Larry Pieplow builds a tractor from scratch 07.18.2007
By DAVID GREEN
The day Larry Pieplow saw the real thing, he was moved to a different state of mind.
After five years and countless hours in his Seneca workshop, he created a half-scale model of the Mogul Junior, an International Harvester tractor that went into production in 1910.
He started with an engine and built everything around it, creating the design merely by looking at a photograph in a book.
But a few weeks ago he headed to the National Threshers Reunion north of Wauseon and saw a metal monster that stunned him.
There was the real thing, the full size Mogul 30-60, an authentic king-size version of Larry’s Mogul Junior.
“I was on high all day long after seeing that thing,” he said.
The owner of the 30-60 told Larry to bring his model next year, and he just might do that.
The Mogul wasn’t Larry’s first home-made tractor, but there was a problem with his earlier model. It seemed to show up everywhere. For his second attempt, he knew he wanted something that nobody else had. The Mogul was a good choice.
“I’ve never seen another home-built model like it,” he said.
Larry grew up on a farm, worked the land with his father, and by necessity, learned how to fix tractors. He also spent most of his adult life working in a machine shop.
All of that experience came through in his workshop, because he had nothing but an old 6-hp engine and a photograph in an International Harvester history book.
Working with a cousin from Swanton, he first estimated the height of the man in the photo and built rear wheels to correspond. Everything else followed, and he has a sheath of drawings to show what it took to design the unit.
“I built everything from scratch,” he said. “There was a lot of paperwork and a lot of trial and error. A lot times something wouldn’t work and I’d have to stop and refigure.
“I’d come home from work, put some wood in the stove, and before you know it it would be 12 or 1 in the morning. A lot of midnight oil.”
After he bought the engine at a gas engine show, Larry figures he’s put about $2,100 into materials. Don’t even try to figure out his time invested.
A work engine
Larry has another Fairbanks Morse engine from around the same age, maybe 1919, that he bought at a business on M-34.
“I remember when I was 15 years old I could have bought one just like it for $5, but I didn’t have the money,” he said.
These days, a restored engine will fetch a thousand dollars. They don’t lose their value, he said.
The one he bought had been connected to a cider press and was frozen up. He freed the piston, cleaned it up and has it mounted on a cart he built—ready to run a saw mill or anything else a tractor might be hooked up to.
“Anything that will get you out of doing manual labor,” he said. “Let the engine do the work.”
The engines start up on gasoline, then can be switched to kerosene, alcohol or anything else that will burn rapidly.
They were good, reliable units, he said, and “so simple you wouldn’t think they could run.” But their weight put them at a disadvantage as new models were developed. The engine, alone, on his Mogul weighs in at half a ton.
“In their day and age, they were right up the line,” he said. “I can imagine how my grandfather must have felt after walking behind a horse all day to see a big tractor drive into the field.”
Larry thinks about creating a good companion piece to the Mogul—a half-scale threshing machine for his tractor to power.
“That would make a real showpiece,” he said.
He also has an old Farmall M in the workshop that he would really like to restore. He’s not saying what he paid for it, but he’s heard they sold new for about $900 in the 1940s.
“I drove that thing to the ends of the Earth,” he said, recalling hours of field work. “It’s funny how you go back to what you had when you were a kid.”
That’s not all he has in the shop.
“I have three more engines, definitely good collector items,” Larry said, and then adds, “A guy collects the darndest things.”
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