Sherlock Holmes And The Ailing Tractor: Part V

Without a functioning tractor the lawn lost all respect for authority. In a rush I picked up some tools and set out to find what I’d screwed up. Man it sucks to undo “repairs” that you just finished. All those nice new seals I’d lovingly put in place. Ripped apart! Mangled gaskets wound up laying on the floor without a single run cycle. I ordered another gasket kit. Gotta’ break a few eggs to make an omelet. Plus an electrical harness came into the picture.  By now I’m “all in”.

A new starter came in the mail (the old one has been dead forever). I reluctantly ordered a steering link that I’d inadvertently mangled (twice).

I played Rock and Roll really loud, pounded a beer, swore, dropped a wrench on my foot, took a deep breath, peered into the crankcase and…

Nothing. Everything looked right. I measured tolerances with plastigauge. (As if I hadn’t before.) I checked torque specs. (Again.) I loosened stuff, tightened stuff, hit things with a mallet, drank more beer…

I could not figure out what I’d done wrong. I was as stuck as the tractor.

So I turned to the wisdom of Sherlock Holmes:

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Sherlock Holmes

Everything I had done was done correctly. (Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are!)

It must be something I hadn’t done. What was the one thing that I hadn’t done?

The machining! Perhaps the crankshaft was imperfect? How would I know? I couldn’t tell. I could tinker around with a micrometer but what was the expected measure and how does one check that the axis is correct? I needed a wizard’s help.

My machinist consulting a book of crankshaft specifications.

I hoisted the whole block (not stripped of it’s parts but bristling with components…what a hassle) and strapped it in my truck. Then set out to find a machinist. If a good mechanic is a boon to society, a machinist is the frightening dark wizard that goes beyond mere mechanics and manipulates metal at it’s most elemental level. The machinist works his magic on the very materials that make everything everywhere possible. The day the last machinist dies is the day we’re all consigned to living in mud huts and throwing rocks at each other.

I was received like something he’d stepped in. I explained precisely what was wrong “it don’t work” and what I’d like him to do “find out why” and how important it was “please…I beg of you.”

A week later the oracle of machinery summoned me to his castle. “Your crankshaft was machined wrong.” He eyed me suspiciously. Had I been dabbling in his arts?

“No shit!” I was relieved. “You’re sure I didn’t hose something up?”

“Well maybe you did…but the crankshaft isn’t right. How did you machine it?”

“I didn’t.” I stammered. “I paid a guy. At a machine shop. About 300 miles away. Apparently he hosed me?”

“Yes,” he smiled, pleased that I hadn’t done the terrible deed on my own, “you have been hosed.”

“Could you please machine it correctly?” I said, trying to act cool while thinking ‘Oh please please please. I’ll do anything. I need that crankshaft.  Help me Obi Wan you’re my only hope!’ I do not lose my dignity before scientists, surgeons, lawyers, famous authors, rock stars, or generals…but a machinist. There’s a man with power!

He seemed pleased. He agreed to get around to it sometime. I left an offering of money and slipped out the door.

A week later the crankshaft was done. Excellent. I paid more money. I’d have given him a kidney.


And that’s where the story ends… Interruptions took over again. There was a medical emergency. Some zombies needed killing. I have the tragedy of a day job. The IRS did a rectal probe. Some work travel was necessary. The Huns were massing on the border and I had to ride out and kick some ass. Then the weather seemed to favor cutting firewood over garage work. (Long grass sucks but frozen pipes are worse. Don’t taunt winter!)

Nothing yet has happened with the tractor. The crankshaft and bearings are stacked neatly next to the gutted tractor. The engine rests bolted in a stand.

The auxiliary tractor is covered with cobwebs, has a chicken roosting under it, and is leaking everything everywhere.

And the grass…it’s evolving into a dangerous vegetative phase. It may start attacking the cats, but we could use a few less cats.

I’ll try to find time to work on the tractor again in a few weeks. If it speaks again I’ll report it. Wish me luck.


Update:  I would like to point out that I took 4,329 photos of the disassembly; none of which identified the problem stemming from a mis-machined crankshaft.  As someone who knows once said: “the pictures you take as you disassemble in order to avoid problems will not be the pictures you need for the problems you have on reassembly.”

About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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8 Responses to Sherlock Holmes And The Ailing Tractor: Part V

  1. Jocassee Drew says:

    A tale of brains, beer, and brawn, well told. Looking forward to the eventual conclusion.

  2. Max Damage says:

    Prior to rebuilding a tractor it is often wise to take a look at used tractor prices and purchase a second unit to stand in while the first is being repaired. A Ferguson TO-30 recently went for $750 just down the road in Iowa, and with nearly new rear tires to boot. For that kind of money a guy doesn’t have to approach winter in a panic about repairing his snow-removal tool so he can get to work or cutting wood so he can live in his own house. Instead he can cut wood secure in the knowledge that the second tractor will stand in, and he’ll have enough wood to heat the shed while he finishes up the main tractor.

    This also provides an excuse, on crisp winter days, to leave the house and go play with fire and drink beer in the tractor shed when you would otherwise be forced to share the house with the wife and kids. Options, folks. It’s all about options.

    All that said, why didn’t you turn the motor with the starter prior to bolting it all together? Or better yet, turn the crank with a socket wrench after you’d bolted the crank in with the mains and prior to attaching connecting rods? The sum of the motor is greater than the parts, but any single part can bring it to a stop. The careful re-builder rotates things by hand prior to final assembly, and does so again during the assembly process, to verify that he’s making an assembly of only working parts. The sum is thus always positive, and by definition will work once it is again a whole.

    – Max

    • I’ve done the “stand in unit” approach just as you suggested. When my tractor died I procrastinated until the lawn devolved a bit. Then I freaked out and purchased a 70 year old Allis Chalmers with a mower deck as my “auxiliary backup tractor”. The deck was 80% of the tractor’s value. Since it was a “temporary fix” I bought a tractor that was missing everything and leaking everywhere. The temporary fix stretched into a permanent replacement until a few weeks ago it gave up the ghost.

      It’s my own glacial pace of progress that meant the first tractor wasn’t repaired in time. I find myself back on square one. (With the caveat that I have learned a lot about engine work…which is nothing to devalue. Plus I have most of the parts I need…they’re just not fully assembled. Something the lawn doesn’t seem to notice.)

      I’d buy a running TO30 for $750 any day but they’re going a lot higher than that around here.

  3. On the bright side, soon the backup tractor will have leaked enough that it shall quit (mostly) leaking everything everywhere, having already leaked (almost) everything. Until you try to move it, at which point it shall find some faint reserve, and also display the amount of stagnant rainwater and bird crap it can retain, as opposed to the gas, oil, and other fluids it was supposed to.

    I hope you have some beautiful days of good weather and semi-clear schedule to fix it! The feeling of success and pride well earned for a job well done is heady, addictive, and leads to an actual smile when you tame the lawn.

  4. Pingback: Christmas And The Tractor Of The Damned: Part II | The Adaptive Curmudgeon's Blog

  5. Pingback: Tractor Repair Reference | The Adaptive Curmudgeon's Blog

  6. Pingback: Christmas And The Tractor Of The Damned: Part II | Adaptive Curmudgeon

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