Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Earl's Tractor

Pam and I walked from our property over to Judi and Earl's next door to feed Jeremiah the Horse.  Earl and his brother-in-law Norm were cutting a felled tree into woodstove length pieces.  When Earl saw me, he hollered for me to get Bessie the Tractor.  It seems his German Deutz-Allis stopped running and he needed it towed out of the woods.  I fetched Bessie and, after several attempts, managed to get it out.  I towed it to the front of his garage, unhooked the chain, and then pushed it up to the garage door.

Earl is a good mechanic and I figured he'd get it running in short order, but the next day Judi came over to our property and said that Earl needed help.  I went over, and Earl asked if I knew anything about diesel engines.   Do I know anything about diesel engines?   I know much more than I ever wanted to know after several years of living aboard an old trawler with four of them, two main engines and two generators.

Earl couldn't get the engine to start and stay running.  He replaced the fuel filter, which he hadn't done in the 25 years he'd owned the tractor, and said it was full of gunk.  He drained the fuel tank and replaced the fuel.  He removed the fuel lines and blew them out with his air compressor.  He was baffled.

I  told Earl that diesel engines are pretty simple, really, and problems are always one of three things;  fuel, fuel, or fuel.  If a diesel won't run, it is most likely not getting any.  It could be a blockage, or an air leak, but it is always fuel.  So we puttered around for a bit, bleeding lines and such, and I was getting mystified myself.  Could it be a clogged fuel return line maybe?  That was the only thing we hadn't messed with, besides removing the pump and the nozzles and cleaning them.  But wisely, we decided to pause for a thinking beer.

"So when you got here in the spring, how did the tractor run?" I asked.

"It ran fine, like it always did.  Started right up and ran perfect."

"So what happened when it stopped running?"

"It ran out of fuel, so I added some, and then it wouldn't start."

Hmmmm.... running a diesel out of fuel means air in the lines, which is never good, but we bled the lines and got it to start, only it wouldn't stay running.  It might run for a minute or two, but it ran poorly and then stalled.

"How old is the diesel fuel you put in it?" I asked.

"I dunno, a couple three years old."

"Well, it might be bad fuel.  It could be contaminated with algae growth, which grows in the water from condensation."

"I didn't think diesel fuel ever went bad'" said Earl, "and that you could keep it indefinitely."

I wasn't sure, but I had some diesel for my generator in our storage trailer on our property, and seeing as how Pam came by to see why we were drinking beer instead of working on the tractor, I asked if she would fetch it.  While we were waiting, Earl and I drained all the fuel from the tank.  That required a sit-around-and-wait beer.

When Pam came back, the tank was empty and we dumped in a couple of gallons of new diesel.  After considerable cranking, the engine fired up.  It ran poorly again, and Earl looked dismayed, but I told him that there was still old diesel in the pump and lines that had to be flushed out.  Sure enough, after a couple of minutes, the old diesel simmered down and purred like a kitten.  

I didn't see any gunk in the fuel we drained out, but it could have been some water.   The fuel tank is a gravity feed and drains from the bottom, so any water in there would dilute the diesel to where it wouldn't fire.   That's my guess.  I suggested that Earl not buy too much diesel at once, maybe one jerry jug at a time, and that he put diesel fuel conditioner in when he stores the tractor for the winter.  Topping off the tank would be a  good idea too, since a full tank doesn't get as much condensation as one not full.

I don't think I've ever seen Earl smile so big.  And, of course, this required a victory beer.  That was four beers total for Earl in one day, which tied his personal best record.

1 comment:

  1. I like that. Richard Feynman, who fixes things by thinking, would appreciate the concept of a thinking beer. I've added it to my took-kit. Thanks for the tip!