Small Trailer Resto

I picked up a small trailer to go with the Wheel Horse last year off of Craigslist for cheap.  After I picked it up, I built a tailgate for it but have used it as is since then. It’s seen better day and I finally got around to fixing it back up.  I’m not sure who originally made the trailer but its got 17 cu ft of volume.

As you can see, it’s got some rust and flaking paint on it. OK, mostly rust.

The trailer must have sat front down for a while and collected wet leaves. This caused the heavy rusting in that area.This view is from the inside and backlit to show the rust holes in the bed.  This is a tipper trailer and the front support for the bed is in this area.  Eventually, it would push through the weakened area. After disassembly, I worked on removing all the old paint and rust.  This was easily the worst part of the resto.  I hate removing paint. Once it was mostly clean, I cut out the rusted area to weld some replacement pieces in.Welding in the replacement panels was tougher than I thought it’d be.  Though I’d removed the area where the rust had eaten completely through, there were still a lot of spots where it had partially eaten the metal.   This resulted in the welder burning though in spots and generally being a pain.  Eventually, I got the replacement pieces welded in.The next step was to start painting it.  First, I laid down a coat of primer.

Next, came the paint.  I figured IH red and black would match the Wheel Horse. I also painted the wheels and put new tires on.  I’m getting faster and changing these annoying small tires.

Yay! Finally done with it.

Here it is in use picking up pine straw. 

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Replacement Prentiss Vise Nut

Recently, a reader commented that he had a Prentiss vise with a broken vise nut.  He asked if I knew of how to find a replacement.  I said recommended a few places but said he’d probably have to have one made.  He replied that he had approached several machine shops but none would accept the job.  This isn’t too surprising given what’s involved in making a replacement.  You would either need to single point cut the thread or buy a tap to make the internal threads.  I decided to offer to make the nut for him and he accepted.

He sent me a picture of his broken vise nut. After a few emails back and forth I realized that my Prentiss vise has the same nut which would make reproducing it much easier.   The original nut is made out of cast iron but the new one will be made out of steel.   Cast iron has better wear properties but the vise won’t be seeing a lot of use so it doesn’t matter in this case.

Here’s a picture of my vise nut to show what I’m trying to make. 

The first step in copying the nut was to determine what thread the vise uses.  After some measurements and research I determined that it’s a truncated 7/8″ diameter 3-1/2 TPI 10 deg modified square thread.   This isn’t something you’re going to be able to find a tap for off the shelf.  You’d have to have one custom made as I’m sure the factory did.

I determined that the easiest approach would be to single point cut the thread.  This required grinding an appropriate tool bit.  Though I could use my vise lead screw to test the fit on the nut, its length would require moving the carriage to the end of the lathe each time.  Instead, I decided to make a shorter plug that also let me test cutting the thread.  As I cut the thread on the plug I tested the fit with my vise nut until I got the fit desired.

Here’s a short video showing part of a pass.

Yay, it fits!

I also tested cutting the internal thread into a piece of aluminum.  Using aluminum meant that the machining would take less time than steel.  I learned a great deal cutting the test piece.  Cutting the internal thread took longer than the thread on the plug because the boring bar I used tended to chatter and flex.  I eventually got it done though.  Now on to the steel.

The first step in making the steel nut was to remove some of the material on the front side.  I could have done it after cutting the thread but having less thread to cut was a big positive.

I started by drilling a hole and boring it to the correct size. 

Cutting this thread was slow for several reasons.  This first is due to my lathe.  The carriage doesn’t immediately stop when the feed is disengaged due to momentum in the gear train.  This requires me to run the RPM slowly (about 90 rpm) so I don’t crash the lathe.   The second is due to tool pressure and boring bar flex which required very light passes of about 0.002″ in steel.  This internal thread has a height of about 0.1″.  That’s a lot of slow passes.

I started cutting the thread but ran into an issue where I couldn’t cut the thread any deeper due to the bar flexing.  Since the thread is almost square, a large side force is generated on the boring bar while cutting which causes it to bend.  At a certain depth I could not longer advance the bit into the work.  To deal with this, I made another tool bit that cut a thread with more of a V shape.  This thread shape created less force on the boring bar allowing me to cut the thread to depth.

