Power by Henry, Power Train by Cyrus

Saturday, May 21, 2011, 3:30 in the afternoon and 93 degrees.  The day had finally come.  My heart was pounding as I mounted my newest steed and headed to the track.  650 Ford horsepower joined to a 1947 Farmall M that originally sported less than 40 horsepower.  Would it hold together?  Could I keep it on the track?  Something was bound to go wrong…
It had been over two years since I first made the decision to build a V8 pulling tractor.  My plan began when, through some odd circumstances, I came into possession of a nice little stock car and two really hot racing engines.  Actually, it was most of three cars, two engines, an enclosed air conditioned hauler, lots and lots of spare parts, tools and you name it.  Let’s just say I was living a shade tree mechanics dream. 

With it came all the paperwork on the engines, including the builder specifications and the original price tag.  These were some very expensive engines and based on cost alone, surely these would be great in a nice little puller.

From the beginning, I knew I wanted a McCormick Farmall M, and I wanted to keep it as original as possible.  The Bainter Family is a huge fan of International Harvester.  Between us, we have 10 acres and eight IH tractors.  Two more (one per acre) and I figure it is just about right.  I’ve spent a lot of time reading about the history of Cyrus McCormick, founder of the International Harvester Corporation and am ever intrigued that the company was built on a horse drawn thrasher back in the 1800’s. 

Anyway, it would probably be a little bit of a disadvantage to have a mostly original M on the track against the frame built tractors, but then again, tractor pulling for me is as much about celebrating history as it is about winning (that would be my first fib…it only took 4 paragraphs).  Additionally, I could find one pretty reasonably and with engine already in hand, I’d be able to build this thing up without spending a lot of money.  It was going to be a blast and I’d do it for next to nothing!

Yea, yea, I know what you are thinking already.  And of course, you would be right, but let’s not ruin a good story, at least not yet.  Let’s just say that, as is the case with most of my projects, there is what I think when I start, and pretty much every time for about 40 of the last 51years, there is something completely different when I get done.  But I’ll say this for myself, I rarely give up, damn it!  (Linda would call that one of my weaknesses.)

So, first things first, or so I thought.  I started looking for an M.  Just the basics, didn’t really matter if it ran or not but need some decent sheet metal and of course the drivetrain has to be good. Lots of M’s available, anywhere from $2500-$3500 depending on the condition.  That’s within the budget of the original plan.  But most are out in the mid-west and a quick MapQuest calculation and even at 2009 gas prices at about $2.35 it’s going to cost another $1000-$1500 just to go pick it up.  Hmmm, that wasn’t in the budget.  Dang.

I’ve always been pretty patient so I decide to just keep looking and not get in a rush.  Patience paid off (I call that one of my strengths).  We run across what seemed like the perfect M, sheet metal awesome, great shape, it even runs!!! - $2500 bucks and they will deliver.  JACKPOT!  I’m going to save a few hundred bucks on the budget right up front! That’s money for instrument upgrades, a bit more aluminum, and some other goodies.  I’ve got it spent and haven’t even seen the tractor yet.

Disappointment ensues with the first inspection.  Axel housing has been broken completely through and welded back.  Don’t think that’s going to hold up for this screaming V8 that I’ve got waiting in the barn.  Double dang. 

The search continues and my friend, George Rhodes finds another M not far away.  Great shape, everything we need, it’s even already been converted to steel hubs with 18.4’s on it, that’s going to save some money for sure.  Everything checks out and by December of 2009, we’ve got our tractor. 

With that part settled our spirits are again high and we begin, with renewed enthusiasm, the process of going over this very expensive, very hot little V8.  Now, one might have thought we would have done that months ago, but you know how these things go.  Further inspection and, well, maybe this isn’t going to work as well as we thought.  In fact, it’s not going to work at all.

Did I really say I thought I was going to get into this thing for not much money?  I mean, after all, I am over half a DECADE old now and you would think I would at least have a clue how these things work.  And this IS tractor pulling….

A couple weeks of pondering and I’ve got a new plan.  (There’s this really great country song by Tim McGraw and it has a line in it, “if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plan.”  I figure I must be God’s greatest entertainment because I am constantly coming up with these plans only to have them thwarted over and over again.  I’ve always had this vision of God looking down at me, belly laughing.  I guess there could be worse things….)

Anyway, the new plan means we are going to need more resources (did I mention this is tractor pulling?)  I’ll sell all the really cool race car stuff and that will give me some more money to get this project done.  I think of it as a zero sum, you know, I’m really not out anything.  Keep telling yourself that, Pat…

For the next several months, I research engines.  Sizes, makes, builders and so on.  The original engine was a Chevy and that was good because pretty much every kit for converting an M to a V8 is built for a Chevy.  Also, now that we are looking for a new engine, the Chevy’s are just cheaper and parts are much more readily available.  We figure we need a minimum of 500 horsepower and about the same torque and I find several that will work just fine.  Not cheap, but then again, this is tractor pulling. 

