Terrorist’s scion, and without a dynamometer

As some of you know, I also write a regular technical column for Antique Power magazine and an occasional one for Vintage Truck magazine where I pinch-hit for their regular tech guy, Joe Ayers. Last winter, a customer who is an avid — no, let’s say rabid, International/Farmall tractor collector bought me a subscription to the Farmall collector’s publication, Red Power.

“Red Power,” a magazine by that name suggests other, more sinister possibilities. My great-grandfather who was a Communist revolutionary in Europe and was executed for an attempt to assassinate Czar Nicolas Romanov (he blew up the wrong train car) would probably be delighted that I had a subscription to a publication by that name.

But no, this is all about tractors and, though I’m descended from — and named after — a terrorist, great-grandfather Theodor was not a very good one and thus I can be considered harmless. I have no blown up train cars to my credit, but smart-aleck conductors had better keep their place.

It seems that I have a counterpart at Red Power, the author of a column entitled “From the Shop.” He’s a Midwestern tractor repair shop owner who identifies himself only as “The Tractor Doctor.” This guy is for real. The background in the photos suggests a vast and sprawling shop facility. It’s quite the contrast to my nearly 50-year-old service truck, which spends about a quarter of its time searching back roads for derelict machinery, old Civil War sites and swimsuit optional river access.

Another contrast: My former managing editor, Peggy Shank, suggested that I keep my technical material basic as there seems to be a particular demand for such a column. I was to imagine my reader as someone like a former art history major who has inherited a tractor, has no idea what to do with it but is intrigued by the old machine nonetheless. I’ve thus based the last year or so of columns on getting a hypothetical barn find tractor running and out from under the cobwebs. My current editor, Brad Bowling, seems pleased with this series as well.

In the first Red Power that I received, The Tractor Doctor’s column covered the installation of a torque amplifier in a Farmall (looks like a 400) tractor. I’m familiar with the procedure and because he demonstrated some tricks that I had already figured out on my own, I was duly flattered. Still, this column seemed a bit advanced for the average hobbyist/collector.

The following issue carried a From the Shop article about the use of a hydraulic flowmeter, a pricey, relatively seldom used little item that isn’t likely to be found in the hobbyist’s carport. (A flow meter might be found, though, in a very well equipped farm shop.) When the latest issue turned attention to dynamometers, it became obvious that the Tractor Doctor was reporting from — and apparently for — the professional realm.

If this is his market, great — I guess that I still have a lot to learn about tractor collectors — who doesn’t? The Tractor Doctor’s technical information is always (so far) dead on — no problem there. Still, something about the last From the Shop article got my goat. I’ll simply quote the offending line, “One of the tools of any tractor repair business or dealership that is serious about keeping tractors running is a dynamometer.”

Harrumph! I’ve been in the tractor repair business for 25 years and never owned a dynamometer. As long as pastures get mowed, stalls get mucked and manure spread, precise high performance tuning is hardly relevant. Moreover, I doubt that they would let me drag a dynamometer into the Smithsonian — so there.

After collecting my emotions, I read on and found that he decided that he needed a dynamometer when local farmers began tricking out their International 706 and 806 diesel tractors with bolt-on turbo charger kits. Of course, this meant that they also added more plow bottoms and found other ways to put this extra power to work. Since this is apparently the land of the mile-plus furrow, the Tractor Doctor became responsible for maintaining the balance between making the dirt fly off the moldboards and the engines being fried. So, he needed a dynamometer. As for the part about being “serious,” he may have me pegged as well; I’m seldom serious about anything.

A dynamometer is a machine that applies a load to a tractor’s engine, usually at the PTO, and in one way or another gives a reading of the engine’s horsepower and overall economy and performance. This resistance in older dynamometers was achieved with a fan while more recent units use liquid under pressure. Imagine finding a machine like that in the hills of Wild and Wonderful West Virginia. But wait — I’ve just described an orchard sprayer.

Listening to apple men compare notes about spraying when they are well into their second 12-pack can give the mechanic invaluable insight on a tractor’s performance.

“I blew the neighbor’s fence over again — he said it wouldn’t be so bad if I hadn’t stretched the wire, too.”

“That’s nothin’. I was spraying lime and sulfur and I sandblasted the underside of a Piper Cub on its way to Californee.”

“Well, the cloud behind my sprayer formed its own weather system and started rainin’. I had to quit early — almost got struck by lightnin’.”

The Tractor Doctor goes on to demonstrate that it may take some skill and patience to translate the readings into usable information. I’m working on it — seriously.

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