39443 N. Green Bay Rd., Zion, IL 60099
The other night I was writing a letter to a fellow CHALLENGE
collector and I told him about a new toy I got this year. When I
finished and reread the letter, it occurred to me that maybe some
of you GEM’s out there might enjoy it also.
Now you are probably asking, what is a ‘World War II Miller
Well, Walt Miller has been a good friend of my Dad’s for the
past 60 years or there about. Dad was 77 on the 4th of July, so
Walt must be about the same. Anyway, during the war gas was
rationed and we had a victory garden and if you had a tractor to
work your garden you could get extra gas stamps to run it. So Walt,
being an inventor and builder of everything under the sun, dug into
the scrap pile and came up with a two wheel walk behind garden
tractor. Originally he built three, one being my Dad’s. After
the war Dad graduated to a David Bradley two wheel walker from
Sears, so us boys got old ‘Nellie Bell’ as we called her.
That was our first set of wheels. We gathered up beer bottles along
the road and turned them in for gas money.
So, 40 years later, I’m interested in old iron and no one in
the family has any idea what ever became of old Nellie Bell. I
think she would make an interesting addition to my collection. So I
make up a drawing as best I can remember and I ask Walt if that is
correct and he says ‘Oh ya, that’s about as close as
you’re gonna get it!’. Seems that no two were alike
How it turns out mostly depends on which transmission you use.
They come from old wringer washing machines Maytag, E-Z, or several
others will work. The one in the photo is a Maytag. He turns it
over on its side so the wringer shaft and the pulley shaft are
horizontal. Open the case and drill the back out so the wringer
shaft can be pushed clear through. If the wringer shaft is tapered
it has to be replaced with bar stock. Then mount a steel
wheelbarrow wheel on the axle on each side of the trany using pins
(not weld) you might need to get back in the case some day. It took
me three years to find a matched set of wheels. I found several
tranies, but when I opened them up, they could not be made to work.
Finally one night Walt called me and said he found the Maytag in
his junk. He had it years ago on some old homemade shop machine.
Anyway, using the taped holes in the case and some angle iron strap
iron he frames up a platform on top of the trany so the engine sets
up straight and the engine pulley lines up with the trany pulley.
The supports for the engine platform have to be arranged so that if
you take the bolts out it can be lifted off the trany. (Again, you
might need to get in the case.) Next the water pipe gets formed up
and welded to the engine mount so it forms the handle bars and put
in a couple spreaders to make them rigid. The wheel cleats are the
most tricky part of all. They are l’ x l’ angle iron, about
4′ long. Mount them by one end so they extend to the outside
and with a backward rake. Walt used sixteen spaced 22′ apart
this time. After the cleats are welded to the wheel they have to be
bent in slightly, about a ‘ at the outside end. That’s so
when the wheel rotates it doesn’t bounce every time a cleat
goes past. We found the best way to bend them is a large crescent
wrench, adjusted to the thickness of the cleat and slipped over the
end for leverage. Then heat it red with an acetylene torch. The
draw bar arrangement depends on the cultivator tines you manage to
scrounge up. I have a matched set of four from old high wheeled
push cultivators, or you could fabricate your own. I have also
added a third wheel in the center of the drawbar, so as not to have
to hold up the weight when walking the tractor. It has casters for
turning and they are removable for cultivating. Next year I also
want to add a cart with a seat for riding around the show grounds.
Old Nellie Bell had one. The last part of construction is an old
choke cable for throttle control and a clutch. The clutch is a
simple slack belt arrangement a small wheel with a large washer on
each side to keep it centered on the belt, mounted on a pivot arm
with a bracket welded to the frame. To pull it in and tighten the
belt, this time, he used the shifting lever with bracket and cable
from a ten speed racing bike (although any old cable with several
small pulleys on brackets to go around the corners, or a choke-type
cable with a lever at the control end, like off an old lawn-mower
or snow blower, would work just as well). If you have any problems
drop me a line. Good luck! Keep on crank in!