The Barn Rod
It’s not about the miles per hour: it’s about the smiles per hour!
For quite a few years, it’s been my dream to put a hit-and-miss governed engine on a truck frame, with the goal of driving it in thresheree parades. My dream became a reality last year. This project was quite a challenge, but getting there was half the fun!
I was born a natural tinkerer. Building mechanical things has always interested me. When I got involved with the gas engine hobby, I became friends with local hobbyist Orv Schraeder, who had built a John Deere Model B with a 7hp Witte throttle-governed engine. He would drive it around at local tractor shows and thresherees. The guy was an absolute king on his machine. That is where this joker came up with the idea to put a 5hp John Lauson Frost King engine dating to 1908-’09 onto a truck frame.
There were so many challenges. The Lauson was the softest firing engine with its large flywheels, but at higher rpm, it shook the display trailer and I had to balance the flywheels with lead.
Friend and engine collector John Rossum said that many early flywheel cavities were oversized for balancing. He loaned me his balancing jig and I used epoxy to secure 8 pounds of weight in each flywheel. The balancing test on the 1949 Chevrolet 3/4-ton truck frame was a success with the addition of four extra leaf springs (per side) on the front straight axle to hold the 1,200-lb. engine, plus two transmissions to get the power to the rear wheels (more on that later).
Refining the patina
The cab was the next challenge. The 1969 Diamond Rio dump truck cab I used is smaller than the Chevy cab, which put the steering wheel against the door. I had to cut and narrow the frame because the steering sector bolted to it. At that time, I included a rear notch in the frame to get the cab level because of the front axle flip.
I also shortened the pitman arm, which helps provide easier steering. The only drawback is more revolutions on the steering wheel. To make the truck look like a hot rod, I cut the floor out and settled it over the frame to hide it, a task easier said than done. The cab would need a subframe made of 2×4 steel tubing to hold the cab square so the doors would work properly.
I recovered a 1950 Chevrolet truck bed from the salvage yard. It was in very poor condition, but perfect for a rat rod truck. It did pose another challenge: The color didn’t match that of the cab. I stumbled across some antique orange paint in a spray can, but had to figure out how to make it look authentically old to keep it rusty-looking. With the help of some chainsaw bar oil applied to the rust, the new paint wouldn’t stick. With the paint still wet, I took the parts and set them out in the light rain that day, thus eliminating any shine.
The truck’s tailgate, with the barn rod emblem, was a two-weekend project of cutting, forging and welding. I wanted the words Barn Rod (which were formed from horseshoes) to shine, so I buffed and clear-coated them until my emblem was complete. In case you missed it, I named the project after myself. I guess Barney was not that bad a name after all.
Creating an unusual transmission
Many friends of the project came together to help make this happen. Two of them were a cut above: Dennis Jensen, a knifemaker and right-hand man, helped assemble this project (and even made me a custom knife to match the barn rod!) and Rick Lau was the machinist for the custom parts in the drivetrain. Without their help, this project wouldn’t have been a success.
Rick and I sketched a plan to transfer power from a true hit-and-miss engine to the truck’s rear wheels. The key would be using a T-style angle gear transmission to get the correct direction to the 4-speed Chevrolet transmission. If it was incorrect, you would have four speeds in reverse.
The sketch started with a split sprocket that mounted on the inside of the flywheel for a clean look, plus a chain guard for safety. At the end of the angle transmission is a chain coupler that marries the two transmissions together with a custom-made stub shaft that holds the Chevy flywheel in the original truck transmission.
The only question was whether the electric start would turn all of that weight, plus a compression stroke, to start the engine. And to our amazement it, worked better than expected! That ensured this old iron man a “butt buggy” to show off for many years. How cool is that?!?
The barn rod as an ambassador for the old iron hobby
The first test drive, without the body on the frame, was very exciting. All the planning, cutting and welding came together. With the Lauson running at 250rpm, I engaged the clutch and put the truck in reverse. It powered itself for the first time, heading out of the shop, where I announced, “It’s no longer an expensive lawn ornament: It actually works!” The first test lap around the yard was a success. I came back with my arms up in the air for the marathon finish. It was a day I’ll never forget!
The Covid-19 pandemic put a dampener on the thresherees in my area. A few car shows were still scheduled, so I thought I’d take the truck to one so car enthusiasts could appreciate all the work that went into building this project.
I went to my first show with my custom truck on the trailer. As I was unloading it, I wondered how people would react. To my amazement, I received first place award in the show’s Modified Class. I was all choked up with a tear in my eye. “Thata boy!” said a friend, with a slap on the shoulder. “Makes sense to me,” he added. “You’re the most modified one here!” “You don’t have to be fast to be cool,” an onlooker said, “and brother, you nailed it!”
The barn rod has drawn interest to our hobby. At car shows, I share information about local tractor shows and the history of the engine, enlightening those who don’t know what hit-and-miss engines are, let alone what they were used for.
Many are surprised to learn that the hopper-cooled Lauson was never intended to be on a vehicle and that it was long used to power a shingle mill that cut cedar shakes for roofs in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Everyone asks how fast it goes. I got wise to answer it this way: “I am very proud to tell you that 10mph is too fast to drive in a tractor parade!”
Keep tinkering! FC
For more information: Barney Kedrowski, who lives in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, has posted videos on YouTube and he’s in a Facebook group: Antique Engines, Repowered Vehicles and Builds. He’s a regular at the Badger Steam & Gas Engine Show in Baraboo, Wisconsin, and the North Central Wisconsin Antique Steam & Gas Engine Show in Edgar, both in August. Contact him at (715) 213-5369.
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