It has been a frustrating and challenging few days working on the tractor, but some good lessons have been learned. We had parked Babe on the level area where the garage was going to be built to work on the bolt extractions when all of a sudden, she would not start, not even crank over. When we tried the starter we only heard a “clunk”, no rotation of the engine at all. The garage project was to be started the next day so we had to find out what was going on.
First, I cleaned the battery terminals and the ground connection which incidentally is right in front of the battery just behind the bumper, more on this later.
Then we tested the battery. The voltmeter read 12.3 volts before engaging the starter and dropped down to 8 while trying to start. So, we tried to jump it with the truck but had no luck; we heard the same clunk sound but no cranking of the engine. A bad cell in the battery maybe? I called a local (18 miles away) auto parts store to see if the they had a battery of this size which they did but it was Sunday and they close at 2 pm., we need to hurry! We returned with a fresh battery and installed it in a cold rain because we had to get the tractor out of the way before the next morning. Despite the new battery, we got the same results, one clunk and one clunk only. This reminded me of Sean Connery in the Hunt for Red October saying “Give me a ping, Vasili. One ping only, please.” Since replacing the battery didn’t remedy the situation we ended up towing the tractor out of the way using the truck.
The next day we spent troubleshooting why the starter would not crank the engine. First, we did a voltage drop test of the battery cable to the starter when trying to start. The drop was excessive and left too little power for the high demands of the starter. The cable was old and very stiff so I thought it could it be corroded internally which may cause the drop in voltage. This was easy enough to fix, just another trip to the auto parts store for a six-foot battery cable. We returned with a new cable, installed it and still just one clunk.
Ok, so we knew we had a good battery and a good cable.
Next, we decided to test the starter by jumping the solenoid with a screwdriver. I took a large, wooden handled screwdriver and made a connection from the where the battery was connected to the solenoid to the starter. It spooled up (sort of), but since we bypassed the solenoid it didn’t engage with the flywheel. Next I tested the key start circuit by jumping between the positive terminal on the solenoid to the small terminal that runs to the key; same result. I heard just one clunk which meant the start circuit was not the problem. By the way, before doing that last test I needed to make certain the tractor was in neutral because that test would bypass all the safety features of the tractor and if it started in gear it could have run me over! But it didn’t start and I didn’t get run over….so there’s that.
Since the nearest available replacement starter was in Rapid I decided to call and speak with a technician about our situation and what we had done so far before removing the old starter and driving the 3-hour round trip for a new one. So, I called and spoke at length with Tom about the issue and what we had replaced and the troubleshooting that was done so far. Tom felt pretty confident that the starter was bad and said he could have an OEM starter by 10AM the next day, so I ordered it.
Again, Rapid is a 3-hour round trip so we usually try to get as much done in town as possible when we go. We mapped up and picked up the starter, got some electrical supplies at Harbor Freight, had lunch, got a haircut at the base barber shop, and got groceries at the commissary before heading back to the Holler. It was a long day and we arrived back home too late to replace the starter.
The next day we removed the old starter and installed the new on.
Other than being a little on the chilly side and a few skinned fingers and knuckles, the removal and replacement went well. Now, will Babe start?! Nope, just one clunk, same as before. You can imagine our frustration. We took another cold-rain delay and decided to call it a day and regroup, reattack tomorrow.
That night I was standing at the kitchen sink and thought of something. We have a new battery, new starter, and a new positive cable. That really leaves the ground connection. That’s when it donned on me. As I mentioned before the battery ground connection was connected right in front of the battery with a hex bolt that held the battery support bracket. That support is sitting on top of a larger piece of metal that forms a cradle for the loader mount to attach to the frame of the tractor. When we were trying to gain access to the sheered bolts, we disconnected a crossbar underneath the loader mounting hardware, which allowed us to rotate the mount up and out of our way. By disconnecting that crossbar, we inadvertently disrupted the ground connection to the battery.
The next day, I set out on yet another trip to the auto store. I needed to move the ground cable to the engine block, it should have never been to the loader mount assembly. I returned with another 6-foot cable with a 90* connector and installed it to one of the starter mounting bolts.
Ok, moment of truth. Will Babe start? Jen hit the starter and the new starter spooled up but would not engage the flywheel, what the heck?! Could it be the new starter was not the correct one? I called Tom and he cross-referenced the starter and confirmed it was the correct one, or at least it should be. Now what? We decided to pull the new starter and reinstall the old one thinking the poor ground connection was the problem all along. We got pretty good at this and had the old starter back in place is less than 30 minutes. Again, will Babe start? Key in the ignition, clutch in, gear in neutral, hit it! The starter engaged and shortly Babe roared to life with that wonderful sound of a diesel engine!
Now back to those dang bolts!