Monday, January 13, 2014

Alfie, The Born Again English Tractor

   I often wished there had been a tractor around here in the early years when there was lots of lifting, heavy jobs and construction going on, it would have made life considerably easier and saved a lot of wear and tear on my back. I remember some nasty winters too when I wished I had a machine around to dig myself out, getting dumped on by snow and having to park my truck out at the main road for a month or so and packing all my stuff in here on a toboggan.
   My Uncle Alan had a spread up on Sumas Mtn. near Abbotsford and developed a place up there with a lake, log houses and a tennis court, and ran enough cows to qualify for the farm tax rate. Early on he had bought a tractor from a now defunct International dealer in the farming community of Yarrow in the Fraser Valley. Over its useful lifespan the tractor had suffered at the heavy hands of numerous farmhands and countless joyriders I'm sure. The machine was developing some issues and wasn't needed around there any longer, and we discussed retiring it up here to the hot spring.
   We arranged for cheap rate on a back haul to get the machine up here. The plan was to off load it at the start of the gravel road, and I would go out with a driver and run it the rest of the way in, so I was surprised when Uncle Al had decided to personally deliver the tractor, arriving with the truck at the end of the road. I met them there in the early evening and the tractor was backed off the large low bed trailer. I was surprised once again  when Uncle announced he was driving  the tractor the final 2 rough hours out to the hot spring. He was in his late 70's at the time, and I was pretty sure he had spent more time driving a golf cart around than driving a tractor, but he was a self made go getter in the world and not the type of guy you would stand there and argue with.
He was going to drive the old tractor to the hot spring.
"OK", I said, holding the door open while he sat in there revving it up and studying all the levers, "...let me take over when you get tired, I'll be right behind you".
The ungainly machine had a front-end loader and a large brush mower mounted out the back, it gave a great lurch as he dumped the clutch and started off down the gravel road, swerving as he looked down pumping the clutch and searching for a higher gear.
   I had figured the old bugger would bounce along the rough lake road for a ways before he figured he had a good enough story for his golf buddies, then pull over to trade me for the comfort of my pickup. I didn't really want to follow too close as I didn't want to dirty up my air filter so I held back, killing time and stopping to throw rocks in the lake. So I get back on the road and I'm going along expecting to come upon him at any moment. It looks like he has found  high gear and left me behind!
I can see the tracks on the road and sometimes they appeared to slide and drift around corners.
    Well, I keep going until I am approaching the forestry campsite on the lake when I come across a splash and a trail of black oil down the road. I can tell by the color it is more than likely engine oil. The old tractor has sprung a bad leak and I don't imagine the low oil warning dash lamps work on that old heap, and fully expect the engine to lock up solid. The trail of oil continues down the road then begins to thin down to a trickle and around the next corner I see the tractor off to the side of the road. That surprised me as I thought it would have run further than that after the oil ran out. I pull up and Uncle Al is standing there calm as can be, "Where you been? he asked. 
It turned out he needed to take a leak and decided to stop at the forestry campsite, he pulled over, shut down, and when he got out noticed a few drips of oil under the machine, and saw the drain plug was missing. What was the chance of that, if he had of gone further, even just a little, the engine would have locked up and written off the machine. We piled into the pickup and followed the trail of oil back up the road and not far from where it began we found the engine drain plug, all covered in sand but it still had the sealing washer on it. We continued back to town for more oil, and at the tiny gas station in Mount Currie we discovered diesel engine oil is a lot more expensive than the regular stuff and we need quite a bit of it. We got back to the tractor and screwed the drain plug back in, tightening it up with makeshift tools and began pouring oil in. The tractor fired right up with no ill effects. It was getting dark by then and Uncle decided he had done his part, choosing to take my pickup and meet me back at the hot spring. I didn't have to go too far down the road to discover the headlights didn't work and it was a slow, dark trip, using up most of the road, and arrived out here sometime around 11:00 that night.
    It was put to work moving some boulders to restrict access around the hot spring and a few odd jobs around the place. There was an abandoned car a few miles down the road, it was an eyesore that you had to drive by every time you went to town. I rounded up Stevie over at Rogers Creek one day, he had an old Ford flat deck that was in one of its running phases, and I suggested we go load up that car and pack it off.
He looked at me funny, "That tractor can lift a car?" he asked.
I told him I'd be pretty disappointed if it didn't.
The tractor is a stout one, and had no difficulty lifting it onto the flat bed truck.
   That first winter I parked it out on the driveway and for the first time, prayed for snow. I dared it to snow, and I even did a snow dance. The odd lone flake would flutter down now and again, as if to tease me, until finally one day it started to come down pretty good. I could hardly wait to plow the driveway and it was all I could do to wait for a sufficient build up. The big moment finally arrived, I sauntered out with a big smirk on my face and climbed in the cab, it fired right up and I really figured I was styling now. I left it idling there to warm up while I went over to the shop for a few minutes, and as I was walking back I realise I can't hear the tractor running any more.Well darned if the bugger hasn't just up and quit. I cranked and cranked but no way the bugger would fire up.
   Earlier that fall, there had been kind of a shady tree planting outfit camped out at the hot spring campsite while they worked a contract in the area. They had run up a bit of a bill for camping and various things and in place of a bum cheque had offered me a barrel of diesel fuel, which I gleefully pumped my tractor plumb full of. It turned out it was a leaky barrel and was contaminated with considerable water which got into the system and had froze in the fuel lines and filters. Normally during a big snowfall I would stay inside with a good book, feeding the wood stove, but with a time saving tractor, I got to spend the next day or so tying to sort that mess out, laying under the machine with cold diesel running down my arms and dripping in my face. It was snowing pretty hard the whole time and I was pretty motivated to stick with it and get this rig fired up. The last step was to install a glass sediment bowl. I remember thinking I'd sure hate to break that part because I would have to get one from a dealer. Of course it breaks when I tightened it up, thus putting a bugger into my entire snow removal program. It began to snow even harder at that point, and kept it up for several days.
It was during this snow storm the tractor came by the name Alfie, as I needed to call it something  more polite than @*&%$!

