300 Leon Drive, Apt. 4 Jonesboro, Louisiana 71251
In Mackinaw, Illinois, during the 1930s, my father Dan S. Zehr owned and operated his first gasoline tractor. The steamers were still reserved for threshing, but rather than steam engines for corn shelling, he used the Case 25x45 for winter shelling jobs. The little beast was intended to save time and effort, and was used with a Minneapolis steel sheller, I believe a #4 model. All consideration and forgiveness might be granted and due people he used, for they, too, possessed only the steam power tricks, and engineering know-how of their time, for whatever problem that had to be solved to get the job done. The gasoline tractor had just appeared over the horizon.
I believe he had purchased the animal from the J. I. Case Branch operation in Peoria, Illinois. In those days, tractor mechanics were rare and possibly not exactly astute at problem solving, and the old steam engineer probably did not even have the benefit of an instruction book. So if there was to be any help from informed people, it would be a rarity that some franchised individual was available on some below-zero morning to trouble shoot. The alternative was the 'hard way,' which was time and energy consuming, as well as very frustrating. Whether a 'tractor specialist' had been contacted for a discussion or high level consultation as to why this (blankety-blank) tractor was such a brute to start, is not known, but it was the #1 conversation with friends and competitors.
The problem seemed to be just a contrary female in nature, the starting only seemed to end in a terrible cranking ordeal. Words new to me were exposed when it came time to start preparing to set up and move to a rural crib job. The process consisted of two men taking turns in cranking the thing' for what seemed hours, with no firing or back-firing occurring for encouragement. Just crank until out of breath, almost to the point of collapsing, and then the relief cranker take over for his turn, for the partner was forced to back-off and think kind words to rename the machine.
A magneto man was summoned, and he had his hand at trying the analysis for his turn, things such as compression, valve job, short in the wiring, crude analysis of the fuel, old fuel, wrong brand, (some brands were in doubt), wrong brand of oil in crankcase, all provided mystic thinking for the problem. The cranking would continue for hours and success was not the word.
The noise of the crank on the flywheel was an odd sound. The crank was placed on the engine flywheel hub, which had indentations, in the interior ring of the outer ring, and there was a pawl that engaged into the indentations inside the flywheel, as the cranker lifted, the wheel turned the crankshaft to the point of maximum crank travel, and hopefully an explosion occurred in one of the four cylinders. If not, the crank hit the surge screw in the governor housing and the pawl collapsed as a 'glitch' sound occurred. Then a dead bang from the violent collision of the steel crank arm and the governor housing made of cast iron. At that time the bar of the crank collided with the bronze plug of the governor surge screw and then the pawl collapsed with a 'glitch' sound'bang-glitch,' then a clatter as the crank fell down.
I can see and hear in my mind the sound of the process as if it occurred again just now. How those two men stood this terrible exertion and effort of the process for generating power from a unit is one of the many mysteries of mankind, and it was the time in the century that drove men to distraction and perhaps success if they stood it all! I will never forget. Finally the stubborn thing would 'puke-out' a blue smoke and if a hand reached the right controls in time, maybe it would run. Sounds like it was flooded, right?
I have read of Mr. J. I. Case's ingenuity and success, but there is no doubt in my mind that if this infamous tractor came across his horizon, as he traveled about the great universe of his days of genius, I'm certain he would have shipped it to the West Coast for the movie people to make some kind of use of it without its ever running. Just let it sit and freeze up with rust from the Pacific Ocean, and destroy the records so that the company would never be taken to court for some prime attorney to provide a modern suit of the million dollar category, as is done too many times today.
'Just keep it clean, painted,' but with the instructions, 'Do not start this damn tractor,' signed, J. I. Case. Perhaps EPA would have taken care of this if it occurred today or OSHA in the event that Congress would pass a new law. They can do most anything to stop a mechanical monster that 'red tape' will destroy and destroys the minds of people.
Sorry, you Case enthusiasts, it's all in good fun!
Another story from out of the 'Ant Stinger' of Louisiana.
Dean Zehr's name may be recognized by those familiar with the Central States Show in Pontiac, Illinois, as he was active with that club, helping his father Dan there during the 1950s and 60s. He would be happy to hear from our readers.