| April/May 1999

  • WD-45

  • WD-45

356 Deibler Road, Pennsylvania Furnace, Pennsylvania 16865

One thing that really annoys me when attending an old iron show is someone displaying a 'new' tractor. Just last summer someone brought an Allis-Chalmers WD-45 to our show, exhibited the thing just like it was old. Why, our WD-45, a 1954 model, is only ... ah ... let's see ... 1954 from 1999 is .... Well, anyway, people shouldn't exhibit things I'm still trying to farm with.

Our WD-45, serial number 182535, was purchased new from the dealer located about a mile down the road, by the gentleman my uncle worked for. When this gentleman died in the early 1960s, he left the farm and machinery to my uncle. When my uncle died in 1983 he left the farm and machinery to brother and me. Our trusty WD-45 has never been sold since it was new, even though we're its third owners and it never left 'home.'

The dealership which sold it placed a number of 'W' series tractors around our area, including the last ones, the WD-45. Two of the wide-front WD-45s like ours still reside within a few miles, and its narrow front sister, serial number 182536, is still in harness two farms from ours.

Having spent my young formative years on my dad's Allis-Chalmers WC (it being relegated to me after Dad bought a new Ferguson, with all kinds of fancy features like foot brakes), I became somewhat of an Allis-Chalmers fancier. (Even though the WC should have cured me of that.)

Upon taking charge of the WD-45, I noticed that it carried very little oil pressure, even though the oil pressure gauge (cleverly hidden in front of the right headlight) has about 98% of its face devoted to the 'normal' range.

Being rather naive on WD-45s and the fact that Dad's WC and WD never had gauges that worked, I was unaware that old AC's did not come equipped with oil pressure.

Worriedly I dropped the oil pan in search of the problem, only to find some battered unidentifiable pieces of metal in the front of the oil pan. Upon taking these pieces to my good friend up the road, owner of the narrow front sister, he identified them as flyweights from the governor, and showed me some retrieved from one of his Allises. My late uncle never told me about a governor disintegration on the old girl, but this is not an uncommon occurrence on the W series AC's.

Some years ago, my cousin had his dad's WC belted to a hammer mill when the governor came unglued. He said he was not aware the WC engine was capable of turning 7000 rpm, but by the sound it must have been close. Getting to the magneto kill switch (on the side of the mag) was rather exciting with the tractor, belt, and mill all trying to leap into the air at varying intervals.

Anyway, I 'miked' the crankshaft and replaced the not-really-worn inserts with standard sized new ones, checked the oil pump, and, as some oldtime Allis Chalmers experts have surmised by now, this had no effect on the oil pressure (or lack of it).

While I do have some modern equipment (i.e. less than 30 years old), we use the WD-45 fairly regularly. One of its summer chores, besides raking hay, is sometimes running the mower-conditioner. Its single hydraulic outlet enables it to lift the nine-foot header on the machine with some protest. Upon moving the hydraulic control to the full up position, a muffled squeal is heard from Allis's innards. Shortly thereafter the header trembles and, as the squeal of protest gets louder, the header slowly shudders to the full up position. If I were to pick a term to describe the WD-45's hydraulic system, it would probably be 'feeble.'

With some practice, one can get pretty good at raising the header at the end of the field, usually starting the procedure about forty feet before the end of the alfalfa. Lowering the header is a lot more certain; she'll drop it like an arm load of hot anvils.

The other 'feature' that enables the WD-45 to do power takeoff work easier is the hand clutch, or 'transmission' clutch as the manual refers to it. Probably named a transmission clutch because one cannot shift the transmission while using it, unless you are using the PTO. It does however allow the forward progress of the tractor to be stopped (usually with the aid of the brakes) without stopping the PTO. I'm usually not conditioned enough in a tight situation to push the hand clutch, and invariably stomp the foot clutch, like you'd do on a 'normal' tractor, effectively plugging whatever machine I'm operating.

Regardless of what might be said about the rest of the tractor, Allis-Chalmers engines are quite rugged and dependable. This was my uncle's main tractor for nearly thirty years, doing all the plowing, harvesting and feed grinding with never an engine overhaul, or even a valve job. It still uses little oil even when working it hard. A few years back a drought in central Pennsylvania made the corn crop somewhat less than record breaking. Since our number two tractor was out of commission at the time, we decided to put the WD-45 on the single row harvester to fill silo, and keep the bigger tractor to run the forage wagons. This cut down on the excitement of hauling them down the hills to the barn with the WD-45.

I was pretty skeptical, but my helper, a true believer in vintage Allis-Chalmers, said we should give her a try. I was surprised, in low places where a little moisture made the corn close to its normal height, low gear wasn't nearly low enough. However, in the rest of the field, the old girl did a decent job, keeping the little single row harvester humming right along.

Anyone familiar with the evolution of the 'W' series tractors will remember that the WC, introduced in 1934, 'styled' in 1939, having no hydraulics, hand brakes and non-live PTO, was replaced with the WD in 1948.

The basic tractor was not much changed from the WC; foot brakes, the transmission clutch, and some crude hydraulics were added.

The new hydraulic system on the WD included the famous 'Snap Coupler' three point hitch system, which persisted for some reason, for another twenty-plus years on some AC tractors. Apparently someone in Allis-Chalmers research and development looked at the plans upside down and the third link wound up on the bottom instead of the top, replacing the drawbar. Draft sensing was evidently overlooked on the 'straight' WD's as the non-45 WD's are referred to in our area.

Some time in the 1960s my dad purchased a 1948 WD from a retiring neighbor to replace the aging WC as our second tractor. I then persuaded Dad to buy a three-bottom Snap Coupler mounted plow at the local consignment auction. The old WD's might have been rated as a three-plow tractor, but it must have been in pure sand, not the hills and soils on our farm. I can remember trying to plow some alfalfa sod and alternately having the front end of the tractor in the air as the plow tried to bury itself to the frame, or barely scratching surface as I madly manipulated the hydraulic control lever up and down. The WD was soon in front of our trusty old Oliver two-bottom trailer plow, and the Snap Coupler plow was one of the featured attractions at the next consignment sale.

Getting back to the development of the WD's, the old WC 'square' (4' bore and 4' stroke) engine seemed pretty much unchanged in the WD's though a few more horsepower were coaxed out of it with a little higher compression, a better breathing manifold, and a little more carburetion. The WD-45 came on the scene in 1953 sporting a 4' x 4?' engine and an honest 45 horsepower on the belt. Some attempt at draft sensing was added with the coming of the 45's, dubbed 'Traction Booster;' it even had its own gauge hanging under the gas tank. The gauge even registers traction boosting when I raise the head on the mower conditioner. Handy. The WD-45's remained in production until 1957, when they were replaced by the 'D' series tractors.

Our WD-45 remains working after 45 years; at this point it doesn't work every day, or even every week, but some weeks in the summer it gets run a good number of hours.

I'd like to send along a picture of a restored WD-45 with new paint, crisp decals, shiny black tires, and me standing proudly beside it. However, ours is still in her 'working clothes,' original faded paint, various minor oil leaks, and a coating of dirt and -- (Did I mention we use it to haul manure?) obtained since its last semi-annual pressure washing.

With a similar number of years work in, I sometimes think the WD-45 is holding up better than I am.

I've had a set of decals for it for several years, but never seem to get the time to start the restoration. Perhaps someday, when we're both retired.

The picture is of the WD-45 operated by my late uncle, mowing hay in the early 1970s. Over a quarter of a century later, and after more than four decades of service, it can be found doing the same thing on the same ground, and owned by the same family. The old girl seems to have a good job security!


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