Modern art

[A guest post from Matt.]

So for thems that don’t know, Art Lawn, our tractor, has spent the summer logging and made us approximately $1000 before expenses. Unfortunately this means that his two 6 volt batteries are pretty much shot. A new 6 volt battery at our local auto parts store would cost about $100 each. We only really need one, but it’s nice to have the other charged and ready to go since his charging system has gone the way of the dodo. (Ya ever have the battery die in the middle of plowing the drive way and have to wait 6 hours for it to recharge?) I decided to look into converting him to the more modern 12 volt that most every vehicle these days now use (some are running 24 volt but they are huge and scarce). So short story long he is now “modern Art Lawn.”

The first stop on this journey is EVERYONE told me to convert him to 12 volt the day we brought him home. But I am stubborn (not to mention cheap) and wanted to leave him 6v for collector value or some horse crap that don’t make sense now. Also, the 12v coil for a ford 9n is around $180. This is because the coil on this tractor mounts on top of the distributor and covers the gap between cap points and the front bit of the cam shaft as well as making the connection between resistor and cap. In other words I can’t just go to my usual pile of spare parts throw literally any 12v coil from any model of Ford car/truck and make it work. (On the later years of the 8n and some of the 2n Fords this will work). Also the “factory” conversion kit cost around $200 as well and came with all the bells and whistles to convert to 12v, except it still needs the coil . . . That’s $380 to make a tractor that cost $300 and some whiskey to run just a little better.  The battery charger was $20, thank you very much.

Enter winter, as youse regular readers know, we lose power often around here, usually with a foot of snow on the ground at night . . . in fog . . . with drunk maniacs on ATVs. Not to mention the maniac on a 70 year old tractor doing donuts in the middle of the road. (Me.) Somewhere in here I realized that head lights would be awesome, but no one makes 6v lights any more except for the “custom restoration” market, which equals big money. Plus the battery would only last a little while anyway. Then this summer we went a-logging big time. You ever carry a 60 pound hard-to-hang-on-to spilling-sulfuric-acid-everywhere hunk of crap across stumps, loose branches, mud, and fuq all knows what else for about 100 yards? Hell, it ain’t easy on flat land. You get the idea why having a working charging system is so nice?

Through my various adventures and asking too many damned questions for my own good, I came across a parts guy who didn’t have his head up his ass and asked this guru of repair if he heard of such a thing that could change 12v to 6v without costing an arm and a leg. Enter the inline reducer. I don’t know how it works but it does and that is all that matters, plus it only cost about $10. Sign me up. Now I know what needs to be done. So commence the gathering of bits and odd scrap.

  1. Alternator, single wire Chevy model. (You can use the ford version but wiring is more difficult) $57.
  2. voltage reducer. (Try Napa. They always seem to have at least one guy who breathes O2) $10.
  3. 12v battery. (Shop around. It don’t need to be nearly as big as the old 6v beast) $37.

Total cost $104

My battery was reconditioned from a local battery supply place, Pacific Power). These guys are great for anything that takes batteries from cell phones to golf carts. Everything else was purchased new from our local Napa. (I used a dead Datsun alternator for core charge.)


“New” battery.

Now for the install. First, REMOVE OLD DEAD BATTERY. It’s junk now, but you do not want to hook it to a 12v anything – it will explode. Remove the old dead generator. All it’s been doing these days is keeping tension on the belt so the water pump keeps spinning and doing its job. Track your wiring. (this part can be very difficult) You need one wire to go to the battery and one that goes from ignition key to the old coil – every thing else at this point is unnecessary. I suggest using a multi-meter to help with wiring. I personally got lucky (kinda?) and some time in the past someone somewhere tried to rewire Art and caught him on fire, so the only two wires that worked are for the coil and one to the generator. (Should have been three???). All I had to do to rewire was cut out the stock voltage regulator add an end that fit onto the battery cable and install the voltage reducer between the ignition switch and coil. In total I cut two wires and just removed hand full of others that are no longer working anyway. The trick with the reducer is to mount it to some sort of sheet metal to act as a heat sink and mount it as close to the power source (battery) as possible. In our case this was right on the dash, so now I have a shiny spot on the dash that looks like some groovy boost button or whatever . . . 


Time warp button.

