This Pony is Alive!

In the January 2010 issue, Ron and Jo Anne O’Neill wrote about the pony engine that had died. I’m happy to report that my pony is alive and ready to gallop.

It’s nice to spread the fun of a project out over a few months, or even years, but one big disadvantage is that you tend to forget where you put things and when you do find them, where they go. The pony motor sat on the workbench in many, many pieces for about three months until the time when I was almost ready to try turning over the diesel engine. As mentioned before, overall the pony wasn’t in real bad shape. The valves just needed a little “lapping” with some grinding compound, which wasn’t the easiest task since the faces were just rusty enough so that one of those suction cup “thingies” wouldn’t seal on them. This wouldn’t be a huge problem on an overhead valve engine where you can attach a drill to the stem to turn it. However, on a flathead engine, that’s not possible. Nonetheless, I managed to get the seats shiny by turning the valves with my fingers.

I’m not exactly sure what the proper sequence is for installing the valve train, whether the camshaft should go in right after the followers (which makes it very difficult to install the springs and keepers) or the springs and keepers should go in first (which makes it very difficult to install the camshaft). Whatever the proper sequence is, I’m fairly confident that I did it wrong, although I did manage to get it all installed without major bodily injury.

After installing the flywheel, clutch and timing gear cover, I turned my attention to the pistons and cylinders. The cylinders had just a bit of surface rust on them so all the attention they got was to run a three stone deglazer through them. I was amused at the instructions that came with the new rings. According to them, I am supposed to run the engine at 800 RPM for five minutes to break in the rings, then go up to 1200 RPM for five minutes. It would take some major adjustments to get one of these galloping ponies to run that slow.

I thought that I had saved every bolt with the part they came from, but apparently the “bolt fairy” had made off with some of them. This reminded me that Deere sometimes liked to use bolts that weren’t exactly stock size. The chances of finding a 5/16 by 3-3/4 inch bolt in your bin are pretty slim.

I guess that the engineers knew what they were doing, and I don’t think that I’ve ever heard of one of these “R” starting engines flying apart, but it still scares me to think of this pony turning at 4,000-plus RPM and not having keepers on the rod bolts. They just use the Marsden nuts, no cotter keys or anything else to keep them from working loose. To help me sleep better at night, I doused them with thread lock.

The rest of the engine went together without incident and soon I had it sitting on the tractor. It probably would have been easier to bolt the clutch/transmission assembly onto it on the bench, but I chose to do this on the tractor. I had previously sent the magneto off to Jack Chandler for rebuilding and it came back looking like a new one and spitting fire. The Deere operator’s manual does a good job of explaining how to time the magneto to the engine, though the part where you stick a wire in the top hole of the cap and bend it so that it is 1/8th inch from the magneto frame and then turn the lugs past impulse while holding the mag in your hands, sounds like a practical joke you might pull on someone. I did this part with the magneto in a vise.

It had been my goal to get the starting engine running by the first day of 2010; however, more important things, like spending time with family, fighting snow and watching bowl games, intervened. However, I went out to the shop on the morning of New Year’s Day with the goal of getting it running by noon. I got the starter and carburetor installed and hooked up a battery. The “R” starting engine doesn’t usually have an oil pressure gauge, but does have a plug on the right side where one can be installed. I hooked one up to it temporarily just in case my future was going to find me someday discovering a piece of the oil pump that I forgot to install, lying on the workbench. I filled up the gas tank, which I had gotten most of the tar that gasoline reverts to after 30 years out of and screwed it onto the carburetor. It was 11:30 am, January 1. Getting it running by noon on the 1st wouldn’t be that far from my goal. I hit the starter and the engine turned, but it didn’t start and didn’t even seem to fire. I tried with every combination of the choke, throttle and needle valve settings. By noon, I stood defeated and decided to go watch football. I went back briefly a couple of times that afternoon and eventually did get a few “pops” out of the engine. With that, I gave up for the day—I can work on this engine just about any time, I can only watch the Rose Bowl one day of the year.

When an engine won’t start, you start wondering about all kinds of things that you might have done wrong. I noticed that the service manuals refer to the timing mark on the flywheel as the “imp” mark and show a flywheel that does, in fact, say “imp” (that would be short for “impulse”). When I first installed the magneto, I didn’t see such a mark but did see a dot, which I used to time it with. So having no real success starting the engine, I began to wonder if there was, in fact, an “imp” mark that I failed to see and I had the mag timed 180 degrees off. Long story short, there isn’t and I didn’t.

To make double sure, I decided to take off one of the heads and confirmed that I was getting spark at the top of the compression strokes. After it was back together, I brushed off the plugs, dried them off with a propane torch (actually it was Mapp gas so I had to be careful not to turn the plugs into a molten puddle)and tried to start it again. This time, I actually got it to run for a few seconds after I let off the starter. So I was making progress.

An old six-volt battery that I had replaced in my 4430 was what I had been using to turn the starter on this tractor. It had about as much electrical charge in it as a guy in a polyester leisure suit, so I pitched it and replaced it with a good 12 volt out of one of my other tractors. Since none of the tractor’s electrical system besides the starter was hooked up, using a 12 volt wasn’t going to hurt anything. The new battery spun the starter much faster and with a deft hand on the choke, the engine roared to life and ran like it should. What a great moment!

Earlier, when discussing the engine’s reluctance to start on the GM message board, someone asked if I had tried swearing. I hadn’t but I must confess when this engine finally ran, I did one of those things that Kirk Gibson did when he hit the home run off Dennis Eckersley in game one of the 1988 World Series—you know, that thing that looks like a cross between a karate punch and starting a chain saw.

The “R” starting engine has no bottom to its crankcase; it just seals to the top of the tractor main case and I had become aware of an ever-increasing amount of oil around the perimeter of the engine. So, I fretted that perhaps I had failed to get a good seal between the two. Given this, after I had gotten the engine started, I decided that I had better make sure I still had enough oil in the engine. Much to my surprise, the crankcase was full to the top of the dipstick/filler pipe. How can this be? The only place it could get more oil was from the diesel engine and I have no idea how it could have done that.

However, I noticed that the “oil” had a very gassy smell. Apparently, after some failed starting attempt, I had left the gas valve open and it had siphoned the gas up through the carburetor and into the engine, eventually leaking into the crankcase. I have no other explanation and I’ll make sure to shut the gas valve off in the future. The normal oil capacity of the engine is only a little over two quarts, so it doesn’t take much extra to overfill the crankcase. The only way to drain the oil out of the starting engine is to let it out into the diesel’s crankcase and I didn’t want to do that since it had fresh clean oil in it, so I used one of those things that kind of looks like a grease gun to suck the gassy oil out of it and then replaced it with new.

I’ve gotten quite a few phone calls, letters and e-mails about this project, giving me advice and telling me of others’ experience restoring “Rs” and it has given me a whole new batch of things to fret about that I had never even considered. However, I guess I’ll know what to do if I experience a blown head gasket, run away engine or some other problem.