When wheels take flight

[cleeng_content id="693566436" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"](A comedy of errors — mostly mine)

Steering wheels, that is. A simple automotive steering wheel puller won’t work to remove the wheel on most older tractors. Often one must resort to drilling a hole in the wheel next to the steering shaft, then breaking the wheel with a chisel. This, of course, destroys the wheel and a replacement must be found. However, there are situations in which, for one reason or another, the wheel must be removed intact.

I ran into such a situation recently at Sandstone Farm in Clarke County, Va. I do have the perfect setup to do this job if it’s possible at all. This combination of tools involves a heavy steel collar that clamps under the wheel, two heavy threaded rods that reach to a massive puller that exerts astronomical force on the steering shaft and the underside of the wheel. This is a wonderful device to have — home, locked in a cabinet in my shop 40 miles away. I had forgotten to put this puller on the truck before I left — advancing age, I guess.

Plan B isn’t my favorite — using the truck’s crane to pull the steering wheel. This method has its limitations in that the pulling force cannot exceed the weight of the truck (about 6,500 pounds). Sometimes, more force is needed. The other problem is that once the wheel releases its grasp, there’s no telling where it may land.N1106P47001C

Working at riding stables and equine event facilities puts one in nearly constant company of beautiful women. It can be hard to get things done with these beauties cluttering up the place and I had to shoo a minor bevy away to a safe distance before I applied force to the 1968 Ford 5000’s steering wheel.

I had rigged up an arrangement to capture (museum lingo, dontcha’ know) the wheel and though the cable flailed violently when the wheel broke loose, the wheel didn’t try to go into orbit.

I guess I should explain why I’m in this particular situation. To owners of Ford 5000 tractors, circa 1965 to ‘75, this may sound familiar. The Ford’s power steering developed a leak at the steering cylinder control valve housed at the very front of the tractor. I installed a new seal kit that cured the problem temporarily, which experience has taught me, is about as good as it gets.

It takes a minimum of an area 14 feet square to split a tractor for a new clutch. When this need arose, we found that Sandstone had become so crammed with stables, paddocks, show rings and the aforementioned clutter that there was nowhere out of the way to split a tractor. The machine went to Good’s Garage at Siler for the clutch and Seth Good put in another power steering seal kit, as well. As expected, it soon began leaking again. The basic casting of these units eventually wears to the point where they won’t hold a seal for more than a few minutes. (Any machinist who may want to explore boring and sleeving these units is likely to find a ready market.)

An order for a rebuilt unit went out to Cheap Tractor Parts.com though not necessarily on my recommendation. I was suspicious of this arrangement from the start but the $500-plus price tag suggested that some machining may have been involved. With no little effort, I installed the unit, which was leaking by the next day. Apparently, like the rest of us and with all good intentions, Cheap Tractor Parts had simply installed a rebuild kit in a worn out casting.

Somewhere in all of this, in a conversation with old-time Ford tractor expert Roscoe Tutwiler, I learned that a relatively small number of the earliest version of this tractor came with simple, foolproof manual steering. We decided to simply convert the tractor to manual steering using salvage parts.

An order went out to Wenger’s Tractor Salvage of Myerstown, Pa., for a used tie rod and drag link and a new aftermarket manual steering “knuckle.” Through the natural progression of time, it has become so that the folks at Wenger’s are about half the age of the parts they sell, so it can take a couple of tries to get the right part. It added to this misadventure that I showed up at Sandstone to install these parts on a Sunday, just before going away for a week, to make this discovery.

While I was away, Sandstone used the 5000 with a gallon jug of power steering oil in constant attendance. Upon my return, the correct parts awaited. I began to install the drag link, which is the rod that goes from the steering gear box below the steering wheel to the front axle. This link mounted differently from the power steering version.

The tractor was equipped with a sluggish old Massey Ferguson loader that would clearly need to be removed permanently before the link could be installed. The loader wasn’t a real asset so this really didn’t matter all that much. I attached the crane to the loader, unbolted it from the tractor, started the machine then attempted to simply back away from the loader. I, then, discovered that whoever had made the conversion from Massey to Ford had done much of the welding and fabrication with the loader in place. The heavy, cumbersome attachment had to go straight up and over the tractor in order to be removed. This was accomplished with not an inch of vertical crane capacity to spare.

At last, everything was finally hooked up and ready to go. I told David Porquette, the barn manager and 60-year-old Vermont rustic, to take it away. He started the tractor and turned the steering wheel to the right — the tractor went left. Upon hearing about this novel characteristic, Sandstone owner, Luci Strange, told me that they try to teach new riding students not to pull right to go left and vice-versa. I guess having this tractor around in its present condition wouldn’t help to establish this rule. There’s nothing like a customer with a sense of humor.

I sought the advice of Ford/New Holland parts representative, Alan Keiter, at Winchester Equipment. Alan had been following the project and was beginning to see the humorous side as well. I had called on the toll-free line so I had the time to wait for the laughter to subside. As it turns out, Ford had produced two different sets of steering gear box innards, which made the box’s output shaft turn one direction for power steering and the other way for manual. Another order went out to Wenger’s. When the part arrived, I went to Sandstone and disassembled the gearbox, which is where this story begins. However, Wenger’s had sent the wrong part (surprise).

An order went out for the correct part and we watched the usual UPS drop-off place on the farm with great anticipation.

Stopping by on Friday, I found that the part still hadn’t arrived. I moved on to look at some equipment at The Plains where Luci reached me by cellphone and said that the part had been reposing at the local post office for a few days.

I picked up the part and assembled the unit Saturday at the North River Mills shop. The annual North River Mills (old time) String Jam was in progress and I got to assemble the unit with live music and good company (and a free lunch). This company included Hampshire Review reporter Nick Gaudio — but that’s another story.

I hope this experience is of some use to Ford tractor owners who may be considering a similar project. At Sandstone, David, the barn manager, stops by the tractor on occasion to chat. I used to think that 60-year-olds talked about LaSalle automobiles, farming with horses and gasoline rationing. Now that I am one, it seems that historic Grateful Dead concerts are high on the list.

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