Now, by this point, something is sticking in my crawl.  That’s a bad sign, because when you start applying principles, that generally comes with a cost. 

I’ve always been a Ford fan.  Actually, I’ve always been a HUGE Ford fan.  I was a Cal Yarborough fan back in the day particularly remembering him driving the number 21 Wood Brothers Mercury.  But worse, there was this whole General Motors bailout thing.  I had followed it very closely and, candidly, I thought it was nothing short of un-American.  It was a reward for bad behavior.  Basically the unions had held General Motors hostage, dramatically increasing cost of production while quality had diminished and successfully managed to destroy an American icon.  And we were going to basically reward that with a hundreds of billions in bailout money?  With the tax dollars that I am paying?  Really? It was making my blood boil.

I worked for weeks trying to figure out the difference between the cost of buying and installing a Chevy versus a Ford.  Even in my rudimentary calculations (which we all know are going to be woefully off), it was going to be thousands difference….many thousands difference.  I struggled over this for weeks….kind of.  Actually, in retrospect, I really didn’t struggle, I just had to go through the intellectual exercise of working this out.  From the moment I knew the original engine wouldn’t work, I was working day and night to figure out how to put a Ford into this thing.  It intrigued me to have something different from what everybody else would have and there was product loyalty.  But ultimately, it was the principle of the matter.  Ford didn’t take bailout money.  This would be my little political statement.

Actually, it wasn’t such a LITTLE political statement.  It was a very, very expensive political statement.  It ended up taking months of trial and error and some incredibly precise machine work to ultimately make it work.  My hat’s off to George Rhodes for his persistence and craftsmanship in getting this thing done.  Of course, America should be thanking me too because I feel like I was personally, single handedly stimulating the economy!  I’m still waiting on the thank you note from Barack Obama….

Over the next several months, I learned about a lot of things.  From chromoly tubing to TIG welding, the difference between IH red paint to Farmall red paint, steel versus ceramic and so on.  We sweat the details and as much as anything, sweat the weight. 

V8 classes in Florida are 4500 pounds and 5500 pounds.  Not being a small guy, we’ve got to bring this thing in at 4300 pounds, if I go on a diet.  And even then, that would mean we have no flexibility to move weights around for balance.  That meant more cutting, more trimming, more aluminum…more money…but this is tractor pulling.

We’re close, really close.  For the last couple months, I’ve checked every bolt, every connection, every adjustment, over and over again.  My dad, Stan Bainter, did all the paint and body work to absolute perfection.  I’ve cleaned and polished it until it about needs to be painted again. The last thing I’ve got to do is cut the tires.  It’s a big job, a messy job, but critical to a good pull. 

I have no idea why, but a few weeks before what would be our first pull, I was reading through the rules on the FLPULLERS.com website.  I stumble across a rule that for some reason I simply had never seen.  The rules specify that V8 tractors have to have 18.4 x 38 tires.  Huh??? How did I miss that one?  Remember those steel wheels that were going to save us so much money? 18.4 x 34.  Crap.

I scramble around and find a set of 18.4 x 38 tires and wheels and “borrow” them.  I get them home, put them on the tractor and find out the offsets are too wide and it won’t fit on the trailer.  So what am I supposed to do now, buy a new trailer?  This wasn’t in the plan (That’s God laughing again.) 

We put the 34’s back on and load up.  We are going pulling.  I dare somebody to say something about it.

I’m the last puller in the first V8 class.  93 degrees and dusty, really dusty.  I tighten the chain and await the green flag.  There is so much that can go wrong.  What gear do I go in?  Will I get off the line without stalling it?  Is the weight placed right?  Is it going to break?

I get off the line fine, and start to advance the throttle.  Oh my gosh.  We’ve got power.  Lots and lots of power.  Seemingly limitless power.  We don’t have much grip (remember, no cut tires) but we’ve got plenty of power.  I almost immediately hit the chip, and back off a little.  The weight is all wrong with the nose straight up in the air, but we are headed straight down the track so I stay in the power.  “Cyrus” comes to a smooth stop, dropping the nose without bouncing.  It was a great first pull.  Nothing broke.

160 feet.  160 glorious feet.  More than half a football field.  It’s awesome!  I’m last, but it’s awesome.

Immediately, I start calculating in my head.  $10 a foot?  $100 a foot?  Whatever, it was worth every single penny.  After all, this is tractor pulling.

Just do me one favor.  Don’t tell Linda.

Video - Pat Bainter on Cyrus, first pull

View Pictures from the pull

See current points and detailed results