THE HALF-A-FORDSON TRACTOR ENGINE

By Staff
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#1: As found.
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#3: Black goo in crankcase. Note baffle in pan.
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#2: As found, rear view. Note splined output shaft.
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#4: Detail of crank throw welded on and lip seal welded to crankshaft.
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#6: Finished half-a-Fordson showing cart, tanks, and Holley vaporizer.
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#5: View showing cut-down coilbox. Note welding on rear of block and head.

3437 Blue Ball Road, North East, Maryland 21901

About two years ago during the late summer, one of my
engine/iron buddies, Dave, had just seen several really rough
Fordsons roll into the scrapyard we frequent on Saturdays. Dave
took one of the better ones home, I helped him dismantle the usable
parts from the others. Better to rescue another tired old Fordson
than to see it get chopped up. Several weeks pass, Saturday rolls
around again, and we’re back at the scrapyard. I’m digging
through a particularly large #2 pile where I spot what looks like
the front part of a Ford-son engine about two to three feet down;
probably some more pieces and parts. I pull some more metal off the
top and the front of the cylinders are revealed. The carb and
manifold are missing as usual. Might as well keep going– this is
much better therapy than paying to lie on some stranger’s couch
and cry the blues.

There are the first two cylinders. Hey, wait a minute, where are
the other two cylinders? Hey, could this be a two-cylinder Fordson
engine? I yell over to Dave that I think I’ve found a
two-cylinder Fordson engine. He tells me I am full of schtuff and
other things unmentionable. ‘No, really, it truly is; come
see.’ So we wrestle the engine free from the pile and set it
out on the dirt. About a minute of looking at it and there is a
long pause out of the two of us and looks of utter disbelief.
Another minute later there is a chain around it and it is being
lifted into my two-week-old truck with nothing more than an oak
pallet to sit on. I cringe as the bed receives its first scratches,
but resign myself to the fact that it had to happen sooner than
later; battle scars, I rationalize. This puppy is coming home with
me.

Home with the half-a-Fordson engine, I snap some pictures with
it next to my ’23 Fordson. These pictures are to aid me putting
the ‘half back together. Pictures one and two show it sitting
next to my ’23. Usually I get so bird-dog enthusiastic about
‘new iron’ that I forget to take pictures in the
‘before’ state. The half is stuck with some rust in the
bores. Not that bad, we have the technology, we can rebuild it!
Walt, the local Fordson man, happens to be at Dave’s for some
parts that afternoon. Walt has probably the best running Fordson I
have ever seen or heard. One pull to choke, one pull to start. Walt
thinks nothing of hitching up a wagon to his Fordson and driving
15-20 miles to a gas engine show–or mowing 10 acres of grass with
a five-gang reel mower for as long as I can remember. Walt is
shaking his head saying he has seen model A’s and Model T’s
cut in half, but never one of these. The consensus that day is that
if I fix it up and take it to the shows, somebody might recognize
it or know something about it. It is a long shot, but stranger
things have happened. The sun is going down now, so some tranny
fluid is poured into the bores to anoint the rings and loosen the
pistons.

Two weeks later, the half-a-Fordson is sitting in my garage
where the pan is pulled to see what makes it tick inside.

Picture #3 shows what was found inside. Lots of black goo and
oil in the pan; good sign. The first thing which jumped out were
the counterweights which were welded to the crankshaft–nice job.
Whoever performed the amputation had a lot of spare parts and a lot
of skill as a welder. It appears that all the welds were made with
a stick. The engine has a serial number which dates it at 1921. I
pull the caps and remove the crank–well, the half crank. The
builder used the front half of the block and the rear half of the
crank. A copper flange seal and extra lip welded to the flywheel
flange seals the rear of the crank. Recall that Fordsons had the
flywheel and clutch run in oil so there was no seal. The entire ear
of the pan was hammered out of 
3/32‘ sheet steel and welded to the cast
iron pan. The block top half supports the other top half of the
rear seal which slides nicely into the bottom forming an oil-tight,
mechanical seal.

Picture #4 shows the crank with the extra throws welded on and
the flange/seal on the rear end of the crank.

The entire rear end of the block has been blanked off with
?’ sheet steel welded in place. The camshaft and valve cover
were also halved. The two tanks on the pan were as it was found.
Possibly one was a reserve oil reservoir and the other was a place
for sediment. I couldn’t figure out the original oil pump;
perhaps it was operated manually every few minutes with a few
turns. I found an old ‘oil-vac’ pump which is driven from a
fanbelt and used to pump oil to the dips in the pan. Probably
overkill on my part. To replace the missing cylinder head, I took
one of the scrapyard cylinder heads and cut it in half with a
hacksaw, deciding to use the front two combustion chambers. After
squaring up the head on a mill, I heated the front half in my
garage oven to about 500 degrees F and welded on the plate to seal
the water jacket with my MIG welder. I have been very successful
with this method of welding cast iron. The cutting operation with
the hacksaw tore up my shoulder for a few days. Eventually I bought
an old flat belt Racine power hacksaw from about 1915 to prevent
the shoulder problems from recurring.

