Hands-On Training with an Allis-Chalmers WD

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

| September 2011

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.