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Starting the Old John Deere Tractor with Flywheel

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

By Dick Perue

Cousin Leo had an e-mail recently about cranking vehicles and it got me thinking about starting engines without batteries, by hand, as we used to say.

If memory serves me right, out on the Pick Ranch, we had this model “A” tractor – about a 1941 – with a manual start.

The crank or starting device was a large flywheel on the left side with finger indents inside around the wheel.

Now to start – not a job for a weak person. The flywheel required quite a bit of strength to turn and in extremely cold weather it was even more difficult and could be exhausting.

            First, disengage the clutch. If on an incline, lock the brakes, set the throttle about one-third open, pull the choke to full and open both cylinder petcocks. Now, firmly grasp the flywheel, left hand at 12 o’clock, right hand at three o’clock. With all your might, spin the flywheel counterclockwise. 

Very seldom does it start on the first spin, but if it does, run around and put the choke to halfway and shut the petcocks. When the engine is puttering – as well as a two-cylinder engine does – put the choke to off and you’re ready to start work.

Usually, the first spin is just practice and may be the first of many. So, you repeat and repeat, but be careful because you and the choke must work together and be in tune with each other. The choke’s purpose is to alter the air/fuel ratio and leaving it on too much may get excess fuel in the cylinders leading to a dreaded flooded condition. 

Watch the petcock emission to see if drops of liquid are in the usual misty stuff coming out of the cylinder. If so, go around and push the choke to the off position before commencing to spin the flywheel.

Each person I observed starting this tractor before I was strong enough to spin the flywheel had a different method to deal with it when it turned defiant and wouldn’t start.

A ranch hand who worked for my dad many years and wasn’t very tall had a hard time getting in a good, fast spin and he had the most problems. His approach to a reluctant engine was to call the tractor very vile names, and I’ll admit to learning some good swear words at an early age when this happened. He would then get my dad or someone else to help him.

My uncle’s approach was much more sedate and calculated. He would stop after several spins and roll a Bull Durham cigarette to smoke. Also, a couple of times I saw him pull a drastic action. In extremely cold weather, he had a metal five-gallon bucket filled with sand and would pour gas in there and use this to warm us up. At times, he would put the portable heater under the tractor engine to warm the lubrication and make it easier to spin.

For some reason, which I could never figure out, my dad didn’t seem to have much trouble starting the tractor. I once was spinning the damned thing for a couple hours and was sweating and wore out when he drove up and in two spins had the “popping Johnnie” putting.

We had other tractors over the years, but this is the one best remembered. I also cranked several autos to start, but none were as memorable as this old John Deere tractor. Like many memories, it’s fun to think about but I wouldn’t want to repeat the work.

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