A Cautionary Tale

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A Cautionary Tale
When Enthusiasm Clouds Judgement
by Ian Minshull

AC B in the fifties, very old photo
The Allis B back in the fifties.
In the early 1950s my father bought an Allis Chalmers B and I used it for all the row crop work with the mangolds and potatoes, rolling and the haymaking on our farm. The farm and the Allis were sold and I have spent a lifetime working on farms throughout the country. I promised myself that one day I would own an Allis. That time eventually arrived, and last Summer I had the opportunity to buy one. It was a very wet day when I happened to see her on the forecourt of a machinery dealer. She started up reasonably well in spite of the impulse starter on the magneto not working. Yes it was a bit rusty in places and it was really too wet to stand outside and I had waited nearly fifty years and so a deal was struck. I was to return a few days later with a trailer to collect my dream. It was still raining, as it so often does in the West Country, but she started up again and drove onto the trailer and at home she drove into the barn to await restoration to her former glory.

A few weeks later I saw an advertisement for a plow for an Allis, which I duly bought. Very good had just become even better! Spring came and time to try my hand at plowing again. The plow fit and I decided to use a hydraulic ram instead of the original handle to lift the plow.

It was at this stage that I had to acknowledge that the rust was much worse than I had let myself believe with large holes in the wings, which needed weld not filler.

Having decided that the only way was to completely dismantle the tractor in order to successfully repaint it I spent many, many hours brushing and scraping content in the knowledge that it would be worth it. Rather than send away for paint I went to the local auto factors - quite a large firm with many branches in the West Country - and took a piece of tractor for a sample of color for them to mix a match. I said what it was for and that the paint must be petrol resistant. I duly collected the paint and after many more hours with primer and paint had a very painted tractor.

As is quite common, fuel lines and taps invariably leak and floats stick. The petrol which leaked from the joint between the air cleaner and the carburetor did a better job of removing the paint from the air cleaner and the clutch housing than any paint stripper that I have ever used.

I went back to the shop with the remains of the paint and the very tatty air cleaner. It was the sharp intake of breath the puckering of the lips and the shake of the head from the chap behind the counter which said it all. "I wouldn't have sold you that paint - totally the wrong sort......no you can't put the right sort on top - it's all got to come off .......oh Garry sold it to you - I'm not surprised it's wrong - we've got rid of him...."

I came away with the promise of the right paint and the thought, 'Well at least it is mechanically sound......' Why does such optimism exist in the human psyche in the face of the realities of life?

I had found water in every part of the tractor - the gearbox and transmission, the steering box and the engine sump. The air cleaner had holes rusted through the bottom. All had been drained and refilled with fresh new oil. Yes the water in the gear box could have come in through the gear lever; that in the steering box down the steering column - the engine?..... well it had been standing out a lot and it always rains in Devon and I really did want to own an Allis .......and the engine...?

She started up and ran sweetly and the hydraulics worked perfectly now that they were not fed with a water/oil emulsion and the plow looked as though it was just right ... and the engine died with a sound as though it was seizing. A great bubbling and steaming was coming from the radiator. I was sure that I had filled it with water but where had it gone?

The dipstick told me where it had gone.

With the sump off and the head off and the block full of water I would surely see which way it was going. Not a spot leaked in three days. Out with the pistons, out with the liners and out with the mass of scale - no sign of a crack, liners as good as new. New seals, gaskets etc and all back together and fill up with water....oh dear should I get a sledge hammer to it or quietly walk away and shed a tear or two?

Water leaked profusely from the casting round the head drain tap.

I put two cans of 'Wonderweld' into the block and she ran perfectly for three quarters of an hour as I drove her up and down the road (never venturing too far from home just in case...). The next day there were no leaks on the floor under her and the oil level was as it should be.

Wonderweld seems to be as its name suggests, but in all the instructions they say nothing about ensuring that it doesnt get anywhere except in the radiator. As the water in the radiator expanded and ran down the overflow it fell into the air stream from the fan and deposited a layer of Wonderweld over most of the very freshly painted tractor. I hope it sticks as well where it is meant to be as where it is not meant to be.

man driving freshly painted tractor
The Allis B today, restored.
For three days she still ran fine. I decided to change the oil, flush the radiator, retighten the head and check the tappets. As I was doing the latter I became aware of a small but constant fountain of water coming from the center of one of the core plugs in the cylinder head and disappearing down into the sump. I replaced all three plugs. She is now back together again and appears to be running fine. She is what we would call a tidy machine. Who wants a pristine tractor anyway? She is just that little bit tatty just like I remember after all those years. I am optimistic that all is now well .....but not too optimistic!

All the accounts of restoration projects I have read seem to be done by experts who know exactly what they are doing. They have all the answers and all the equipment to do what is needed. Is there anyone else out there whose enthusiasm clouds his or her judgement and whose expertise is just a little bit lacking?

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