After the crank was out, the pistons soon followed with some
firm whacks via a 3×3 piece of oak. The pistons were removed with
surprising ease and the bores cleaned up nicely with a light hone
and some kerosene. Most of the parts were now in my basement shop
getting repaired, refitted or painted. I welded up a cart to place
the engine on and fitted an old brass water pump I had at my
dad’s since I was 12 onto the front of the cylinder head. The
cart is junkyard fodder all the way, except for the Model T
spindles I used for steering which I had from a previous project.
After about eight months of part-time effort the half-a-Fordson is
hoisted on the cart and bolted down. Don across the field comes
down with his skid loader and we lift the engine out of my basement
through the ‘Bilco’ door minus the steps.

Without a manifold, I decided to make one from some one inch
pipe fittings in my scrap box. The trick I stumbled onto was to
take a piece of 1×3′ channel and bore holes in it where the
intakes and exhaust ports were. Then it was relatively easy to
locate everything for welding so that the gland rings would line up
and seat. The flat channel face made a nice surface to seal to. I
fixed up an old brass Tillotson updraft carb (MV-1B) to use with
the manifold to get the engine running. I could not have foreseen
the manifold part of this story.

Initially, I had a side mount Robert Bosch mag driven by a chain
and right-angle drive to fire off the engine. That mag was rescued
from a Fordson which was set on fire in a field.

Later, I just had to get cute and cut an original Fordson coil
box in half to run off of a timer and the buzz coils. A 105 mm
shell casing looked like it would make a nice water tank. I did not
need to bother with a radiator, as this engine would only lope
along at shows from now on. As it turned out, the engine held about
four gallons of water. The gas tank was a piece of a water filter
cartridge, also from the scrap bin. The caps for the water and fuel
tanks were genuine Ford model T hub caps which seemed to coincide
with the general Ford motif. On the buzz coils, it starts up on two
to three pulls most of the time. The engine fires 90 degrees of
crank rotation and coasts for the other 270 degrees, much like a
John Deere. If I turn it off and it stops between compression
strokes, it will magically start just by turning on the buzz coils.
I tell people at shows that this engine has ‘electric
start.’

I took the engine to Wilhelm’s show last June. There I got a
lot of head shakes, compliments, and ‘never seen one of
those’ looks. About midday, a young guy named Jared Schoenly
walks up and looks over the engine. He says the engine looks like
one that an old Fordson man had up his way. Jared wanted the
engine, but the man was a purist, said the thing ‘wasn’t
natural’ and that Jared could not buy it or have it. The old
man eventually scrapped out the engine rather than giving it to
Jared. I told Jared where and when I got it and he just grinned
reeeeal large. ‘I’ll bet he still has the head and manifold
for this engine,’ Jared says. By this time my pulse races at
the thought of getting the missing manifold and head. We shake
hands and he says he’ll call back.

That evening the phone rings; Jared. Says he has the head and
manifold and that he’ll bring it to Coolspring and that I can
have it! Flash to Coolspring, here comes Jared, walking down the
aisle with the head and manifold on each arm and a big smile. What
luck, a Holley 280 vaporizer setup and cylinder head, cut in half.
Better still, THE manifold and head–cut in half. The head is the
back half of a head turned around with a water connection on the
front; exactly the opposite way I envisioned it. This sort of luck
is kind of like winning the lottery, I think to myself.
Hooda’thunk!

I dismantled the Holley vaporizer setup in September of 1998 and
found the mixer to be rusted to where it was unusable–darn. A
month later I find a nice mixer at Hershey for twenty bucks–sold.
Flash ahead to November. One of the local farmers has a private
engine/car show/barbeque/last gasp before winter. Two days before
this event, I install the vaporizer setup and with a little
tinkering, get it to run. Minutes later, I get it to perform that
Deere-ese blatt-blatt…blatt-blatt. I took the engine to that show
and it ran all day on the vaporizer and never missed a beat-beat.
The parts were at long last reunited to become one, or should I say
half, again.

I would be interested in hearing about similar Ford conversions
on Model T’s, Model A’s, and even Ford-sons, from other GEM
readers. You can contact me at the above address or e-mail me at:
pgray@dol.net.

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