Bud Nack at the helm of the Mighty Mouse in 2002
Bud Nack still lives on the ranch where he was born in Escondido, Calif. Suburban encroachment, which has steadily whittled away at his family's acreage, now surrounds him and prevents him from farming or ranching the land. Officials say it creates fire hazards and various nuisances. Bud's ancestors, the Einers and the Nacks, settled that land more than 125 years ago, and Bud intends to stay on it until the end. Surrounded by farm and heavy construction equipment from the day he was born, Bud now keeps in touch with his roots by collecting, restoring and using old equipment. His favorite tractor is his 1952 Mead Mighty Mouse crawler.
In 1952, Einer Brothers Inc., a general contracting company in Escondido, near San Diego, landed a contract for a portion of the San Diego County Water Pipeline installation project with work to begin in 1953. This pipeline would carry water throughout San Diego County from the Colorado and Feather Rivers, and was to be buried underground for most of its length. Because final preparation of the ditch grade needed to be precise, Fred Einer, Bud's second cousin and CEO of Einer Bros., needed a machine that could do the specialized ditch work. Enter the Mead Mighty Mouse.
At that time, Mead Specialties Inc. of Chicago built a very small dozer called the Mighty Mouse. The tractor, which Mead marketed to construction contractors, street departments and others in the 1950s and 1960s, was powered by a 6-hp Wisconsin AKN single-cylinder, air-cooled motor. The Mighty Mouse transmitted power through a reduction gearbox, automotive-style clutch and chain drive to a two-speed transmission with reverse. Steering was accomplished by uncoupling either of the final drive shafts with individual lever-operated, interlocking cog-type, in-out clutches. Pulling all the way back on one lever actuated a brake to that particular shaft, which allowed sharper steering. Pulling back on both levers stopped the tractor. In spite of its small size, the Mighty Mouse weighed about 900 pounds, and the model that Einer Bros. purchased featured a hydraulically raised and lowered blade.
Bud has very vivid memories of the Einer's Mead Mighty Mouse, particularly during its operation on the Nack ranch while San Diego County's waterline was being installed across their land. Bud and his friend, Carl von Seggern, both recall with delight operating that little tractor. Bud's father, Walter, raised barley, some corn and cattle on the ranch and was also a heavy equipment operator for his cousins, the Einers. Bud and Carl would often accompany Walter to the Einer Bros, equipment yard where they were allowed to run the Mighty Mouse.
In 1973, Einer Bros. Inc. was sold, but Fred Einer kept the Mighty Mouse. Bud tried unsuccessfully to persuade Fred to give him the crawler. Finally, in 1992 Fred agreed that it was time to let Bud have the machine. Einer Bros., a large company whose projects included the San Onofre nuclear power plant, the Palomar Observatory and the Miramar Dam, owned many yards and storage facilities scattered around San Diego County. With so much ground to cover, it took three years of searching before Bud finally found the Mighty Mouse under a pile of bridge timbers. It was truly a big version of 'needle in a haystack.'
Bud said he was crushed when he first laid eyes on the old tractor after so many years. The parts were stuck, and the bogey rollers were worn so much that the carriage rails were lightly scalloped from the rubbing tracks. The machine was muddy, rusty, covered with tar and asphalt, and frozen solid. Bud, along with his sons and friends, embarked on a truly laborious restoration fraught with doubt and frustration. The project, however, proved to be an example of how people with a shared goal can make magic happen.
Undaunted, Bud and his boys removed and dismantled the clutch by soaking, heat and tapping. Each bearing and bushing was shot, in addition to the clutch's main shaft. Unsure about how to correctly fix the clutch, Bud received a call from Fred Nass, a friend and machinist who lives in Kodiak, Alaska. Bud described the clutch troubles to Fred who simply told him to ship it all to him with a drawing that showed how it was supposed to work. Within a few weeks, Fred had a new clutch mechanism built for Bud.
