That Cold Blooded TD 9
My dad was a drylamd farmer in the highlands of Southeast Idaho(dryland farming depends strictly on the moisture Mother Nature provides—no additional irrigation). He had two International crawler tractors in his farming operation, a TD 9 and a TD 14. The TD 9 gets the honor of being the subject of this blog post; that miserable cantankerous, difficult to start, prima donna TD 9. People familiar with diesel powered tractors in the days prior to 1960 will remember these tractors were not direct start as they are today. I’m not familiar with diesel powered trucks of the era of the 1940s and ‘50s so I don’t know if they were direct start, or if they, too, required additional assistance. I think I remember them being equipped with air powered starters, and it may be that those starters had enough power to start a diesel engine direct. But I digress, back to the TD 9.
Since diesels rely on compression instead of spark to ignite the fuel, it was necessary to heat the cylinders on these tractor engines in order for the ignition process to take place. Caterpillar used a gasoline powered pony engine to turn over the larger diesel engine, heating the cylinders until it was warm enough to start. International used a gasoline cycle on the regular engine for this warming process. This gasoline cycle operated like an ordinary gasoline engine. When the operator had determined it was warm enough to run on diesel, he flipped it over to the diesel cycle, and it was up and running. It was the gasoline cycle on the TD 9 that earned it the reputation of a prima donna among tractors when it came time for the start up.
When temperatures dropped below 40 degrees—which was often in the valley north of Soda Springs, Idaho during spring and fall—these TD 9’s would not start; not even with full choke. As a matter of fact, giving this engine choke only exacerbated the problem by flooding it. It’s bigger brother, the TD 14, would start after two or three revolutions. Even when the batteries were low, and hand cranking was necessary, two or three good flips of a hand crank would start this guy, but not that TD9. Many of the mechanics said it was a TD 9 design problem; something to do with the intake manifold.
This was in the days before aerosol ether cans, so ether assist was not an option. After the battery power had been exhausted (which was a regular occurrence) there was nothing to do but hook one of the other tractors to this cold-blooded little beast, and pull it around the yard until it started. Once it was running on gasoline, there was no problem getting it to run on diesel. It was a pretty good little workhorse, but it was a given, that an extra half-hour was needed on cold mornings to get it running for the day’s work.
Dad finally traded the “nine,” as we referred to it, for an Allis-Chalmers HD5 crawler. We dubbed her Little Allis. She was equipped with a Detroit (Jimmy) direct start two-cylinder, two-cycle, diesel engine. It had an ether assist for cold starting. Instead of using aerosol cans, however, there was a bowl on the side of the engine where we poured a little raw ether. The tractor was equipped with a compression release lever. We would roll the engine over with the starter, sucking this ether into the cylinders, push in the compression lever, which locked the compression, and it would start right up.
This HD 5 was a decent little tractor, but I had a hard time getting used to that screaming two-cycle sound. Even though it didn’t run at any higher rpm than its four- cylinder, four-cycle counterpart, it sounded as though it were running twice as fast, because it fired twice as often. I credit that screaming two-cycle engine for my need of hearing aids today. It didn’t have the lug capacity of the four-cycle TD 9, either. Once the rpms started dropping off, you’d better shift down to a lower gear, or she would fade and die rather quickly.
And while I’m on the subject of cold spring and fall days, I’ll bet many a farmer can remember the old side curtains. Cabs with heat and air conditioning were far into the future from those days; something only to be wished for. On cold days, we used side curtains fashioned from canvas hung along each side of the hood and back to the fuel tank. This encased the operator’s seat in a cozy little cocoon with the engine fan blowing warm air back to us. In the summer, we relied on an umbrella and our bare chests to keep us cool. Again, I have to say, ah…the times, how they do change.
To read more about these “old days” click on the free download button in upper right of my homepage to get your free copy of the prologue and first three adventures of my book, Buddy…His Trials and Treasures that contains more adventures of a young boy growing up in rural America during the 1940s.