Next, I went back to my original tool bit and cut the entire thread again.  Since some of the metal had already been removed there was now less force on the boring bar and I was able to get the thread finished.  Once I was near the final depth, I used my test plug to get my desired loose fit.  I didn’t want to make the fit tight because the plug is based off my vise’s lead screw which may have some wear.

Here’s a view showing the internal thread.

Eventually, I moved the carriage to the end of the lathe and tried the actual lead screw.

Once done on the lathe, it was time to remove the extra material from the nut. (That’s a cool smoke trail from a chip!)

Then some grinding and flap disc work.

Finally, I could test fit the nut in my vise and verify it worked.

After this, I got the the nut into the mail and crossed my fingers that it would fit the commenter’s vise.  I know it should but I was still concerned.  Happily, it did fit!  I’m happy to have helped someone out but can firmly say I have no desire to make another one of these.

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Wheel Horse 417-8 Part 5: PTO, Intake, and Exhaust

It’s time for the final Wheel Horse post!  Well, for a little bit at least.

This garden tractor has a clutched multi-step pulley that is engaged/disengaged with a lever.  The lever pulls on a triangular piece that presses the pulley into the clutch disk via the curved piece.  Here’s a image of the original PTO setup.

The top of the PTO setup uses a bracket which bolted up to some holes in the engine.  As expected, the bracket and the holes on the new engine didn’t match up.  I did some testing and determined that I could modify the old bracket by extending the bottom of it, welding up the holes, drilling new holes, and adding a spacer block.  Here’s the bracket in place after all the modifications to it.

With the bracket finished, I was able to put the rest of the mechanism back together.  After a little adjusting of the lever and way to much adjusting of the brake pad, it works as expected. PTO done.Next, I turned my attention to the intake and exhaust.  The intake required modifying because the plastic shroud contacts the hood and doesn’t allow it to close.The muffler, on the other hand, fits perfectly under the hood when closed.The exit on the exhaust was aligned with one of the headlight holes and would probably work fine this way for a while.  I removed the stock muffler and was able to snake a cable in for the throttle lever.  From HF, the engine has two different places that a throttle cable can be mounted.  There’s also multiple unused bolt holes in the engine.  I used one to hold a clip for the cable. With the intake shroud removed I was able to start thinking about how to make my own intake.  I looked around online and saw that several companies make an adapter piece that allows a round clamp on air filter to be used.

I took some measurements and found a piece of aluminum to make my intake adapter out of.  I started by boring the inside out on my Hendey lathe.

After some more work I took it over to the mill to make the small slots and drill the holes for the studs.  I broke a small drill bit off in one of the holes and had to bore it out with a 3/8″ carbide mill which left it a little oversized.

Now I can mount the adapter to the carb.  I’ve also attached the choke cable to my adapter.  The choke lever moves backwards to the direction I’d prefer which requires running the cable out and then back to the lever.  Next, I drilled a small hole in the lever and put the end of the cable into it.   I also slightly modified the hood to clear the adapter.I ordered a oiled foam filter to use for the intake.  I don’t expect to use my tractor in dusty conditions because we only have sand down here.  Even though the stock muffler fit under the hood, I wanted a different exhaust.  I tried several different things before ending up with this exhaust which works pretty well.  With the muffler removed you can see the exhaust port.The first step was to make an exhaust flange that bolts to the engine’s head.  To do that, it’s back to the Hendey to bore the hole to fit the exhaust adapter.Next, it’s over to the mill to shape it a little more and drill the holes for the studs.  I could have bored the big hole on the mill but it was easier for me on the lathe.  After this pic, I ground the sharp points off on the grinder.Now I can assemble the rest of the exhaust.  After searching for a while I found this muffler meant for a Ford 2N,8N, or 9N.  It seems kinda small for a full size tractor but it was a good size for me. I also bought a 90 deg bend (because I failed at trying to bend my own) and a rain cap as cheap insurance against ruining the engine.  I’ve also attached a bracket on the bottom of the bend to provide additional support for the muffler. 

I found out the hard way that the grey paint on the muffler was in no way heat rated.  After painting it twice with high temp paint, I finally had an exhaust I was happy with.