Saw milling  2004

The log napping caper 2004, I wrote about this in the Feb. 2012 post Shop Construction.

I got the huge log home but it was a little hard on buddy Pierre's vehicle.

    I was doing some work around the yard one afternoon, coming down the driveway with a bucketful of sand, going downhill at a pretty good clip when I notice the right front wheel is leaning to one side and getting a pretty good wobble to it and just as soon as it registered what was happening I started for the clutch and brake pedals. Right then the wheel collapsed and the machine lurched over and the end of the axle dug into the ground, right at the same time as I got my foot on the brake. The wheel tumbled away and the axle housing end dug into the ground, digging a trench and the machine ground to a halt, as evidenced by my oily face print left on the inside of the windshield.
   Well I got it jacked up and put a block under it and had a good study of the situation. The machine is a four wheel drive, and it turned out the right hand drive had come apart and buggered its self, shedding the wheel and spilling bearings and junk out onto the ground. There was a stubby axle attached to the front wheel that got pretty banged up when it all came apart. I thought this was a pretty standard tractor, and parts would be easy to get, but as I found out there were no more of these stub axles left anywhere in the world. Manufactured over in Great Britan of all places, there had only been 180 of this model produced in four wheel drive so some parts were scarce. This was the days before satellite Internet out here and things were more difficult. I could see this was going to take longer than expected, and meanwhile the broken down old tractor was clogging up the driveway with no way to move it. I was standing around lamenting this problem one day when I heard the logger's road grader scraping down the road. The loggers from the Lineham camp down at the head of Harrison Lake were always fun over the years and keen to help out. I knew the operator Louie, so I ran out to the road and asked him if he could swing in the yard sometime and we could move my tractor.
I didn't mean right then, it had already sat in that spot for a few months.
"Let me do one more pass!", he hollered over the running engine.
So by the time he's gone way down the road and turned around, grading his way back, he has got on the radio and called his boss Pat, whom arrives as well, not wanting to miss out on the entertainment.
In between jokes and good natured ribbing we tried to figure out how to move the tractor with the large Caterpillar road grader. Easier said than done, but after several false starts, and plenty of choice logger words, we managed to drag the 3 legged Alfie over and park it next to the shop.
   It probably sat there blocked up on one end for several years, put on the back burner while I went on to other things. I would go out and start it once a month or so, and grease it when I thought of it, always anticipating the day it was back in working order. I never had much luck rounding up another stub axle, and it sure wasn't from lack of trying. I had several machinists take a look at the large, heavy part with the banged up threads and splines. An outfit in Whistler agreed to have a go at it and a week later I got my part back.

