Monday, May 3, 2010
In the late 1960s Wisconsin and Tecumseh started using SSI ignitions and,I believe that it led to the early demise of a lot of old garden tractors.They only used the SSI for a couple of years and they weren't supported by the manufacturers for very many years so once the SSI ignitions started going bad they were obsolete and some of the engines weren't built so that you could go back to an earlier ignition system.A couple people have found work arounds for the Tecumseh and Wisconsin SSI and they can be found pretty easy on the internet but they really aren't easy or cheap so it doesn't make sense to use them on every old GT.In the case of the Bolens 1256,there is a replacement ignition called the HET that replaces the factory stator and upgrades it with a newer style ignition that uses an automotive type coil.If you have an older 1256 that's still working ok be careful if you ever have ignition problems,the problem with the ignitions on those tractors,as well as any other Wisconsin engine that used the SSI,was that the ignition was somewhat backwards compared to most other ignition systems,people see the automotive coil and figure they can hotwire the ignition and it ends up burning up either the stator or module,the modules can also be destroyed by stray battery voltage through the ignition switch.The 1256 tractor is a tractor worth fixing because of the hydrostatic drive and the hydraulics that are used to lift attachments but the HET ignitions are almost $150.00 so unless you can get a pretty good deal on the tractor,if the SSI is bad,it will set you back a few bucks before you ever start with anything else that the tractor might need fixed.
There are still a lot of good,usable garden tractors from the 1960s around yet,if you have the knowledge to fix them yourself a lot of them were parked because of simple things that went wrong with them and people just wanted something new.The Bolens tractors from the 1960s were actually pretty easy and relatively cheap to keep running if you understand points and condensor ignitions.I've found very few that had bad magnetos,most times the only thing wrong with them is that the points are dirty or corroded or there is oil in the box where the points are that won't let the points get a good ground.Anytime that I clean points on an older engine,I take them out and file them to get a new surface on them,then before you put them back in the engine,use some contact cleaner to clean the inside of the box out good to be sure there's no oil residue.Put the points and condensor back in and set the points to specs but before you put the cover back on,take a dollar bill and run it through the points to clean the surface again,the material that the bill is made of works better than anything to clean the points.If by chance you do find a magneto ignition on a Wisconsin engine with a bad magneto,it's very easy to switch them over to a battery ignition using a coil and different ignition switch so even if you have a bad ignition,all is not lost.
One of my preferences in old iron is Bolens tractors,Bolens is one of the oldest manufacturers of tractors.In the 1920s Bolens started building 2 wheel,walk behind tractors that were built to replace the horse on smaller farms,especially vegetable farms where cultivating was done on a regular basis.After WWII they were bought out by the Food Machinery Corp,FMC and they started building ride on tractors.They were pretty crude compared to some of the bigger tractors being built by Case,IH and John Deere at the time but they were a cheaper alternative for people that only farmed a few acres and didn't want to do it with horses.My oldest operating Bolens at present is a 1964 Husky 900,I use it mostly in the winter to move snow,it's never given me a problem starting,even when the temperatures are zero or below.It's moved more snow than just about any other vehicle that I own and compared to machines built in the past 30years or so,it's simple to work on.I also have a model 12A walk behind from about 1945 with a Clinton engine on it,I've had the engine running but I still need a few parts for the drive on the tractor itself.
I've decided to use this blog space to pass on somethings that I've learned over the years and especially about restoring old engines and vehicles.Most of my schooling has been trial and error or the school of hard knocks and I always appreciate someone else knowledge,when I can find it on something that I'm working on.I've been working on engines since my teenage years,mostly most any small engine,Farmalls and Chevys but I've also rebult Cummins,Cat and Perkins diesels and worked on a lot of other American made engines over the years,hopefully I can pass on something useful.
I spent part of the day Saturday in Gratz,PA,Gratz is a small town in northern Dauphin County,it's along rt.25 which runs between exit 112 of I81 and Millersburg in a valley called the Lykens Valley.The first time I ever drove through the valley was in the late 1990s hauling coal out of Hegins.There really isn't much to see in the 30 some mile drive from I81 to Millersburg but that's kind of my point,it's one of the few areas left in PA where you can drive for an hour or more and not see a McDonalds or Walmart,actually other than a few convenience stores,there really aren't any chain stores in the area.Gratz isn't famous for much of anything except their fair and the annual consignment sale that benefits the fire company and the local Amish Parochial schools,the latter is what brought me to Gratz as it has annually for the past 3 years.It's the home to quite a few Amish and the hilly farmland in the narrow valley works quite well with their farming practices.One of these days I'd really like to drive the whole length of the valley and checkout the town of Millersburg which is the site of,I believe,the oldest operating ferry on the Susquehanna which is still the only way to get from one side of the Susquehhanna between Sunbury and Clarks Ferry.If you ever get an urge to go for a nice Sunday drive through an area of PA that hasn't been commercialized this is a really nice ride,just watch out for the horse and buggies.