May 27, 2020

The Essence of Farming

• By John F. Chisholm •

I have a 1953 Oliver Crawler, an OC-3. It’s equipped with the Anderson, double-cylinder blade and the Carco, engine-driven winch. More than a decade ago, I completely rebuilt the engine and added an underdrive transmission into the power line. (A Ford, Model A, transmission was available as a factory option for underdrive way back in 1950s. In other words, I didn’t do anything to the tractor that the factory didn’t do first.) It’s a great little machine. Generally it runs beautifully and reliably, too, once it actually is running.

Alas! Starting that tractor has always been a problem.

It’s a six-volt electrical system. I’d convert it to 12 volts if the starter armature could take the extra oomph. It can’t. It’s only a half-inch diameter shaft. (Over the years, I’ve seen dozens of OC-3 starters with their armatures sheared as other owners confronted this identical problem. I’d gleefully change the starter to a heavier-duty unit if I could find one that fit. I can’t seem to do that either.)

I’ve added an extra six-volt battery ― hooked in series to retain the original six volts.

That prolongs the non-starting.

I’ve added heavy-duty battery cables to ensure that as little electric power as possible is lost in transmission.

That doesn’t turn the trick, either.

I’ve alternately cleaned, oiled, greased, repaired, begged, cajoled, pleaded and cursed. (Yeah. There’s been lots and lots of cursing.)

It’s all to no avail.

I pull start the tractor. Normally that works well. I prop the blade in the ‘up’ position when I park it. That greatly facilitates the effort. Then I just let it idle when not in actual use ― all day if that’s how long the job takes.

Unfortunately, that process takes two tractors. That isn’t, in itself, an issue. I have other tractors ― other wheeled tractors. Of course two tractors require two operators. Working alone, that can be a problem. But far more importantly, the two-tractor starting method also requires the ability by both machines to go all the same places the crawler can.

That’s a major problem. Huge.

The reason I have a crawler in the first place is to allow mechanical access to sections of our property too wet, too buried in snow, too wooded, too swampy ― or too all of the above ― to permit wheeled tractors.

What happens when my OC-3 reaches one of these unreachable locations for any other machine and then, inexplicably, stalls?

You’re screwed. That’s right. How did you guess? Because the tractor surely won’t start, not on its own.

How do I know?

I spent all yesterday afternoon retrieving my OC-3 from exactly such a location. My poor, long-suffering daughter kindly consented to be the alternate operator. Together, we yarded cables, hooked chains, jury-rigged skids and yanked, pulled and cajoled all that steel out of the mud and snow and all the way up to solid ground.

There’re 200 hundred feet of cable on the winch drum.

I have another 60 feet of wire rope available for exactly these emergencies. There are also numerous chains, come-alongs, towing straps, pulleys and so on around and about this place. All of them became involved, too. Eventually.

Finally the crawler reached solid ground. Again. That accomplished, surprisingly, we couldn’t pull start it. As a result, my daughter and I towed it all the way back to the house.

I tore into it once it was parked outside the garage. The carburetor floats had sunk. (Learning that there was a physical reason why the tractor had stalled made me feel a little better.) Amazingly, I had a spare carburetor. Its floats were sound. I installed them and we easily tow-started the tractor.

It was after five by that point.

I parked both tractors back where they belong, in the barn.

Then Kim and I put all the chains, cables, wrenches, screwdrivers and other tools away.

We were wet, dirty (filthy!), beyond tired and desperately hungry by that point. Kim turned to me. “Wow, Dad. That was a procedure.”

She was right of course. A grin crept across my face. I shot her a glance. “Yes,” I agreed, “it was. But it was more than that, too.”

She laughed. “What? How could all of that possibly be more than what it was?”

“Because all of that,” I assured her with total conviction, “was the very essence of farming.”