing. I also ended up replacing the drive chains. All this good stuff was set aside for painting. On to the wheels: after scraping all the loose rust off, I ended up sandblasting the rims to get them clean. Rims are hard to scrape. I was also tired of scraping by this time. I found out why the tractor was so heavy-the tires were fluid filled. They were drained to make the tractor lighter. This is a retired tractor, anyhow. That was why it was difficult to unload. I remember after the unloading, my neighbor across the alley from me showed up to look at it. 'I would have loved to help you unload if I had been around.' He was around all right! Hiding no doubt, until I was done! It's not the first time this has happened! Oh well, back to business. I like a wire wheel in an electric or air drill for removing rust. Sandblasting makes a bigger mess. Also I was told that sandblasting sheet metal parts could warp them.
What did I leave out? Oh yes, the engine! The most important part! The engine was taken apart and the usual cleaning and scraping was done. A big part of this business, but well worth it in the end. The reason for no compression was that the exhaust valve was stuck open. This was freed up with penetrating oil and light hammering. The piston was removed, rings were freed up, and the cylinder honed. Everything here was in good shape.
This is the sad part of the story, folks. The keyway in both the flywheel and the crankshaft was beat up and damaged. The proper alignment of the flywheel on the crankshaft, on a Briggs and Stratton engine, is essential to the timing. This would explain the lack of spark. I experimented with shims and trying to reconstruct the keyway with JB Weld, but with no success. What to do? The engine had a built-in gear reduction on the output shaft, so any crankshaft from another engine would not work. I had a similar engine around I could use, but I wanted to keep the original engine with the tractor. Battery ignition is a pain in the part of the body you sit on, but I decided to use one. A spark coil and small 12-volt gel-cell type battery was mounted underneath the frame and hooked up to the points and condenser on the engine, with a switch so you can turn it off. The engine ran quite nicely using this setup. Maybe someday I might come across the right parts to do a proper repair job. Be nice to those Briggs and Stratton keyways, future restorers would appreciate it!
A new spark plug, points and condenser were installed, as well as a carburetor tune-up kit. This was all available from a local supplier. All the engine sheet metal and block was painted and the whole engine reassembled. The engine was set aside while the rest of he tractor was painted. I had some problems getting a smooth paint job on some of the rust-pitted sheet metal. I put on a thick layer of paint, then carefully sanded it after it was dry. That seemed to fill the pits. A couple of finish coats and it turned out smooth. After painting, all the parts were carefully assembled, and it started looking like a tractor again. I also ended up putting on new drive chains.
Since the tractor part was complete, might as well do the plow. It was also needed so I could run the tractor. The plow was brought in, taken apart and cleaned. The two wheels were taken off, cleaned and painted, and I noted that they had the name 'Simplicity' cast into them. Maybe Bolens didn't make all their own equipment. The sleeve bearings on the wheels were worn, so new bearings were made from ?-inch copper water pipe. This seemed to work quite well. A hole was drilled in them to line up with the grease nipple, so grease would get to the shaft. Important! The plow was painted and reassembled.
Early April the tractor and plow was reunited and ready to go. I added gas to the tank and found the sediment bowl leaking, so a new gasket was put in there. So, let's try this again! Gas was put in the tank, hooked up the battery, wrapped the starting rope on the flywheel, choked the engine and pulled. It started right away, and after some adjustments and restarts was running good. It made its debut in the alley behind the garage, gleefully kicking up mud and dirty water all over its new paint job. But it felt rewarding to have it running after all that work restoring it. A nice shiny tractor, where an old rusty one once stood. That's one of the best parts about this business. In the spring of 1999, I took a few engines and the little tractor to a show of primarily John Deere tractors, where it was quite popular. I was not invited into the tractor pulls; maybe they couldn't stand the competition.
Here are some of the technical details. The nameplate on the tractor, beat up as it was, did show a model number: 12BB01. The serial number was unreadable. The engine is Briggs and Stratton model 8B, serial number 93966. I would guess that would place it around 1955. I have had some luck cleaning up old nameplates, by cleaning them carefully with toothpaste and an old toothbrush. (If you do not have an old toothbrush, use your wife's or kids, just don't tell them.) Spraying some clear lacquer on the nameplate helps bring out some of the details.
Am I into garden tractors now? I don't know. I still like my old engines, the ones with the big flywheels used for pumping water and other such chores. It was an interesting and rewarding project. But if another tractor showed up on my doorstep, I probably would not turn it away. One with a seat that you could sit on and drive around might be kind of fun.