The Last Chapter
by Brent Mathson
When the call came that a set of tractor tires was ready for pickup, I made a quick trip to the tire shop and then met Van at his shop. In a couple of hours’ time we had the tires mounted to the tractor and then stepped back to admire the total results of our labor. It looked like a million bucks or at least a lot more than the two thousand that we had invested in it. If it would run as well as it looked, I’m sure that Grandpa Lee would be proud of us. I got the crank and started cranking on the engine. When I got tired, Van took over cranking the engine. When he got tired, we checked the fuel, the spark, and the timing. Everything seemed right. I tried cranking it again and after some frustrating minutes, decided to call it quits. I would go home for lunch and then return later, and Van and I would try pulling it to start it. I reasoned that the engine was pretty stiff from the rebuild and might require towing to get it started just as it had after the previous rebuild.
I was eating a sandwich when I got the call from Van that he had gotten the tractor started It was running fine except for one major problem – the gauge was registering no oil pressure. Being that the gauge was the original gauge, I assumed that it was gummed up and not functioning properly. That was my hope. When I arrived back at Van’s shop, an investigation proved that the gauge was not the problem. From reading Allis Chalmers repair forums, I had learned that after an engine rebuild, the oil pump sometimes needed to be primed. We tried priming the pump but had no success. The joy that I had felt when Van had informed me that he had gotten the tractor started disappeared and turned to utter despair as I faced the predicament confronting me now. The oil pump would have to be checked to find the cause of the problem, and that would mean splitting the tractor to gain access to the pump.
On most engines, the oil pump is located inside the engine and can be accessed by removing the oil pan. On the 1938 Allis Chalmers model B, the oil pump is located on the back of the engine behind the flywheel. In order to get at it, we would have to unbolt the back half of the tractor from the engine and then remove the clutch and the flywheel to allow us to unbolt the oil pump. I didn’t know how removing the pump and checking it would solve the problem because I had thoroughly checked the pump during the engine rebuilding process. Still, the pump needed to be rechecked, so disassembly began.
As I was removing the oil pump, I congratulated myself on my decision not to use gasket sealer when I had installed the pump so that I could reuse the gasket in the event that the pump would have to later be removed. Instead of patting myself on the back, I should have been kicking myself in the butt because using the sealer would have prevented the problem. If I would have used gasket sealer, I would have noticed the small piece of old gasket still in place on the engine. This piece of gasket was providing an air leak that prevented the pump from priming itself. Disgusted at my failure, I scraped the mounting surface clean and remounted the pump using gasket sealer. Once the tractor was reassembled, Van cranked the engine and it started. More importantly, there was oil pressure. Another lesson learned the hard way.
I have a video of Van driving the tractor with his five year old son, Nolan. I watch it often. It is very rewarding watching Grandpa Lee’s tractor running so well and looking so fine. However, it is not the tractor’s performance and appearance that makes me happiest. The smile on Nolan’s face is what really lights up my heart. It is my Grandpa Lee’s smile. That smile is a tribute to the perseverance and hard work that went into the fifty-five year process of fulfilling a dream. There were setbacks along the way and even times when the dream was nearly abandoned. I have my son, Van, to thank for keeping the dream alive, and the folks at Steiner Tractor parts for helping me through the setbacks with their expertise and thoughtful help. They went above and beyond the service I would expect from a tractor parts dealer. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. This picture is worth ten thousand words.
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