The Porthole Fordson

Homemade cut-away tractor display puts grinder through its paces

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by Richard Stout
Wes Rinner, Wayland, Iowa, gives the "porthole Fordson" a close examination.

As a youth attending the Iowa State Fair in the late 1940s and early ’50s, I was fascinated by the sectionalized (or cut-away) tractors displayed in tents by various companies. Some looked as if someone had just drawn a knife through the tractor, end to end, and laid over the top half, with the moving parts slowly turning over.

In later years, after reworking three or four Fordson tractors with various aftermarket attachments on them, it got to be too much like being a mechanic, and it was a hassle to find useable parts. Why not use some of those junk parts? There was practically enough broken, rusted-out and worn-out parts for another Fordson. So, why not put together a cut-away Fordson?

white fordson tractro with red wheels with holes cut away in the sides to view the engine sitting on a blue sled in a shed

I started out with the block. A fellow must have wanted to see how the casting looked inside the block, so he pounded a hole on the valve side. It had stuck pistons, so he torched off the rods and kept the crankshaft. I set the block on some 4x6s, got a short piece of pipe that just fit inside the bore, got the sledge and took them out dry. Never saw a block quiver like that one did when I pounded it. Believe I used three pistons, and when the rust came off, they were pretty worn out.
Someone must have had trouble getting the belt pulley out of the rear housing, or did not want to take off the rear wheel to get it out, so part of the belt pulley hole was broken. There were 40-60 rifle and shotgun projectiles in the radiator core I used. I used a rusted-out gas tank and rounded out the holes.
One rear wheel was rusted out, so I just cut out that section. I even found a broken manifold to cut to show the vaporizer coil. The only good piece of the tractor I cut up was the dash to show the steering sector. The rest of the cut parts were already broken.

dirty metal engine with holes cut in to it showing the inside of the cylinder head and crank case

Cut and grind – but don’t inhale

As I did not have a hacksaw or blade big enough to saw the tractor lengthwise, I decided to just cut holes in the tractor. As Bill Overturf said, it was a porthole Fordson. I borrowed a reciprocating saw and drilled corners off the holes. It didn’t do too bad, but it could not cut tight curves and it sure ate blades.
I found if you want control of getting the cut-out where you want it, it is best to bore a row of holes, knock out the pieces and then get out the angle die grinder and clean up the hole. The first time I did this grinding, I did it inside a building. That grinding dust will give you black lung. Your throat feels like you’ve eaten broken glass and you cough and spit black for two or three days. After that, I did the grinding outside. The snow was black all around.

On this type of project, you get so far along and see that you are getting in too deep, but you have too much money, effort and time in it to just walk away. Besides, when your so-called friends asked what you were working on, you unwisely told them. They keep ribbing you. Why aren’t you getting your project going? All that keeps you going is the satisfaction of showing them you can do it.

dirty metal engine with holes cut in the side showing the inside of the transmission case

Creating a road-ready display

I got the hole in the block cut out so you could see the pistons, valves, crankshaft, timing gears and flywheel alternator. It’s neat to see them moving when the engine is turned over. I made an opening in the rear housing to show the clutch, transmission gears and worm differential.

You have to remember, when putting parts together that you have just rounded up, you have to have enough of the right bolts to hold it together. It is best to find someone who has torn down a Fordson and has them all in a 5-gallon bucket. One batch I got this way required me to pour 2-1/2 gallons of water out of the bucket before I did anything else.

dirty metal engine with holes cut in the side showing the engine block, cylinder head and the cylinder

When you paint this tractor, it has to be cleaned on both the inside and the outside, and then you have to paint both sides.

As this tractor cannot be driven or rolled, I built a flat-bottom skid 8 inches deep and bolted the tractor to the bottom of the sled. Later, I built a fiberglass top that lifted off to go over the tractor to keep it cleaner when in storage. I fixed it so one rear wheel was off the floor so the wheel would turn. I put a rototiller worm, sprockets, chain, pulleys, V-belt and electric motor on to turn the engine slowly. It would have been nice if I could have found a book that would have told something about how to do this. FC

group of men lifting a fiberglass cover off of a blue and red tractor on a blue trailer

Richard Stout lives in Washington, Iowa. He is assisted in his writing endeavors by his granddaughter, Ashley Stout.

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