Sunday, April 21, 2013

The tractor rescue trip of 2009

Way back in 2001, I purchased sight unseen a 1951 Case "SC" tricicle front end tractor from an old high school friend. $800 bucks got me the tractor with an original Case model 101 front end loader.

Why sight unseen? I live in coastal Georgia, and my friend lives in central Minnesota.  Plus, I knew what things were worth, and I wanted an old tractor. Who doesn't?  Pic below from July of 2012.

My dad was able to get a friend with a trailer and full size truck to go fetch the rig, and bring it the 50 miles back to the family "40" where the folks reside.  I think he only charged 75 bucks to do this! Considering it was a 100 mile round trip, even when fuel was cheap in 2001, he did not make any money on this deal... Here it is, on the trailer.  You can just make out the HUGE snow bucket extension that was fabricated on the thing, it slipped over the tines of the manure bucket (seen in the first pic after I fabricated a gravel plate for it) and the tractor started for them to back it on the trailer, but they could not get the hydraulics to lift the thing.

 Now I think I bought the thing in March of 2001 and it was June or July of that year before it came to mom and dads. I did not see it in person until a deer hunting trip in November of that year. I had to drain a lot of water and varnish from the sediment bowl of the gas tank to get it running, and put a charger on the battery before it sprung to life sputtering and popping.
 I could see it had a very "farmerized" 12 volt electrical system conversion, with things like a positive battery cable that needed to be about 18" long but with a 3 foot cable in place, the spark plug wires were different colors and obviously from various cars that folks had left the hoods up on, and two Champion spark plugs, and one Autolite and one AC. And at least one was a shorter thread reach than the others...... how in the hell this thing ever ran, much less in subzero Minnesotan winters ( seeing as it was rigged to plow snow) and how anyone but Popeye could turn the wheel with that giant bucket full of wet snow!  (I can't believe how much the pines in the background have grown in the 12 years since this photo!)
I got the loader to lift with "jiggling" the lift lever. The hydraulic rams both leaked at the end seals and it was some milky nasty looking shit! I figure the prior owner's maintanence plan for the hydraulic system was right on par with the spark plug changes........
Off came the loader, two pins on the lift arms, and two on the hydraulic cylinders, and one quick connect on the hose. This would enable the tractor to be put inside dad's shed which was probably the first time it had been inside in about forty years :)  But before that, I hooked it to a 6' John Deere "KBA" disc that had been around the place for years and disced the garden.  I have some video of it on 8mm film (remember that?) but have no way to digitize it, well I am sure it could be done but I'm too lazy. In any case she pulled the disc OK in the wet soil with the blades set to cut, but would pop, sputter and die on occasion. As it ran the gas was sloshing loose chunks of crap inside the tank, plugging the outlet at the tank's bottom. This would plague the machine for years until I finally did a chemical flush and epoxy coating of the tank's inside.     

Now there has been way too much "prologue!"  Time for the cross country trip....
My wife's family has 5 acres of land and some horses in rural southwestern Virginia, where a tractor could be of some use. The Case, aka "Casey" had been just biding his time in the shed up in Minnesota. Oh, I'd come home each summer or two and have to go through the whole rinse out the gas tank thing, drive it around the yard. Did a couple little chores here and there.... eventually dad needed the shed and Casey was parked in the trees.  
Over a visit to VA for Christmas in 2008, I asked Chris, my mom in law's husband, if he felt like making a road trip over the coming Memorial day weekend. Chris is always up for a road trip, he normally drives an 18 wheeler for a living.
The time came, I took the Thursday before the holiday off. I drove up to their place in Virginia after work on a Wednesday night, getting in about 2 or 3 am.  Chris and I got a late start the next day.  Had to gather chains, binders, straps, spare tires, tools.....of course you'll forget something.  We hooked Chris's 2500HD Chevy to his 16' dovetail trailer. Off we went, north on highway 19/23 through the town of Pound, VA and over the border into Kentucky. In the second pic you can see where the mountain was cut down to route the highway. 
 We grabbed a bite at the Shoney's in Pikeville, KY and headed on north, connecting with I-64 south of Lexington, and heading west. I recall it was about 1pm at this time.  The mountains gradually gave way to rolling bluegrass country. The sky was clear and the temps in the low 80's.  We were getting about 13mpg empty at 70-75mph, not bad for an 8.1 gasser.  Traffic wasn't bad at all.
We hit Louisville at about 4:30 pm and crossed the Ohio river into Indiana.

