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Words from Winterbilt

The tractor wont start and its cold

Shannon Bohrer

(March, 2011) Anything mechanical can break, but as Judge Glass would say "They usually dont break when youre not using them." Judge was a very good tractor mechanic, an individual whos time spanned the evolution from horses to motor vehicles and tractors. He would refer to a right rear wheel as the right hind wheel; he was a good teacher and good neighbor. I remember calling Judge once when my old Massey Ferguson would not start and he asked me to describe what I heard. After I did he told me to use a pair of alligator clips with a wire and attach the clips to two prongs on the back of the key starter. It worked! Later when I was in his company Judge commented that from his experiences, that if a piece of machinery breaks when its not being used, its usually something simple. Good advice.

A while ago, on a very cold day December day, my father in-law telephoned and said his tractor would not start. He added that the weather forecast was snow in couple of days. I inquired as to the problem and he stated that it would not turn over at all. He believed the battery was dead. I advised him I would be there shortly and that I would bring a jumper box and we could probably jump start the tractor. My father in-law is 84 years old and has a few mobility problems. He is a good man and has been good to me and he raised a wonderful daughter, my good wife.

I telephoned my brother in law, a real mechanic, just for insurance. He said he would bring his battery charger and would meet me there. I loaded the jumper box in the truck and started down the road. As I was driving I was thinking about my father in-laws tractor. The tractor is an old Allis Chalmers, so old that Judge would have liked it. A good while ago my father in-law had a loader installed on the tractor. The loader was new, but not made for his tractor, but it was installed by a dealer. The loader worked very well, unless you needed to raise the hood on the tractor. The loader has a cross bar that prevents you from raising the hood. Of course the battery is under the hood. As I was driving I also remembered that you could remove a cross bar from the loader and then raise the hood, about half way. It was cold, very cold with a good wind and I was hoping for a quick repair, reminding myself what Judge often said "Its usually something simple."

When I arrived at my father in-laws place the tractor was in the shed. The shed is small by shed standards. I believe that if you took everything out of the shed and put it all back, I dont think it would fit? The working space was a little tight. My father in law then told me that he had installed extended Leeds to the battery so you did not have to raise the hood to jump start the tractor. The Leeds goes from the battery toward the back and to the right side of the hood, making them very accessible. Did I mention my father in-law was an engineer? For a short while, very short, my enthusiasm returned that it was going to be a quick repair. After I attached the jump box cables to the battery extended Leeds we tried to start the tractor nothing, not even a grunt.

We now needed access to the battery so we had to remove the cross bar and raise the hood, but with space constraints we needed to move the tractor out of the shed. We used a jack and raised the loader bucket about a foot off the ground and put 4X4s under it. I then attached a chain to the tractor and pulled it out of the shed with my truck. The loader bucket easily skidded over the 4 X 4s. Did I mention that the shed roof was low? Once outside we took a front cross bar off the loader and we could now raise the hood. About this time my brother in-law showed up, just when the work was almost over, or so I thought. We removed the extended Leeds, and re-attached the jumper box and nothing. My brother in-law brought along his battery charger; its a little one, about the size of a large filing cabinet on wheels. He hooked the charger to the battery and we waited a while. We again tried to start the tractor and again nothing. My brother in-law was concerned because he said the charger indicated that the battery was not charging. We tried jumping the tractor starter and all we got was one very slow grunt. It was time to take the battery out, go to town and purchase a new one and hope that the battery was the problem.

After we purchased a new battery our truck turned into a shopping center where a coffee shop was located, so we decided to stop for coffee. The coffee was hot and very good. Did I mention it was cold outside? We nursed our coffee as long as we could and then started back to the farm. My brother in-law installed the battery and I watched to make sure it was done correctly. After installation the tractor started, which made everyone smile. We reinstalled the battery Leeds, lowered the hood, then reinstalled the loader cross bar, raised the bucket and then removed the 4 X 4s.

I then mentioned to my father in-law that the tractor was ready for the snow. He replied that if it snowed his neighbor would plow his driveway. He added that since he could not turn his head around very far, he had trouble backing up the tractor. He said that when he backed the tractor into the shed, he put a 4 X 4 on the ground to stop the rear wheels and thats where he stopped. But he added he was going to use tractor and loader, he wanted to remove a bale of hay that was in his field. The bale was left by the farmer that made his hay, probably in June six months earlier. As my father in-law drove the tractor toward the bale of hay I walked alongside. Since the hay was old I was going to roll the hay into the bucket to keep it from breaking apart.

When the bale was made it was about 40 pounds, however it was wet and it was frozen and also frozen to the ground. Did I mention it was cold out? We did use the tractor bucket, to break the bale from the ground. When I rolled the frozen bale into the bucket I would estimate it weighted over 150 pounds, it was like a large brick, and I was worried it would break apart? After the bale of hay was dropped in a mulch pile, the tractor was returned to the shed.

As Judge would say, "Its usually something simple" and it was, it was just the battery. But the best part was the company and the coffee.

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer