The Ten Dollar Tractor along with my latest acquisition, a 1960 Wheel Horse.
14123 April Lane Warren, Michigan 48093
I have been in the gas engine hobby for about six years. I have several vintage air-cooled engines, a Maytag, and a John Deere Model E hit & miss engine. However, I have always wanted to own one of the big old tractors. Unfortunately, since I do not have a place to store one, I decided to build a smaller tractor of my own design.
I started with a Bolens garden tractor that I found in the city dump. I kept the rear wheels and the rear end and scrapped the rest. I also kept the engine, an old Clinton that was in pretty bad shape.
I first restored the engine. The engine was stuck as well as missing the carburetor and gas tank. After freeing the engine, a quick search of my 'scrap' pile produced a suitable carburetor. I searched for a gas tank as well, but was unable to find one that would work. Thus, I had to have one made. Luckily, I was able to turn to my father, a retired tool and die maker, for assistance. After giving him the specifications, I was amazed when he produced a 'custom' gas tank that he felt would jazz up the tractor a bit. He used an eight-inch section of a stainless steel hydraulic tube and welded a stainless steel cap on each end. I drilled out the necessary holes and adapted it to the engine. After some minor adjustments, everything fit together and the engine ran great.
The next part of the project was to make the frame. The garden tractor was not long enough, so I extended the length by adding a four-foot piece of angle-iron to each side. Again the angle-iron came from the scrap pile. I mounted the engine to the extended frame and it fit perfectly. The next problem was to find a suitable steering mechanism as well as some front wheels.
The problem of the front wheels was solved by a neighbor who gave me a rusty spreader that he no longer wanted. Now a steering mechanism was needed. While at an antique show, I ran across a gentleman who was selling old tools and various miscellaneous items. I picked up what appeared to be some sort of old universal joint. 'How much? I asked. 'Five dollars' was the response. 'Would you take four?' 'Yep' was the answer. I now had my steering mechanism.
I took the universal joint and added a length of rod stock to one end. The rod stock served as the steering column. I searched for a steering wheel but was unable to come up with one. The wheel that is normally used to raise and lower the blade on a table saw eventually became the steering wheel for my tractor. To the other end of the universal joint I attached a pulley. I took wire cable, wrapped it around the pulley and attached each end to the axle. This is a similar steering mechanism that is used on the turn-of-the-century steam traction engines.
After installing the steering assembly, I connected it to the rear end. This was accomplished by adding a pulley to the engine and running a belt to the existing pulley on the rear end. This simple friction type drive system would engage the rear wheels as the belt was tightened. Finally, my project was beginning to actually look like a tractor. However, I now needed a place to sit.
A search of various flea markets, junk yards, yard sales, etc., failed to produce a seat. Finally, I ran across a lawn mower repair shop that was going out of business. I stopped in and asked if they had an old riding lawn mower seat lying around that I could buy. The man behind the counter spoke those famous words, 'Hold on, let me check in back.' A few moments later, he returned with a superb looking stamped steel seat. Hesitantly, I asked the price. After much thought, the man said, 'One dollar.' Needless to say, the deal was completed.
I took an old steam pipe hanger and used it as my seat mount. I tipped the hanger on its side and attached the seat to one end and attached the other end to the frame. This looked good, but after testing it was found not to be strong enough to hold my weight, as the seat would immediately collapse downward when I sat in it. The problem was solved by adding a die spring to the hanger. I now get a comfortable, bump-free ride!
Now it was time for testing. After getting the engine started, the tractor slowly crept out on its maiden voyage. Everything worked great until it came time to stop. Since my tractor has no braking system, it took many times out to get the feel of when to pull and release the belt tightening mechanism. This works fine for now, but I may add brakes in the future.
Finally, it was time to add the finishing touches to my tractor. I took two pieces of sheet metal and attached a hinge from a piano bench between them. This formed the hood. I then added a grille, made from an OSHA safety cage. Other minor touches were the extension of the exhaust system. The final touch was the addition of the nameplate to the front of the tractor. I chose RPR, my initials, and stamped them into a piece of diamond shaped stainless steel and attached this badge to the grille. I then chose a John Deere color scheme for my tractor and painted it.
So, that's the story of how I built a tractor for ten dollars. What's that you say? You only totaled five dollars? A four dollar universal joint and a one dollar seat. Well, you are correct. The most expensive part of my tractor was the paint! The paint cost the princely sum of five dollars, thus completing my $10.00 tractor.