  Crossing the Hoosier state, the road got rough to say the least. I-64 was very badly potholed and beat up. There was construction on sections that had us down to one lane at 45 mph.  Also, the area was pretty flooded, lots of small creeks and rivers over the banks and lots of low lying farm land under water.
The sun was getting low in the sky when we crossed in to Illinois.  Kinda hard to see the sign up ahead in this pic) We went maybe 50 miles west into the state, then at Mt Vernon (I never seen no stinkin' mountain!) we exited I 64 and got on to I-57 headed northerly.  We stopped and got some grub at one point, then headed on. No more pics as it was obviously dark at this point.  We continued on 57 to Champaign, where we exited on to I-74 heading northeast. 74 had a little jog around the city of Bloominton, then continued on through Peroia (Home of Caterpillar) and Galesburg, where 74 hooked due north from it's northeasterly path. We connected with I-80 just south of Moline, crossed the Mighty Missisippi and ended up in Iowa for a rest at a rest area about 2:30 AM. The truck is an extended cab, we tossed our duffel bags in back, I took the back seat lying across it (Those damn seat belts do dig in) and Chris just reclined his seat back in front. 
Fortunately it was a night in the mid 70's with a breeze, no need to run AC and no mosquitos I recall.  I woke about 6am as the sun was rising with the need to stretch a bit. The rest area was done in a railroad theme, it was beautiful inside. I recall splashing some water on my face and brushing my teeth never felt so good. Chris got out and we kicked tires, and got on our way.  West on I-80 to around Iowa City, than north on I-380.
Through Cedar Rapids, I saw some of the flood damage from the previous year, lots of boarded up homes down near the river.  Once north of Cedar Rapids we encountered giant wind generators in fields being planted with corn. I had not seen so many of these structures before.  (picture from an internet image search)
We connected with I-35 and crossed in to Minnesota before noon.
Here is where we deviated- normally, we would have taken I-35 to the 494 beltway around "Da Cities" as the Minneapolis-St.Paul area is called by all those in MN outside that area, and gone west, connecting with I-94 towards the folks. But I had other needs....
Yessir, right through Minneapolis we went!
Why? Well I have this other interest.....old beat up yellow Ski Doo snowmobiles! Yes, it does snow "some" in Virginia, a hell of a lot more than in coastal Georgia (which is NONE) and I already had one Ski Doo at Chris and Cathy's. But had a hankering for another project.  Enter Ron "Goose" Thomsen, purveyor of new old stock, (NOS) used, and reproduction parts for vintage Ski Doos. Goose is just north of the cities, and I was going to peruse his "junkyard" to see if there was anything I needed.

 Chris pretending to ride a Kitty Cat, really an Arctic Cat product that Goose had re painted Ski Doo yellow for his kids to ride.

I came to pick up an offered free machine, I found a '68 rolling chassis, gave $40 for a useable hood and chrome handlebars, and paid $100 for a complete '69 machine.
We drove out with these two.
All along the way I had been giving my dad updates over the phone. Before we left, Goose advised us of a route heading out and we wisely accepted.  Now I know my dad will read this and I LOVE YOU DAD but he will argue highway directions with a stump. And then dig the stump up and argue with the roots. And he did not like the route we were taking..... 
BUT WE MADE IT! Yes, Chris had not ever seen the phenomenon called "goin' up north" the way it happens on a holiday weekend in Minnesota.  It was now Friday of Memorial day weekend, and everyone was heading to the 10,000 lakes (says so right on the license plate) for the weekend. Dispite the boats and campers, crowded roads, we made it the last two hours from Goose's to mom and dads. 
After an excellent home cooked meal at the outside picnic table, a few beers and a cool shower, we hit the cabin next door to the rather unique, earth sheltered home of my parents. The cabin has one bedroom and a couch, I recall lying down on the couch and hearing a snore coming from the room Chris was in before I could turn out the light. 
The next day, we took Dad's truck and drove in to Long Prairie, and there I bought a battery, gas can (and fresh gas) and a carburetor kit. We got a spare rim and tire for the trailer, I bought some chains and binders. We returned home and set to work. 
We drained about half a gallon of rusty water from the tank before any gas came out, got the thing to pop off and drove it out of the trees. Next, the loader had to be cut out of the prickly ash that had grown around it. The hydraulic rams which had been re sealed by my friend Tony were put on, it took some muscle but we got the loader on. 
Once the weight of the loader was on and the hydraulics lifted some, I found the front tires were pretty much flat. I could barely turn the wheel. Dad has no compressor, we tried an old PTO powered JD pump but it wouldn't do the job. I drove it through the field next door to neighbor Lloyd's, he and his wife actually live at the place I grew up at before the folks built the place across the road where they are now. 
We were able to inflate one tire but the tube had gotten torn on the other one so it was not going to fill. Lloyd unbolted the snow bucket extension which was about 500lbs of steel un needed down south and it was given to him as scrap metal. Even with just one front tire the Case could actually be turned now that it just had the small manure bucket on the end of the arms. 
We moved the Ski Doos to the truck's bed, and commenced to loading the rest.  A model "999" John Deere horse drawn planter, purchased for five bucks at a farm auction in 1982 or so and used to plant a few acres of corn (with a shortened tongue and pulled by a tractor) was coming along with us.  Note the Lilac bushes blooming in the back ground, one of my favorite springtime smells of Minnesota.  