Finally, I’m done…for the most part.  I will probably add some headlights back in and give it a coat of paint in the future.  But for now I’m happy with it and am able to use it.  Here are a few pictures of the Wheel Horse 417-8 with Predator 420 engine swap.  I also added a little shroud over the intake filter.  It’ll block rain falling straight down but that’s about it.

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Wheel Horse 417-8 Part 4: Electrical

This is going to be a wordy post on the electrical joining of the motor and chassis because there’s only so many pictures of wires I can show you.  I wanted to join the electrical system of the new motor with the safety switches and dashboard of the tractor.  The motor needs its electrical system to run and has a low oil switch to shut the motor off if the oil level drops below a certain level.  The tractor has switches on the the seat, PTO, and clutch pedal which control how it can start and run and a voltmeter and hour meter on the dash which I’d like to keep.  Additionally, the tractor also has lights which I plan to change over to LEDs at some point in the future.

The Predator and Kohler motors use different approaches when it comes to ignition.  The Kohler I removed uses the battery to charge a capacitor which discharges through a coil to generate the spark.  Turning the key off cuts the 12V power, stopping the spark, and shuting off the motor.  The Predator has a magneto that generates an electrical pulse that goes to the coil automatically when the flywheel turns.  To shut this engine off, the coil is grounded stopping the spark.

After thinking about it for a while, I finally came up with a way of joining the electrical systems which gave me most of what I wanted.  Originally, the tractor would not start with the PTO engaged but I wasn’t able to replicate that function.  It also wouldn’t continue to run if you got off the seat with the PTO engaged which could be good or bad.

Below is an electrical diagram of a Honda GX390 which the Predator is a clone of.  The blue boxes show the areas where I added circuitry for the voltmeter and hour meter.  The red box shows the safety switches.

To power the gauges I needed 12V DC when then the motor is running only.  I could get this power by connecting the gauges to the battery with a switch but I didn’t want to have to remember to throw the switch each time.  Instead, I decided to use a relay that is powered off the motor’s charging coil.  When the motor is generating electricity, the relay closes allowing the volt meter and hour meter to receive power.  I also needed to filter this power to make the gauges work correctly.  More on this below.

When the key is in the start position battery power is sent to the starter solenoid via the ignition switch (called engine switch in the diagram).  I put my safety switches in this path.  The result is that the clutch pedal must be depressed and either the seat switch closed or PTO off.  This does allow the engine to start with the PTO on but I wasn’t able to figure out a way to avoid this.  Instead, I’ll just pay attention.

Here’s a picture of the ignition switch and circuit breaker in the original box that came with the motor.  Though unseen, it also holds the engine’s original rectifier.  I removed all of this for reuse.Fitting the ignition switch in the dash required enlarging the old switche’s hole.After that I was able to able to fit the ignition switch, voltmeter, and new hour meter into the dash panel.  The large piece of heat shrink tubing contains the filtering capacitors for the gauges.  Here it is all in place.  Looks like it was made that way.  I put the light switch back in and ran the wiring for the future lights. The original headlights are incandescents and with some quick math I was able to determine their current draw.  The old motor’s charging coil was sized to run the lights and charge the battery at the same time.  My new motor doesn’t put out as much current and running the original lights would drain the battery  with the tractor running.  To reduce the current draw and provide better lighting I plan to find some LED lights.I picked up a small electrical box to house all the electrical bits and mounted it between the motor and firewall.  In the top right of the picture you can see the old starter solenoid which was later removed.  I have a lid for the box which should keep things dry.I mentioned needing to filter the power going to the gauges.  The following picture shows why.  On the left is the power before filtering.  As you can see, the voltage switches between 13V and 0 volts because due to the rectification.  I put a capacitor across the wires going to the gauges to give me constant voltage as shown in the right side of the picture.  The capacitor acts like a small power tank which fills when the voltage is high and releases power when the voltage is low.  In this was, constant voltage is supplied.

With the electrical taken care of I can now turn my attention to getting the throttle and choke hooked up, and fitting the hood back on.  That’ll be in the next post.


