Self-help books and tapes are nothing new. Wander into any major book outlet, and you'll find a dizzying array of titles claiming to help you with just about any imaginable aspect of your life. From dealing with your spouse to working with your boss, there's a book - and often a videocassette tape - to help you along.
Not surprisingly, there are also a host of tapes designed to help the aspiring mechanic. After all, just because someone's interested in old gas engines and tractors, doesn't necessarily mean they know how to work on them.
I've been wanting to watch some of these self-help videos to assess their worth, so with that thought in mind, I picked out a couple of titles and gave them a run.
The Tractor Tape
When it comes to self-help videos for the tractor enthusiast, a good selection of titles are available. Most of those titles seem to come from one source: J&D Productions out of Metamora, Mich. With 30 different videos covering tractors ranging from the Allis-Chalmers WD 45 to Oliver-Cockshutts of varying stripe, J&D has established itself as a major how-to resource for tractor enthusiasts.
Above: J&D Production's 'Engine Rebuild for Oliver and Cockshutt Gas Tractors' is one of 30 titles available from the Michigan-based company. J&D also has tapes on painting, general tune-up and hydraulic repair. Tapes are $24.95, plus shipping and handling. For more information, contact J&D Productions Inc., P.O. Box 38, Metamora, Ml 48455; (810) 678-3960.
Given my weak spot for Oliver-Cockshutts, I decided to watch J&D's 'Engine Rebuild for Oliver and Cockshutt Gas Tractors.' Covering the Waukesha-powered Oliver-Cockshutt models produced after Oliver's purchase of Cockshutt in 1962, this tape guides viewers through the basics of an engine overhaul.
It's impossible to cover every detail of an overhaul in 70 minutes, but the tape - narrated by 'Scott' and 'Dan' (no last names are given or listed in the credits) -provides the aspiring mechanic with a basic overview of the major elements making up an engine overhaul.
From initial engine removal all the way through to the first fire of the newly-assembled engine, Scott and Dan guide viewers through elements unique to the tractor they're restoring (an Oliver 1650), noting elements common to most any gas-powered tractor along the way.
Although disassembly coverage seems a bit rushed, they slow down during the assembly process, making sure to note the importance of details such as properly installed pistons rings and the location of the crankshaft thrust bearing. Appropriate attention is given to noting and tracking locating marks on rod bearing caps and their companion connecting rods, and they even walk through the process of removing and installing camshaft bearings in the engine block. That's an element I had expected them to recommend to a qualified machine shop. But the truth is, if you can tear the engine down, you can probably install your own cam bearings.
Video production quality lags a bit from time to time, owing mostly to the use of a remote microphone (there are moments where you can hear a brutal wind blowing outside the shop, and every now and then you can barely make out what Scott and Dan are saying). That said, the lighting in this tape is bright and even, allowing a clear view of every component discussed and worked on.
Although there's no substitute for experience -and a dedicated manual is still a must - the novice engine rebuilder will benefit from this tape. While you won't come away an expert, simply watching someone else go through the process of tearing down and building up an engine - the same type of engine you're planning to work on - is a major help and a great way to get started, and this tape fills that bill handily.
The Lawnmower DVD
There aren't any tapes on the market for stationary engine fans (some-one, please take note! but Johnny Siebert a.k.a. 'The Lawnmower Man,' has recently released a tape (also available on DVD) giving detailed do-it-yourself tips for lawnmower owners.
Siebert has produced two separate packages, the first consisting of a 4-1/2-hour, 36-part 'course' on general repair and maintenance, and the second consisting of a shorter, 22-part course on carburetor overhaul and tuning.
I decided to view the DVD version of Siebert's Telly Award-winning productions, and there's no question that technology, at least in the case of self-help tapes or DVDs, is a great asset.
For starters, Siebert's scope is pretty broad, and his coverage is pretty intense. The DVD/tapes cover relatively late-model, modern air-cooled engines, but whether it's a Briggs & Stratton, a Honda or a Tecumseh, it's in Siebert's view. Following his slogan of, 'Don't let anyone tell you that you cannot do it yourself,' Siebert guides viewers through a fairly exhaustive tour of what makes a mower - or for that matter a log splitter or a snow blower - tick. His chapter-by-chapter approach, combined with DVD technology's chapter-by-chapter indexing capability, makes it easy to pass through chapters irrelevant to your own needs so you can find the information you want to see.
Siebert covers everything from the basics of safety to replacing pull cords and flywheel keys. As much as the separate carburetor DVD/tape gets into exhaustive, step-by-step points in carburetor overhaul, the 'basic' repair DVD/tape provides owners with a good foundation in carburetor tuning and maintenance.
Above: Johnny Siebert has produced two 'courses' on small engine repair, covering most of the smaller engines used on lawnmowers over the past decade. 'Step-by-Step Repair and Maintenance' is $39.95 for VHS and $44.95 for DVD, and 'Carburetors' is $19.95 for VHS and $24.95 for DVD, plus shipping and handling. Contact Lawnmower Man, Inc., 4880 Floyd Road., Mableton, GA 30126; (866) 968-3494; www.lawnmowerman.com
Production quality is high, featuring excellent visual quality as well as very clear audio. As he moves from one engine make to the next, Siebert calmly explains critical differences in design and layout, giving the novice the benefit of his extensive knowledge, and in the process, making it all seem clear and easy.
The only glaring omission is coverage of internal parts, which Siebert says is intentional, noting it isn't economically efficient to mechanically overhaul the average small (modern) engine. Given costs and availability, he's probably right, and the truth is most of us just want to keep an engine going.
When it comes to engines, the gas engine crowd has more than its fair share of knowledgeable folks. Even so, we all have holes in our knowledge, and a helping, guiding hand can come in handy from time to time. If your interest is only in old engines, Siebert's DVD/tapes won't interest you. But if you want to know more about that Intek 5 HP engine or Kawasaki carburetor, Siebert's short course on engine maintenance will be time well spent.