Cold weather start in the old days

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Well it’s January, normally (where I live, anyway) a cold, dreary month that seems to drag on endlessly.

Of course I have gas heat, a well-insulated house, reliable vehicles with efficient heaters and, best of all, I’m retired and if it’s too bad out, I stay in!

One hundred years ago, things weren’t so easy, as these case histories from the January 1917 issue of Gas Engine Review of the troubles farmers had in those days starting tractors tell us.

Case 565: Water frozen in pipe

Condition: The fuel would not fill the carburetor bowl.

Discussion: One very cold morning an operator tried to start a tractor. The fuel pipe was obstructed and he took it apart finding that the water and dirt trap in the fuel line was full of ice.

The engine had been burning kerosene when it was stopped and it may be that some water had been slopped into the fuel tank or that water had condensed on the inside of the tank. All the trouble might have been prevented by draining the water trap.

Advice: If a tractor is shut down in cold weather be sure that every pocket in the fuel line is carefully drained. A few minutes at quitting time may save hours at starting time.

Case 566: Easy starting

Condition: Six large tractors were started one cold morning in almost minutes.

Discussion: There had been a great deal of trouble in getting tractors started in the testing department of one of the tractor companies because of unusually severe weather.

Finally the superintendent found a big kerosene blow torch. The air intake pipe, the carburetor bowl and the spark plugs of each engine were thoroughly warmed with this torch.

The carburetor bowl was warmed until the fuel boiled and gasoline vapor came from the vent. Every engine started and ran without trouble.

(Gasoline vapor and an open flame from a blowtorch? Don’t try this at home, Herbert! S.M.)

Advice: Unless one uses a very high test gasoline or ether, a big tractor motor must be warmed on a cold morning. The fuel must be vaporized and gotten into the cylinders.

A blow torch is one of the best things to use for this purpose as the heat can be controlled and directed, although caution must be used that the carburetor is not overheated and damaged.

If the intake pipe, the carburetor, the manifold and the spark plugs are all warmed the chances are two to one that the tractor will run.

Case 567: An oversight

Condition: A water cooled engine was started one cold morning without water.

Discussion: This motor had been carefully drained when it was shut down. On a very cold morning the tractor was needed for some belt work and the owner decided to start up without water and add the water after the engine warmed up a bit.

He threw in the clutch, but something called him away and he forgot about the water. While he was gone the motor got very hot and stopped, and some time was lost in cleaning up the pistons and freeing the rings in their grooves.

Advice: A water cooled motor will start easier on a cold morning if the cooling system is filled with hot or warm water.

At any rate, water should be put in just as soon as the engine starts to work. Even in very cold weather, heat has very little chance of dissipating if the water jackets are empty.

A personal story

One cold winter evening when I was maybe eleven, Dad went away to a meeting.

Someone stopped to visit and managed to get stuck in the driveway. Full of my own importance, I volunteered to get the Ford-Ferguson tractor and pull them out.

Mom was dubious, but finally gave in and I backed the tractor out of the wagon shed and easily freed the car from a snowbank. When I returned the Ford to the shed and shut off the engine it didn’t want to stop and kept running for a minute or so.

When Dad got home and heard the story he was upset and the first thing he asked me was if the engine had shut off OK. He’d not had any antifreeze and unknown to me had drained the radiator and it got hot.

Fortunately, that little Ford engine ran for a good many years afterwards and never was overhauled as far as I can recall.

Case 568: Forgot his magneto

Condition: An operator had warmed his engine thoroughly but could not get it to take a shot.

Discussion: This operator had worked for some time in the cold to get the engine started. He warmed it up but it would not go.

Somewhat unused to cold weather work, he became “fussed.” While he was laboring might and main, along came an experienced man who found that the batteries were not putting out any current.

The first operator had been so worked up by the failure to start that he had not noticed that the dry cells were too cold to produce. When the magneto was switched on the motor started easily.

Advice: Dry cells do not yield current when they are thoroughly chilled, but will liven up when they are warmed. It pays to keep the batteries in a warm place overnight.

We don’t realize how good we have it today. If I need my Kubota 2510 to plow snow on a cold morning, all I need do is turn the key to the left for a couple of seconds to activate the glow plugs.

Then, key to the right and she fires right up and away we go. No hard work or strong language necessary. Life is good.

STAY INFORMED. SIGN UP!

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Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules.

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