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Wheel Horse 417-8 Part 3: Starting Motor Replacement

After looking into the cost to rebuild the motor on my Wheel Horse 417-8, I decided to start looking for a new motor to replace the old one.  I settled on a Predator 420 single cylinder engine from Harbor Freight.  Predator is Harbor Freight’s home brand name for small engines, but it’s simply another Honda clone made in China.  The motors have a reputation for being reliable and cheap which fits both my requirements.  This is the hemi version of this motor and is rated at 13 hp and about 20 ft*lb tq.  Other bands rate this motor at 15 hp.  So, mine may have a little more power than stated.  The motor also comes with keyed electric start which I also wanted.  One small issue is the PRO shaft on the new motor is 1″ diameter while the old motor’s is 1-1/8″

To locate the new motor, I have to make sure that the PTO shaft is in the same position as the old one.  The pulley that powers the tractor as well as the front PTO clutch sit on the shaft.  To find where the PTO shaft needs to go I first had to put the old motor back in and measure the PTO shaft’s location in all three dimensions.  I ended up clamping a carpenter’s square onto the frame and, using another square, measured the location from the front corner of the frame.


Next, I removed the old motor again and put the new one in place.  Here’s a pic of the new motor fresh from the box. It’s bigger than the old one but I plan to working to make it fit under the hood.


To locate the new motor. I moved it around until the PTO shaft was in the right location along the length of the tractor.  I also measured the height to the PTO shaft and found that it was 1″ lower than needed.  Finally, I put the drive pulley and clutch disk loosely onto the shaft and nudged the motor into position out from the middle of the tractor.  The old motor sat on a 1/4″ thick plate that I planned to reuse meaning I need to make some 3/4″ spacers to raise the engine.


To address the difference in PTO shaft size, I decided to make as spacer out of some 1-1/4″ bar stock.  First I drilled out the center and bored it to size.


Here’s a pic of me testing the fit of the spacer on the shaft and inside the PTO clutch disk.


Once I knew it fit, I used to the mill to cut the keyway slot.  Only the drive pulley is keyed so I didn’t need to mill along the entire length of the spacer.  Then it was back to the lathe to trim off the excess.


The spacer also required a 1/16″ taller key.  I machined one out of some 3/8″ key stock and fit it to the PTO shaft.  Below is a pic showing the test fit with the spacer on backwards before trimming down the key.


Making the spacers was simple enough on the lathe.  I used some 1″ aluminum bar that I drilled out to a little over 3/8″ and parted off quickly.


I bolted the plate down with the new spacers and re-positioned the motor as before.  I then used some paint on the end of a short bolt to mark spots to drill holes for the bolts that will hold the motor to the plate.


After that, I put the drive pulley and belt back on and was able to take a test drive by pull starting the motor.  I drove around some and the motor performed as expected.   It seems about the same as the old motor except for the exhaust note.


Here’s a view of the other side showing the drive belt.  Obviously, a few panels were off for my test drive.


Well, now that it runs again I think we can call it done!  Nah, of course I’m not done yet.  Next, I’ll be merging the electrical system of the tractor and new motor together.  I want to have all the dash controls on the tractor working again and the hood back on as well.

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Wheel Horse 417-8 Part 2: Motor Inspection

I finally got around to taking a closer look at the Kohler KT-17 on my garden tractor.  As mentioned in my previous post, it smokes a lot while running which means oil is getting sucked into the combustion chamber and burned.  Combustion products are also getting mixed in the oil which isn’t good.

I pulled the tractor into the garage and started removing stuff to get to the motor.  This gave me a good change to take some pictures of it.



The picture below shows the pulley for the front PTO.  It is engaged by moving a lever which pushes the pulley into the clutch plate.  When it is disengaged it pushes against a brake pad which keeps it from moving.WH12

I found it best to remove all the shrouds before lifting the engine.  After that I disconnected all the wires and removed the four bolts holding it down.  Finally, I used the engine crane to lift the motor as it weighs about 130 lbs according to the service manual.WH13

I decided I wanted to be 100% sure that I was getting leakage by the pistons.  I realized I could turn my end-of-hose pressure tester into a leak down tester by putting an orifice before the gauge.  I was able to convert it by turning a plug with a 0.04″ hole in it and pressing it into the male quick connect adapter.  Using another adapter, I screwed the tester into the spark plug hole, brought the piston to top dead center, and let the air flow.  I set my tank’s regulator to 30 psi but there was so much leakage my tester read 10 psi.  Typically you want leakage less than 10%…I have 66%!  I checked the other cylinder with similar results.  I could have also done this test with the engine still on the tractor but didn’t think of it.

