Old TractorDear Ole Mechanic;

A fellow came by the other day and asked if Dad’s old tractor was for sale.  It has been sitting out alongside of the barn since we--my brother and I-- had it running last. That was maybe three to five years ago when we used it to move some dead trees to cut up for firewood.  Since then, we didn’t have any more use for it and Dad’s been gone two years ago this fall, I told the fellow that we might sell it if the price was right.  To make a long story short, we went and tried to crank it and it wouldn’t turn over--even with a boost off of a pickup battery.  The hand crank out in front the engine wouldn’t even begin to turn over.  At that point, the fellow said that the tractor was only good for parts since the engine was “stuck” and he offered $300 for it.  I told him that there was no way that I would sell it that cheap.  He said that it was a shame that somebody forgot the tin can and left.  I tried putting the tractor in gear and pulling it with my pickup, but the back wheels just slid along and the engine never turned a lick. 

What happened and what’s with the ‘tin can’.  How can I get the old tractor running again?

Never Started this Hard Before


Dear Never Before;

I would bet that your Dear Old Dad always put a tin can over the exhaust pipe when the tractor was parked--unless it was inside the barn or equipment shed.  I also bet that you didn’t put a tin can on the exhaust pipe when you and your brother parked it beside the barn.  It does rain in this part of the country once in a while.  If an upright exhaust pipe is left uncovered, then the rain can run down inside the open exhaust pipe, through the muffler, into the exhaust manifold and onto the exhaust valves.  On all four-cylinder tractor engines, no matter where the engine stops, there is always at least one exhaust valve open.  It may be open only a few thousandths of an inch, but any opening will allow rain water to get into the cylinder above the piston.  When it does, things will RUST.  The valves get rusty, the rings get rusty and the cylinder wall gets rusty.  It don’t take much rust until they are stuck--rusted together.  If you do get the rusted stuck engine to turn over, say by towing it with a pickup, you may do serious damage to the engine.  The simple act of putting a tin can over the exhaust pipe to keep the rain out can prevent this.  Of course, if the water does get into a cylinder and we get one of those cold winter snaps that lasts for two or three days when the temperature don’t get above freezing during the day and the nights are at 18 or 20 degrees, then the water can freeze and crack the engine block and damage the piston and rings too.  What it amounts to is that an old, empty, rusty tin can over the exhaust pipe can keep rain water out and prevent thousands of dollars of damage to an engine.

On the older tractors that had a magneto, some farmers would cover them, also, or even remove them and take them inside the house at night to keep them from getting damp.  A little moisture in a magneto can short it out and keep it from providing a spark to the spark plugs.  It was a lesson that was learned the hard way.  After a rain or even a damp night, the tractor would not start until the magneto was dried out.  Some actually wound up in the oven of an old wood burning stove--just to dry it out so the tractor would start.

OK, so you forgot to put a tin can on the exhaust three to five years ago or the kids shot it off with their BB guns four years ago.  What can you do?  Well, you are in for some work spread out over one to thre years--or at least for a fair amount of time.  First, remove the spark plugs and then get a small hose that will go through the plug hole and down into the cylinder.  Get a clear and long hose unless you like the taste of rusty, oily water.  Suck the water out of any cylinders that have water in them, and then fill all cylinders with WD-40 or ATF (Automatic Transmission Fluid) or diesel fuel or anythingl that will penetrate rust.  Put the spark plugs back in.  Drain the crankcase and fill it to the top with whatever you put in the cylinders.  Then pour the same thing down the exhaust pipe until it is full and PUT A TIN CAN over the exhaust pipe.  Let the tractor sit with all of this rust-busting stuff in there for at least one month or preferably ONE YEAR.  At the end of that time, drain everything out, save it in case you need to soak the engine some more and try to crank the engine over.  If it still won’t turn over, soak it some more or call the fellow who offered you $300.-- and take his offer, if it's still open.  If not, contact me and I might give you $50 for the tractor.

Herr ‘Cheap” Professor Nuzanbolts