 Finally at about 6pm Saturday we were fully loaded, sore and tired! I felt really bad as I had driven Chris like a rented mule thus far, just no time to relax until that thing was loaded.  We all headed over to Shooter's Pub in nearby Swanville for a beer and a burger, then later over to the Hub where I ran in to (and introduced Chris to) some old friends and folks I knew from growing up in the area years ago.  I had to translate Chris's mountain southern accent only a couple times for the locals. 
We got up the next day and had a large breakfast feast prepared by my mom. One does not leave hungry from that home, let me tell ya!   
Sunday morning, we took our time and re checked the load, packed our bags that we barely had time to unload to begin with, and headed out. First, over to my bud Tony's. Why?  To pick up the engine for the '68 Ski Doo, a 10 horse Rotax two stroke that I pulled from a similar machine I parted out in high school. Tony held on to the engine all those years for me!
Tony and his family have a place on Pine Lake, and he took us for a quick pontoon boat tour, the water was very clear and glass smooth that day.
Back in the truck we went, and headed out! We hit I-94 and headed south. This time I decided on a different route.  As long as you are heading somewhere in the daylight, why not take the opportunity to see some scenery or a different area?

 We headed southeast and around the MPLS metro area on the 694 bypass. We crossed the St.Croix river and on in to Wisconsin.

  We stopped at a truck stop in Osseo, WI about half an hour across the border from MN as I recall. I paid the seven bucks to weigh the rig just out of curiosity. We were 15,720 lbs total.  Our route took us east on I-94 through the beautiful Wisconsin Dells area. We picked up I-39 around Baraboo and headed due south.

We stopped around Janesville, WI at a Cracker Barrel and got a meal, around 6pm.  I saw a giant fiberglass pumpkin atop a silo along the interstate, some pumpkin farm, perhaps?  I was driving at the time so no pic.  We rolled on south and hit Bloomington, IL and then got off 39 and on to I-74 south east. At about 2:30am (Memorial Day Monday) we stopped at a rest area and got some sleep, we had been on the road 13 hrs.

Got up about 6:30 am, and headed south on I-57 about half an hour and hit a Perkins and ate a big breakfast. Back in the truck, I took the helm and Chris went right to sleep with the rain spattering the windshield.  South to Mt. Vernon IL, then east on 64 again. I think he slept all the way to Lynville, Indiana where I stopped to fuel the thirsty rig.  9-10 mpg loaded and about 225 miles between fill ups.  

More rivers over the banks! Once in Indiana we could pick up the pace a bit, as mentioned earlier, IL has a 55mph speed limit for any vehicle towing and there was a fair amount of enforcement out.

Ohio river? Pic wasn't labeled on the disc but it's in the right order of things.
And out of Indiana in to Kentucky


Ol Virginny! Back at Chris and Cathy's at about 7pm on Memorial day. Roughly 25 hours since leaving central MN, off the top of my head subtracting time sleeping and stopping for meals maybe 18-19 hours behind the wheel?  I had taken the Thursday and Friday before and the Tuesday after the weekend off. 
 I spent about 600 bucks roughly on gas and meals.  Chris was a great help and I wish we had had an extra day in MN to spend some time fishing on the lake adjacent mom and dad's. Nobody got deathly runs from a bad gas station hot dog, we had no mechanical problems, no stops from law enforcement and even got a couple of "thumbs ups" on the vintage menagerie of mechanized memorabilia as we rolled down the highway.     
Tuesday AM, we got unloaded. I did have to pull wet spark plugs from Casey to get him started and off the trailer.
 Wish I had duct taped the exhaust pipe shut! I then loaded some parts in to the Camaro for the ride back to GA. I also recovered the side of the hood from my first Ski Doo I ever had, which is a story for another day. Some men in middle age buy a Corvette or have an affair, I just re connect with old rusty steel. :)   I got back to Savannah, 450 miles south, about 9pm that night. 
Stay tuned for more adventures!