Wood tractor 2 – trying out my mods

Last year I posted about buying a second-hand lawn tractor to use in Century Wood. I modified it during the winter to make it work better in the woods: for getting around and pulling the garden trolley that I’ve been dragging along the rides myself since 2008. Now I’ve tried it out and in this post I talk about the modifications I’ve made.

In the slider above you can see the before and after pictures. The tractor was in good working order, but had some patches of surface rust and flat tyres at the front. There was no grass cutting deck with it: when I went to collect it during a gap in the lockdowns, its eBay seller gave me the rusted lump that had been the deck for free, and I managed to salvage two pulleys from it before taking the body of the deck to recycling.

This video shows the mods I’ve made and driving the tractor around to look for fallen branches on the rides. The rest of the blog talks about the modifications in more detail.

I began by removing the two levers which had controlled the deck speed and height, and then I stripped the tractor down to be able to remove the surface rust. I mostly used coarse sandpaper and a wire brush on an angle grinder.

The tractor was built on the 11th of October 2004 in what was the Electrolux factory in Orangeburg, South Carolina for Sears’ “Craftsman” brand. At the time these were the best selling lawn tractors in the US, and there is a lot of information about how to repair, maintain and upgrade them online. They shared a lot of parts with the garden tractor models, which had a higher rated transmission and were suitable for “ground engagement” activities like ploughing which I don’t need.

My initial test drives at the wood revealed one thing I did need: some kind of skid plate on the bottom to protect the drive belt that runs from the engine at the front to the combined gearbox and differential at the back, and that’s shown in the first picture. The second of these pictures shows a stick which got dragged into the back pulley wheel and popped the belt off before the skid plate was added! Then the 3mm skid plate I made and how it looks on the finished wood tractor in the field. The skid plate meant I had to rebend the long brass rod that works the combined brake and clutch. I left a gap between the bottom of the chassis and the plate so I can easily inspect it, and remove any bits of grass and vegetation that do get in there.

The tractor has a small 12V lead-acid battery under the driver’s seat which runs the starter motor. I added my own circuit before the ignition switch to give me a digital voltmeter and a 12V car accessory socket, for phone chargers etc. There’s a switch which isolates the whole circuit to stop current drain when it’s not in use. I also shorted out connectors in the black socket which was for a grey interlock microswitch activated by the cutting deck: this meant that the deck had to be deactivated when starting the engine for safety, and with that lever removed, I was having to press the switch myself when starting. I used the end of that lever and its black knob to make a key fob for the ignition key, to make it harder to lose. These tractors use the standard Electrolux/Husqvarna key pattern. The last picture shows the driver’s controls, plus a bicycle bottle holder I added on the left.

The tractor’s main job is pulling the garden trolley I’ve had since 2008 and sometimes also moving my car trailer around too. It came with a very simple hitch: just a hole in a lip at the bottom of the plate at the back of the chassis. I bought a combined towball and pin hitch, and added that to the back plate, with an additional 4mm steel plate on the inside to further strengthen it. The second picture shows the components painted with antirust undercoat and NATO Green matt paint. I chose this standard colour because I should be able to get more of it in the future, and because it looks good 🙂 The last picture also includes the combined handle and towbar that I added to the garden trolley. The handle doesn’t get stopped by the tyres: it gets stopped by the back plate if you do a very sharp turn. I might redo this though, as I often pull the trolley with one hand and it would be better to be holding it on the centre line. You can also see the original turf saver tyres and the Carlisle Superlug tyres I replaced them with.

At the wood, here are the garden trolley and the car trailer hitched up and ready to go. I gave the trolley the same derusting and repainting treatment that I did for the tractor.

In summer Century Wood has a lot of quite tall vegetation like nettles and cow parsley, sometimes with fallen branches hiding in amongst them. I want to keep all that away from the front of the tractor and the wheels, and so I built a brush bar out of 48.3mm scaffolding pole and connectors to go on the front. Two short lengths of the tubing are bolted on at the front end of the chassis. In the third picture, you can see they are long enough to allow the bonnet to open fully still. The fourth picture also shows the rear basket I added.

I don’t always want to take the trolley with me when I’m doing smaller jobs. To carry a chainsaw or a toolbox I made a basket out of 25mm square steel tubing. I put bolts permanently in place facing upwards through the tractor body, near the top of the chassis, and then the basket attaches with wing nuts so I can remove it when necessary. These pictures show it with a chainsaw and helmet, while I was driving along the rides checking for fallen branches to clear away. You can just see a small wire basket on the bonnet at the front, which I’ve put my chainsaw gloves in. It’s also good for a phone while charging with the 12V socket.

I’m going to post more about how I’m using the tractor, but it’s certainly changed the way I think about moving things around the wood and how much I can easily take with me.

I should say that I originally got the idea for reusing a lawn tractor from a video Maximus put up in 2017. He has a lot more videos about off grid living and restoring useful vehicles. When I went looking for more ideas I found Eric at Farpoint Farms and his great series about using tractors as “poor man’s ATVs”.

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