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Tales of a Hay Hauler: Mechanical adventures

Contributed by Brad Nelson Published on 26 February 2016

The engine ran with a miss, but the truck was cheap, so I bought it. It was a Ford C-600, the old tilt-cab version, 1962 model, I think. It was two-tone yellow and black. I thought the engine was Ford’s venerable 292 C.I. Y-block V-8, but when we went for parts, we found out that it was the larger 332 C.I. engine.

Somewhere along the line, the heavy-duty engine had been swapped. It had a five-speed transmission and two-speed rear axle.

Before making the purchase, Dad and I identified the miss in the engine as a head problem by squirting a little oil in the cylinder that had the problem. When that produced no change in the compression, it pointed to a valve or cylinder head issue. A wrecking-yard cylinder head solved the problem. Now I could haul most of my own hay for my dairy.

Some time later, I managed to break an axle shaft. Not a simple break, mind you, but a spiral break that left about a foot of spirally grenaded remnant of axle shaft firmly wedged inside the axle housing.

To try and get the debris out of the axle housing, I removed the axle shaft from the other side and ran a bar through the differential to drive the broken shaft out. It was wedged solid. I finally used the arc welder to reach inside the tube, and with the welder turned up as high as it would go, melt away at the spiral wedged broken shaft. Melt, chip, hammer. Repeat.

For two weeks, between taking care of the cows, I beat on the old truck. Then one day, the mass of twisted steel broke loose and came out. Now I went looking for parts. My good old truck had more history than I was aware of. The rear axle under it turned out to be from a 1938 International Harvester. Surprisingly, the part I needed was available, and I was back on the road. This was about 1974.

In the early 1950s, Dad was farming near Parma, Idaho. His tractor was a Case SC model. One cylinder of the four-cylinder engine was weak, and for a time, to get it to run Dad jury-rigged the spark plug wire to stay about a quarter-inch from the top end of the spark plug. That extra jump of the spark seemed to give the spark on the business end of the plug enough more “zap” to make the engine at least serviceable.

The next winter, I almost froze to death holding the light for Dad as he took the tractor apart to find the problem. One of the lobes on the camshaft was worn down so it was just barely opening one of the valves in the engine, explaining why the engine ran so poorly.

Dad priced a new camshaft – and swallowed his gum. He went looking for cheaper alternatives. He found a fellow at a machine shop who understood the economics of farm repairs. He built up the worn lobe on the camshaft, finishing with hard-facing rod and then ground and polished it to an “eyeball” match of the other lobes on the camshaft – and wished Dad good luck.

Three years later, when Dad left the farm, the old SC Case was still running like new.

Some years later, Dad bought a 1963 Chevy pickup, six-cylinder engine and three-speed transmission, with the short bed. It seemed to be using as much oil as gas, so Dad opted to overhaul the engine in the back yard. Dad installed a new set of piston rings, honed the cylinders and put it back together. It then ran fine. Dad was on a roll.

When the Chevy went away, Dad’s new-to-him Ford Fairlane station wagon also needed a backyard ring job. Same result.

I noticed Dad’s toolbox in Mom’s basement a while back. I was amazed at how much Dad had done with so few tools. I know he had friends he was able to borrow a few specialty tools from, but all his tools fit in one box I could carry by myself. To move all my tools and assorted plunder, it takes at least two pickup loads.

I guess the “Yankee ingenuity” that has helped me survive many vehicle and machinery adventures is in my genes. So much so, it seems, that if I have a vehicle that doesn’t need a little “tuning,” I’m frustrated with it.

Time once was that the first order of business with a new (usually used) pickup was to add lights and gauges. The new stuff doesn’t even have a convenient place to add things.

A couple of years back, I picked up an 8-year-old Lincoln Town Car that only had 18,000 miles on it – my idea of a nice sub-compact. I did need to alter it just a bit so it fit me. I moved the driver’s seat up 2 inches and back 3. It’s amazing what a difference that makes for my mechanical knees and super-sized carcass.

When I’m comfortably settled in for a long drive, however, and look out the window to the side, I’m looking out the back-door window.  FG