Hands-On Training with an Allis-Chalmers WD

Nebraska youth earns top grade for restoration of Allis-Chalmers WD, his first restoration project

Erik Glover at the helm of his Allis-Chalmers WD.

Erik Glover at the helm of his Allis-Chalmers WD.

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Erik Glover isn’t so much for sitting still. Now 18, the Doniphan, Neb., youth spent the last two summers working at a feedlot. He’s helped with the corn harvest for the past four years and last winter plowed neighbors’ driveways using a 60-year-old family tractor he restored at age 16. “Erik likes to stay busy,” says his dad, Mark Glover. 

That kind of energy is a good match for an old iron project. It takes a lot of drive, determination and mechanical ability to restore an old tractor, and Karl Kulwicki, Loup City, Neb., thought he saw that and more in his grandson. So in December 2009, Karl gave Erik his 1951 Allis-Chalmers WD. Often referred to as “the biggest little tractor made,” the Allis-Chalmers WD had played an integral role in Karl’s farm operations: planting, cultivating, mowing and baling. 

Purchased by Karl in 1954, 30 years later the WD was relegated to a grove on Karl’s farm. By the time Erik got his hands on it, the engine was stuck, the rear rims were rusted out and the back tires were flat. With a self-imposed goal of restoring it by his 17th birthday (just months later on March 29, 2010), Erik might have panicked. Instead, he rolled up his sleeves and went to work.

Replacing stuck pistons

Before the tractor could be moved the 50 miles to Doniphan, Erik and his father scouted replacement rims and purchased new tires. After rims were tracked down in Minnesota, the Allis was parked in Mark’s woodworking shop where Erik replaced the hood and one fender, and repaired sheet metal. “Then I took off the head,” Erik says, “and had a machine shop in Grand Island (Neb.) repair it and grind the valves.”   

With the head and oil pan removed, Erik could tell one piston was stuck as the result of rainwater entering through the muffler, but that piston refused to loosen. Diesel fuel and penetrating oil didn’t work; neither did pulling the tractor in gear. “Finally, we used a jack to apply pressure to the piston rod, enough that we raised the front of the tractor off the floor,” Erik says. “I even jumped on it. The piston still didn’t loosen. However, the sleeve came loose from the block and antifreeze ran all over.” Eventually, Erik found a mechanic to press the piston from the sleeve.                         

Finding a replacement piston was a huge challenge. “Original Allis WDs had 4-inch pistons and the rebuilt engines had larger ones,” Erik explains. “I could have replaced all the sleeves and pistons with the newer, larger ones but I wanted to keep it original. We searched in several states and finally found one a mile and a half from home.” Russ Barth, a local Allis restorer, sold Erik four pistons. After replacing the rings and seals, Erik reassembled the engine.

He worked on the carburetor, replacing a valve, jet and seals. At that point the engine ran – barely. “I learned when you have the valves ground, you have to adjust the lifters and do it with the engine running,” Erik says. “A friend helped me by using two thicknesses of an aluminum can to create a .010 inch feeler gauge.”

“Just common sense”

After Russ re-adjusted the carburetor, the engine finally ran like it should. The date was March 28, the day before Erik’s birthday – and Erik’s goal. The following summer, a local restorer painted the tractor and Erik applied new decals. Today, the old WD looks and runs like it’s fresh from the factory.

Erik has shown the tractor at the Nebraska State Fair and the Hall County Fair, and driven it in the Doniphan Fall Festival parade. “Usually I’m at least 40 years younger than most of the other restorers at these events,” he says with a chuckle. “But I really appreciate the help and encouragement older restorers have given me. My dad was a great source of support, as well.”

He’s quick to admit that the project was a major undertaking, but one he relished. “I really enjoyed the challenge of it,” Erik says. “For me, it’s just a matter of common sense to take something apart, determine the problem and fix it.”

Erik’s granddad is plenty proud of the finished project. “When I first saw the restored tractor it was unbelievable, amazing,” Karl says. “It hadn’t run for 25 to 30 years and Erik had done a lot of work. Erik’s very mechanically inclined; he’s a heck of kid to do something like that. Most kids wouldn’t have stuck with it. And it didn’t take him all that long.”

Still staying busy

An Eagle Scout, Erik graduated from Doniphan-Trumbull High School with the class of 2011. For three years, he represented the school as its Cardinal mascot. But he’s more proud of creating and racing an electric car for the school’s power drive program. The goal was to design a light, aerodynamic, electric-powered vehicle and enter it in a regional competition.

This fall, Erik will begin his studies at Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Neb., where he’s enrolled in the college’s utility lineman program. In the meantime, he’s put his grandfather’s old motorcycle back in running order and is working on a ’94 Ford Bronco. Toss in academics, and that’d be a full load for any other college freshman. But not for Erik. He’s already looking for another tractor to restore – possibly a John Deere Model D.  FC 

For more information: Contact Erik Glover at glover@hotmail.com. 

Eugene Blake is a retired Presbyterian minister now living in Winfield, Kan. His work has been published in Green Magazine, Ageless Iron Almanac and Successful Farming.