St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Nellie Belle

The Boys build a car--1959. 

Roy Roger's side-kick, Pat Brady, drove to the scene of the crime in his old war surplus Jeep, Nellie Belle.  While Roy and Dale rode Trigger and Buttermilk with Bullet running alongside, we were more impressed with Nellie Belle!

So, when in the summer of 1959, we decided we needed our own vehicle, it was natural to name it Nellie Belle. It was just as cantankerous as the real Nellie Belle, and with Dad's help, a great adventure in learning about mechanics and engines. 

A few years earlier, when electricity came to the farm, Dad took the single cylinder Maytag engine off the washing machine and replaced it with an electric motor--a really wonderful update.  No longer did he have to spend 20 minutes kick-starting the old engine for Mom, and now the washing machine was quiet, in-the-house and well behaved (without the long flexible exhaust you had to run out the door and dancing a jig back and forth across the kitchen floor with the Maytag putting away).  Mom was so worried about running the Maytag when Marvin was a baby--might cause him to squall and scream, but instead it put him to sleep.  Something about carbon monoxide maybe --might explain something about us boys too ;-)  

The washing machine was Mom's 1942 wedding present from Dad.  He asked her to help him pick out a wedding ring, but no, she wanted a washing machine instead.  Having had to spend endless hours growing up helping do the laundry with her mother on the scrub boards, she saw her mother-in-law's 32 volt electric washing machine that ran off of his electric power plant and realized her life would be much easier with a similar machine. 
Neighbor, Jimmy Rutsch, tries out Nellie Belle.  He was a little too tall for comfort. 

It was hard to find one in 1942--the war was on and production of anything other than military equipment was very limited.  Finally Dad found a used one and made her the happiest bride in the area when he presented it to her a little before Marvin was born and soiling his first diapers in 1944.  

With a spare, small, portable gas engine, Dad tried it for several inventions.   Mounted under a trimmed old oak table top with wheels, a twisted belt it became our first lawnmower.  The engine drove a vertical shaft with a pulley on the top and under the wooden deck, a flat blade with a mower section on each end.  However, at something like 5/8th of a horsepower, not quite powerful enough to mow through our tough and weedy lawn.  It never did start very easy, so was replaced by a more modern Briggs engine on the mower. 

An engine for turning out a wood pulley gave it a little use, and then it sat for a while until we boys decided we needed a car.  Dad explained how we might build one, and suggested the old push lawnmower, no longer used with our home-made rotary one.  

So, with some two-by-fours, the wheels off of our Radio Flyer wagon, barn door hinges (front wheel turning mechanism) and the lawnmower we had the makings. 

We took the reel out of the push lawn mower and mounted a belt pulley on the shaft.  The belt ran from Maytag pulley to mower pulley and the gearing in the lawnmower geared down the speed to the wheels greatly (about 3 mph).   

The Maytag sparkplug was shot, so we got a Model T Ford plug, interchangeable with the Maytag original.  The gas tank, under the main engine and part of the casting, was very small.  a tube with a ball valve on the bottom let the engine suck gas up with each rotation.  That was shot, but Dad knew if you took an alemite grease fitting and took out the spring, it would double for this part.  Luckily, in the pasture next door on Bert's place was an old car chassis with lots of alemite fittings. 

The motor fixed, we needed a clutch.  So, we added an idler pulley connected to a foot lever--the clutch.  Push it down and it tightened the belt; let up and it coasted to a stop--no breaks except feet on the ground.  

It worked pretty good--very slow, but exciting.  We added the canopy in the style of what Grandpa was always talking and singing about --the Surrey with the Fringe on Top.  

We wore out the first lawnmower, a hard rubber-tired modern one with white-metal gears and replaced it with one from either Grandpa or Uncle Maurice--older more durable one with cast iron wheels.  

The usual effort to take a drive:   an hour of kick starting the engine, including cleaning the spark plug, unclogging the alemite gas valve, and monkeying around and then driving it an hour or less before the engine balked again (very much like a balky horse). 

For steering, we mounted two wagon wheels on the frame, connected to it by barn door hinges.  The wheels were connected together with a rod, and turned by a rope wrapped around our steering wheel connected to each hinge.  At first we got it wrapped the wrong way, so you steered hard right to go left, but eventually we re-wrapped it so it steered the right way when neighbor Jimmy Rutsch came over and was crashing into everything because he couldn't learn to steer opposite.   (something that was good for us, as neighbor Raymond Noyes built a wide front for his B John Deere so he could rake hay without driving over the windrow--think he used a Model T front end--and he got it backwards steering too, so our backwardness was really quite helpful in the long run!).  

Grade school report on Nellie Belle -- for Mrs. Ranstrom at Cushing School--What I did in summer vacation. 

Brother Everett has the original Maytag gas engine at his place, and the Maytag washing machine is in the basement at Moms.  Maybe we should put it back together for an emergency if the electricity goes off and Margo can't find her scrub board (my wedding gift to her).  Or, maybe, if we can find some old wagon wheels....