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
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
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
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