After a few calls I’d arranged for the fellow to come look at my tractor. I’ve since forgotten his name. Probably because of the trauma. For now I’ll call him Dipstick.
When I asked Dipstick if he could fix a tractor of my make and model he paused and then said “sure”. It sounded like he’d say the same thing if I’d asked him if he could do differential equations or speak Latin. I was desperate so I accepted it at face value. Also, my tractor (despite ruining my self-esteem) is probably one of the easiest to manage engines around. Many of the farmboys in the area could fix it better than me. Maybe I’d found one willing to work!
I adjusted my schedule to meet Dipstick and blocked out several hours to “assist”. I had a wad of cash in my pocket and was prepared to meet his hourly rate. I had a $100 bill stashed and if he did good he was going to get a hell of a tip! I was looking forward to a fun afternoon. Hopefully, I’d hand him wrenches and shit and maybe I’d learn what he was doing so I’d know it myself next time. For once the pressure was not on me.
We met (at a bar of course) on a sunny afternoon. He was late. He arrived in a beat up truck blaring Lynyrd Skynrd. He was wearing a flannel shit (Note: this was a typo but I found it appropriate and left it) and carrying an empty can of Coke he was using as a spit cup. Someone, and I’m not ruling out a malignant God, had ordered up “clueless yokel” from central casting and placed him before me. He exuded an aura of stupid. My first impulse was to kick him in the groin.
But I reminded myself that I was looking for a man to fix an old rustbucket tractor. If he’d arrived in a Porsche with a business suit then he’d be the wrong man for the job.
At my farm he apologized for being late. Apparently his “good truck” wasn’t working and then he’d rescued some pal from the side of the road in another dead truck. It had been a busy redneck day for him. The number of dead trucks in his story confused me but I’m used to it. Rednecks swap trucks like swingers with wives. So long as you get there who cares what name is on the title right? As with all redneck truck stories he was the hero. I looked over at my truck; also dead. I sighed. Then, with a glimmer of hope, I thought “if he fixes the tractor I’ll turn him loose on my truck…why not?” Hope is a powerful thing.
Demographic prognostication is a hobby of mine. I sized up Dipstick and in ten seconds could probably write his life story; on a napkin. I presumed was a divorced, unemployed, loser with a drinking problem. None of which worried me. Nor did it disqualify him as a “tractor fixer”. I had tried (mightily) and failed (repeatedly) to fix this tractor; therefore the empirical evidence suggested that I was the least qualified guy on earth. What I really needed was a redneck who was handy with a wrench. And, I rationalized, the fact that he got here at all means he (probably) had a driver’s license…a good sign. (Some of you might be surprised to know that the war on “some” drugs has left a goodly portion of the young male redneck portion without legal licenses after one or more drunk driving “events”. There are times when I’ve been the only man in the room who has a license, is not under the gun from a string of “exes”, and is not on probation. Yes, flyover country is that glamorous.)
I opened my garage. He liked the tractor. This pleased me. I explained the mechanical history: Every part of the engine had been replaced or re-machined. But it had been too tight. I cracked the tractor open again and discovered the crankshaft had been improperly machined. I’d re-installed the re-machined, machined crankshaft and re-assembled everything. It still wasn’t as smooth as I’d like but I could hand crank it. This was worrisome but not the biggest issue at the moment. There was no sign of spark. Either the fuel wasn’t there (which I doubted) or I’d screwed up the wiring (which was my guess). Even if the engine wasn’t as smooth as I’d like it should be doing something.
He looked at it and said, “Your ground is on backwards.”
“Uh,” I stammered, “it’s a positive ground tractor.”
“No such thing.” He replied.
I reminded myself that if I’d known what I was doing it would be running. I deferred. “Well it left the factory with positive ground and ran that way before the engine conked a couple years ago. But I could be wrong. You do what you want.”
He busied himself crawling around the tractor. He looked fidgety….like a junkie. Finally he said “I need a smoke break”. I am the last 0.001% of the non-smoking population that treats smokers like human beings. We were in a garage. “Light up.” I said. He was delighted. Soon he had a smoke and seemed to settle down. (Thankfully he’d set his spit cup in his truck.)
I am pretty sure this kind of tractor is so crude that it doesn’t care which way the ground goes (it’s not like it has integrated circuit boards!)…but he consulted the manual (yes, I have a manual) and clambered around with a test light. He looked worried. Fidgety again. Like a squirrel trying to focus on Opera.
“Would you like a beer?” I asked.
His smile was all encompassing. I’d guessed correctly. Dipstick here couldn’t keep his shit together without a beer. Fine. I grabbed a Miller for myself and gave him one. (No, I’m not giving good beer to this guy and he’d probably die if I tried.) With a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other he was a whole new man.
He started striding around the tractor and looking positively intelligent. I was pleased. There was light at the end of the tunnel.
This doesn’t sound good… that tractor is (or was!) positive ground — and the generator and voltage regulator were polarized that way. Hooking the battery up backwards just isn’t going to help!
hook up the electrical, take one of the spark plugs out, holding it in a dry towel, touch it to the engine block. Crank it a bit… if you get a spark, it is not electrical.
have you soaked the carb in cleaner?
If you crank it and then shut it off, take the key out, then sniff the carb intake… Do you smell gas? if so it isn’t the fuel…
only thing left is timing… Did you line up the little marks on the valve gear?
Another old guy…
FWIW, my 600 (’57) was + ground; no good can come of this…
I have a bad feeling about this. However frustrating this adventure may be for you, it will be endlessly entertaining for the rest of us.
Well if you get a laugh then some good came of it. Trust me, lots of peopel have gotten laughs from me and the tractor.
Go ahead. Denigrate Dipstick: (Or Bubba, as I’d refer to him.)
I’ve been known to have to stuff a half-pack of smokes, a half-can of dip, and the best part of a 6-pack into Bubba to get him into the zone, but he will then remove my carburetor, put the whole rebuild kit into it, and replace it, without breaking a sweat or cursing more than once or twice.
Be it noted, you have to know which Bubba (or Dipstick) to pick, or get lucky.
It helps if you know the local population, they will tell you who to talk to, depending on the problem you are having.
OTOH, I’ve figured out what to do about something a time or two by watching what they didn’t do, and doing that one thing. Either way, Dipstick (or Bubba) is usually worth dealing with for a while.
I agree with you; it’s possible to be a clueless drunk yahoo and still have valuable skills. I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
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