Bud had the Wisconsin engine bored to 0.030 inches over, which cleaned up the rust-pitted cylinder quite nicely. Bud also found a NOS 0.030-inches-over piston and rings in a local small-engine shop. The crank was ground and the engine assembled with fresh bearings, valves, gaskets, carburetor and decals. 'That was the easy part,' Bud says about the engine overhaul. Because Mead quit making the crawlers many decades earlier, there were no purchasable tractors. In fact, Bud and his sons know of only seven other Mead tractors in existence.
The Nacks managed to find some manuals for the tractor from the descendent company, Mead Fluid Dynamics of Chicago, which has the same address in Chicago as Mead Specialties and that now specializes in pneumatic cylinders and control systems.
All the Mighty Mouse's transmission shafts were worn and pitted, but the gears were still usable. Bud and Carl made new shafts or salvaged the old shafts by fitting them with custom bushings so they'd still accept bearings that fit their bore. One new shaft needed a keyway cut into it. Since Bud didn't have a milling machine, he cut that key-way with a hacksaw, chisel and files. Only later was he given a small mill. 'I could probably have made it better in about a tenth of the time with the mill,' he laughs. 'But you do what you do.' Bud also fabricated an output shaft seal housing so that the old odd-sized leather seal could be replaced with a standard synthetic oil seal.
The Mighty Mouse had literally been worked into the ground, so the roller diameters were in significantly less-than-new condition. To replace the rollers, Bud looked for trolley wheels, mining cart wheels and virtually every other possibility with no success. Serendipitously, he was at the local scrap yard and found some 5-inch-diameter round stock.
Bud cut the roller blanks from that scrap steel with an antique Marvel #1 draw-cut saw, which he'd restored many years earlier. It took the saw a few hours to make each cut because it was designed to accept 4-inch maximum-diameter stock.
Next, the blanks spent several hours on an antique Sears/Atlas 9-inch lathe where they were turned and bored for their 1-inch axle pins. Bud's son Ron said that the first roller took about 17 hours to make. The tractor has 16 total rollers, so they all got plenty of roller fabrication time on the lathe.
The hydraulic system consisted of a belt-driven Vickers pump with a Mead Specialties cylinder. The pump was relatively easy to fix, requiring only new bearings, seals and a gasket set, even though it was full of water. The oil reservoir needed to be cleaned and its surface rust removed, but the cylinder was a disaster.
Bud considered turning a new piston for the cylinder from cold rolled steel. When he mentioned it to Fred Nass on one of his visits to Escondido, Fred took the whole cylinder on the plane back to Alaska where he completely refurbished it and even made a stainless steel piston. At this point, there was only the bodywork and the blade to finish.
Over the course of two years, Bud, Ron, Randy, Carl and Fred managed to resurrect the machine. Fred Einer, the original owner, stopped by regularly to supervise their progress and was also the first to take the Mighty Mouse for a test drive.
Fred passed away in the Fall of 2002, but he lived long enough to watch proudly as Bud and his sons demonstrated the restored tractor at local shows.
There are many other projects at the Nack ranch, but the Mighty Mouse restoration was perhaps the most important because it reconnected Bud and his family with several generations of relatives and friends.
Bud plans to repaint the Mighty Mouse again and get the blade refinished, but those projects will have to wait until the 1936 John Deere B in his shop is completed.
The Nacks currently have over a dozen stationary engines, several John Deere tractors, an antique combine, grinders, corn shellers, disks and even a well-drilling rig that Bud's grandfather made from an old Chrysler and other parts.
They recently found another Mighty Mouse at a local yard sale, with a high-lift loader attachment instead of the dozer blade. Both the engine and clutch are missing, so it should be an exciting project. If anyone has any additional information on these mighty little dozers, the Nacks would love to hear. Contact them at www.meadmighty-mouse.com or (760) 747-1241.
- Oscar 'Hank' Will is an old-iron collector and restorer who retired from farming in 1999 and from academia in 1996. He splits his time between his home in Whittier, Calif., and his farm in East Andover, N.H. As a result, he travels coast to coast with his Welsh Corgi Charlie, a.k.a. Road Dawg, and he writes about the machines and people he meets in between. Write him at 13952 Summit Drive, Whittier, CA 90602; or call (562) 696-4024; or e-mail:email@example.com