   The large bearings and seals I imported from afar and in not too much time I had the front drive all back on the tractor. I was plenty happy about that after all that time and jumped in the cab and fired it up, only to discover that the while the machine had sat the clutch plate has rusted itself to the flywheel. Lucky the transmission was stuck in 2nd gear in low range,  I discovered I could start it in gear with the starter motor. That wasn't very good for it, but it enabled me to move the machine around. You had no clutch so you couldn't shift gears and when you needed to park you just turned the key off. That winter I started it up like that to plow the driveway one snowfall and I thought I was being pretty resourceful. Only problem was being that you couldn't stop, I had make a pass then do a big circle out on the lawn to make another pass the other way, and when I went out the driveway I didn't have enough room to turn around so I would have to plow all the way down the main road to the hot spring campsite and make a loop around there then come all the way back to make another pass down my driveway.
Like I mentioned, the tractor was stuck in low range, so it would take a good 40 minutes to do the entire loop, and I gave up on that. The tractor sat for several years while I pondered this predicament. To get at the clutch would entail lifting off the cab and splitting the machine in the center, and quite the undertaking. I tried every trick there was to free a stuck clutch plate, and consulted every tractor expert I could find. The root of the problem was, at some point, the clutch lever had broken where it was welded to the clutch actuator, it had been re-welded in the feild, but not in quite the right spot, so it was difficult to disengage the clutch fully. The old tractor always was a pig to shift, and now with a little rust from lack of use and the clutch can't release from the flywheel.
    One time I had a drilling crew staying here, they had a huge 6 wheel drive truck and offered to drag the tractor until the clutch broke free. We chained it up and away we went, I was in the cab holding the clutch pedal down with them towing and we just left great long skid marks in both directions.
I was getting a little disappointed with this whole tractor deal let me tell you, and I would have given the hulk away if we could have loaded it up somehow.

This past Fall I went out to the tractor to see if I could make any headway. I had the bright idea of attaching a longer lever to the clutch actuator and kept forcing it over center, until suddenly, the weld broke. Well that was the best bugger up to happen to me in years!
 I strung out a 240 volt power cord and hauled my welder out on the wagon and got the pedal linkage welded back in the proper spot. I started it in gear with the starter motor and got it pointed in a straight line while holding the clutch pedal in and when I figured I had a good head of steam built up I stood on the brake pedal. One wheel made a skip and a hop before the clutch broke free and released.
Ha, after 8 years I was back in the tractor business, and to think a few weeks before I would have paid you to take it away! Although I was afraid to leave the yard with the old bugger for fear of another wheel falling off or something so I set aside a week or so to put some work into it.

  I drove it in the shop in November and went to work on the old guy, fixing about a hundred little things that had always been wrong with it, installed new headlights, straightened the radiator, and ordered in new joints and carrier bearing for the drive train, and even went so far as to clean the rats nest out from under the hood.

I enjoyed going out to the shop in the morning, turning the lights on, lighting a fire and enjoying the early quiet of the day with a tea and organising myself for the days work.

 OK, enough of the peace and quiet....

I tore in to the transmission to check out that sticky shift fork problem...

I fixed the flat tire, I wrote about that a few posts ago.

The old tractor has spent nearly a half century sitting outside, now I've decided it needs a shelter over it and preferential treatment. I keep it plugged into a block heater ready to go, but you know, it has been one of those winters that we haven't got any snow. I'm kind of looking forward to a huge dump of snow, it has taken me 10 years to plow that driveway.
Anyone had a look at the Farmer's Almanac?


  1. Now that is how you move the Cedar around!

    A man right after my own heart.

    1. Wow what a" Little Tractor that could" story! You got it made living up there, you've got everything you need plus all that peace and quiet. See you at the springs. Casey

  2. I always said the secret to success is not to realise when you are beat and its time to quit.