One thing to remember with this conversion is that the starter is meant for 6v so it will spin very fast, and it will get hot and burn up if over-used, so if’n it don’t start after 20 seconds fix whatever is wrong and start over because starters are spendy. Lucky for us it spins faster than the tractor idles so the biggest problem is spark and fuel, though both are rare problems with these old tractors (unless you run it out of fuel or flood it, but flooding is seldom when the starter is going so fast).

Sometimes I wonder if I make things sound too easy . . . here are some of my problems. To start with, I should never be let near wiring with any kind of cutting tool. I am mildly color blind (not full red green but more along the line of like colors sorta merging together). Now top this off with the fact that most of Art’s wiring has been on fire and then spray painted gray, blue, red, and grown over with moss. And then scrape the soot, moss, and paint off and – you guessed it – all the wires are the same color (I think), hence the multi meter, though it doesn’t always work. The old voltage regulator had three wires coming out of it two yellow? One black? Then there is a bus bar kinda deal on the back of the dash with six wires poking out of it all yellow all connected? Hum . . . Both ignition wires lead to this bus bar . . . Both yellow wires, but the coil wire is red right, man this shit don’t make any damn sense! So a little patience on my part and the use of my multi-meter, and now I know where each wire I need goes and kinda even why. The black wire to the old regulator is the only wire left that runs to the generator/alternator. Sweet. Cut that and mount to positive battery cable. The bus bar is supposed to be a fuse block (fire does wonders) so the ignition controls light and every thing – ah hah! Well, it’s useless now, so bypass that and run the ignition straight to the coil via the reducer and ITS ALIVE!!!


Not a permanent mount. There will be a bracket eventually.

Now we got to mount the alternator. Turns out the way the new mount fits is kinda like taking two extension cords and trying to plug the like ends together male to male and female to female. You’re going to either start over or get an adapter. (Or go gay. Whatever.) In this case, a simple homemade bracket is in order. Simply drill two holes in a couple of pieces of scrap steel the appropriate distance apart, add an extra bolt and ta da! (Actually I got very lucky because the flange on the alternator is the same thickness as the mount for the generator, otherwise some real engineering may have been in order.) I still need to find a bracket for the top of the alternator since the generator never came with one and this kinda piece needs to have a curve and a slot. It’s just easier to find one than to try and make one. As it sits now, the top mount is just wired to the bucket frame. (Feck off, it works OK and it was cheap.) Also, the pulley is to narrow for the factory belt so it rides a little high. I can fix this proper by either buying a new one or modifying the pulley (not a big deal).


Let there be light.

Now that we got a self-charging battery, I can finally put lights on him! The factory lights are one of the cute factors for this old tractor. Unfortunately that which makes them cute is also what makes them not work. With the loader on Art they stick out too damn far and the bucket is just in the way. That and the fact that the 12v version is $55 plus shipping each, not including the wiring.

Weather-proof switch.

Weather-proof switch.

In-line fuse.

In-line fuse.

Implement light.

Implement light.

Enter the Co-Op Supply. $15 for an implement light, $6 for a weather proof switch, $4 in connectors, a little recycled green wire (get it), $3 for an inline fuse, and poof! I can see I can see its a miracle dear gods I can see! and shit. The old factory wiring would have run under the hood, but since the hood comes off and the light mounts to the loader frame anyway, I just ran the wiring along the loader frame. Remember to think ahead a little on projects like this and run the wires where they are out of the way and not likely to get pinched (causing a short) by anything ever. Zip ties are your friend. They don’t dry out and fall off like tape and they look a little neater. Actually the Boing company (get it) has a kevlar twine they use to tie up wiring bundles that works really well and is really hard to get your hands on. (20 strands will tow a truck and weighs about an ounce.) Anyway, just don’t rely on any kind of tape to hold anything ever for more than a few days. (Except duct tape, and sorry Mr. Green, even it has its limits.)

One last caveat: when doing any kind of rewiring you should solder the wire ends together and use heat shrink wrap. The little crimp connector me and your dad used to use let water (and therefore corrosion) in. I really should have gone this route but without a garage to work in in this kind of weather it’s hard to get a soldering iron to work correctly. If it don’t get the wire hot enough you really just get a sort of shitty glue job. But hey, the connectors do work and if you tape them up its not so bad . . .

Without Wax,



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