A leak down test can also tell you where the leakage is occurring.  Baring a crack, there’s only three ways out of a cylinder: the intake valve, the exhaust valve, or by the piston into the crank case.  I was able to feel air rushing out of the breather and dip stick tubes.  Normally, you’d put your ear near the carb/throttle body, exhaust pipe, or oil cap to try to hear the leak.


Getting to the pistons is pretty simple on these engines.  All you have to do is remove the nine bolts that hold the head on.


With the head off you can see the piston top and the valves.  The carbon build up on the valves is due to burning oil.


I touched the piston and found that it rocked which is a bad sign.  The two following pics show the rock caused by pressing on the top and then the bottom of the piston.  Rock is caused by a large gap between the piston and cylinder wall.


I moved the piston back down the bore and measured it with an inside micrometer.  According to the service manual, the bore is 3.125″ when new.  It has a max wear value of 3.128″.  I measured cylinder #1 at 3.137 and cylinder #2 at 3.136.  That’s 0.012″ and 0.011″ of wear in cylinders #1 and #2 respectively.


Unfortunately, this much wear means I’d need to rebuild the motor to get it running well again.  At a minimum I’d need two new pistons kits, the bores machined, and required gaskets.  I looked around online and found that a single piston kit which contains a piston, wrist pin, and rings was $150.  I’d need two of course.  I’m guessing this would put me around the $450 mark assuming I don’t run into any other problems which I probably would.  I’m not going to spend that much on this motor and am planning to find another motor for the garden tractor.

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Wheel Horse 417-8

About a year ago I picked up a non-running Wheel Horse 417-8 garden tractor off of Craigslist for cheap.  A garden tractor is larger than your average riding mower but smaller than a sub compact tractor.  Garden tractors have PTOs, are able to pull trailers, and use implements such as spreaders, blades, plows, disks, etc.

Here’s the one I picked up.  It has an 8 speed transmission, front PTO, and rear (small) three point hitch.  It didn’t come with any implements though.

It is powered by a Kohler KT-17.  This is a 2 cylinder horizontally opposed motor that originally was rated at 17 hp.  The intake and exhaust valves are in the block unlike motors sold today which makes is fairly compact.  This style of engine was outlawed by the EPA at some point in the past though.Here’s a pic of the tractors dash.  It contains an hour meter and volt meter.  Both worked after replacing the fuse for them.  Supposedly, there is only about 420 hours on this motor but who knows.  I started working on the tractor and tried to turn the motor over by hand after removing the spark plugs.  Unfortunately, it was solidly stuck and wouldn’t move.  I squirted some oil into the spark plug holes and let it sit for a few days.  I then tried to rotate the engine again by hand with the fly wheel.  After a few more days I was able to get the engine to turn over and it shot all the oil back out of the cylinders.  It made mess but the engine smoothly spun over.

Once the engine was free, I changed the oil, picked up a battery for it, replaced the transmission oil, some other stuff I forgot, and attempted to start it.  With the help of some starting fluid the motor cranked and ran roughly.  I looked into rebuilding the carb and found that it was cheaper to order one of the replacement Chinese carbs.  I replaced it and found the motor ran much better.  It also smoked a fair amount of of the tail pipe.  I figured this might be stuck rings or oil still in the cylinders or exhaust from my trying to break the motor free.  Since the motor ran, I was able to putt around the yard doing a pretty good impression of a steam locomotive.

Next up was tires.  The old tires were dry rotted and leaked down pretty quickly.  So it was off to the internet to find some new tires.  I changed the tires at home, which was a major pain in the butt, and was almost completely successful.  One of the rear tires wouldn’t seat but I was able to get it fixed at a local tire place.  The new tires look much better than the cracked old ones.

At this point the tractor was usable and I was able to drive it around.  The tractor worked well and operated as expected with the exception of the smoking out the tail pipe.  After putting some more hours on it nothing changed.  Oil consumption remained high and one time while checking the oil with the engine running I noticed a good bit of air coming out of the oil fill hole and dip stick tube.  The pic below shows it puffing oil but doesn’t really show how bad it was.  After driving around for a little bit there would be a visible cloud hanging around.

Here’s a short video showing it running.  At least it sounds good!

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