Fergie – Ignition and fuel tank overhaul

5 min read

In the previous article, I walked through the steps I’d taken to update the Fergies’ wiring system and tried cranking. It quickly became evident that even with fresh fuel and a restored wiring harness, the engine was getting very little spark. So, we’ll overhaul the ignition system of the Fergie, clean the fuel tank and try starting again.

Visual check of the ignition system

I’m told that before repainting, the tractor started and ran with the plugs, leads, points and coil currently installed. This seemed odd as the coil was 12v, the starter 6v and the alternator had never been connected. So it seemed a good idea to check out the HT side and see if there were any obvious issues.

Upon taking off the distributor cap, the contacts were clearly a little corroded but otherwise looked relatively new. A lack of scoring on the contact pads, as might be expected, suggests the cap was relatively unused. A notion supported by the lack of marking on the rotor arm. The HT leads looked a little worse for wear, loose-fitting and discoloured.

Checking for a spark from the ignition

With a clamped timing scope clamped on the HT lead to cylinder 1 suggested there was a spark, and thus the new wiring was correct, phew. Unfortunately, the scope did not indicate the strength of the spark, so out came the spark plug. It was a bit sooted up and dry, but the gap looked okay, and the tip was not obviously damaged. Clamping the spark plug body to the battery negative and spinning the engine showed, as expected, a very weak spark.

Servicing the ignition components

The Fergie's old ignition points and condenser
The Fergie’s old ignition points and condenser

To service the ignition, I ordered new components from Old20TractorParts which included points, plugs, condenser leads. Once they arrived the old parts were taken out of the distributor and quickly changed, and gaps were set. While the existing parts were clearly old, they seemed in good condition. The points showed the correct gap and no burning or scoring. But as they are serviceable items, it seemed daft not to change them.

Old and new HT leads for the Fergie's ignition system
Old and new HT leads for the Fergie’s ignition system

Next attention was turned to the HT Leads. The old grey ‘Champion’ branded leads looked okay at first glance. A detailed look showed that the terminals were coming apart. Installing the new leads showed just how stiff and brittle the old leads were. This is not always a bad sign, but it didn’t seem positive.

Cleaning the original Fergie fuel tank

I’d been warned that the fuel tank would need attention. Despite the heavy layer of paint on the fixings, it was simple enough to lift the tank off. Before even getting it away from the tractor, it was obvious the tank had a lot of rust in it. New tanks are available but at a rather high cost.

Rust, and a lot of it, in the fuel tank
Rust, and a lot of it, in the fuel tank

An old school trick was applied to get the worst of the rust out, a handful of bolts and what felt like an hour of shaking. A torch and a careful eye showed the rust was, thankfully, only in the bottom inch of the tank. What wasn’t immediately apparent were the baffles at either end of the tank. These would trap the bolts making even cleaning a little tricky. As much of the rust as could be shaken out was, then the tank was washed out with fuel.

Will it start on the second try?

With the newly installed ignition components, fuel bulb primed, and a freshly charged battery we tried starting the Fergie one again. The expectation was that some air would now be in the fuel line, and starting might be a little tricky. Some thought had been given to getting a spare battery.

But what actually happened was pure amazement. In less than a 1/2 second of the starter solenoid being engaged with the gear stick, it fired into life. The little grey Fergie didn’t splutter into life or explode violently in a cloud of smoke. It just started. I was so surprised I nearly fell out of my seat! Had I not known better, I would have assumed it had been running around a field the day before.

Test Drive

Well, at this point, there was only one thing for it, a test drive! We’d been so unconvinced it would start we had to spend a little time making room to get it out of the shed.

Back from a test drive, the first in many years.
Back from a test drive, the first in many years.

And the test drive went well, very well. All forward gears were selectable, plenty of power left in this sixty-eight-year-old workhorse! Brakes worked, if a little weak. Clutch was okay for the age of the vehicle, a little jerky, but maybe that was just me. The smile on my face must have been from ear to ear. Then it stalled.

Fuel Issues

The Fergie was sufficiently well mannered to stall just outside its shed, making getting it back in a little easier. However, before we put it in manually, it seemed wise to give it a check over. It turned out the hours of cleaning may not have had the results we had hoped.

Fuel contamination from rust in the tank
Fuel contamination from rust in the tank

What we found was a little unnerving. Rust in the fuel, and quite a bit of it. I guess the same baffles that had trapped the bolts had caught the rust. Evidently, the cleaning method wasn’t up to the job. Maybe a vacuum extractor might have helped.

The strainer had done its job though, it was clean before and after the drive despite the rust in the strainer bowl. Cleaned out, we tried again but struggled to prime the bowl. Next, the tap was cleaned out, and eventually, we came to clean the in-tank pickup. And finally, we found the cause of the Fergie cutting out. It had run out of fuel!

What’s next for the Fergie?

The night was drawing in by this time. With the Fergie ignition and fuel systems working, we reversed it back into the shed for another day. It seemed like a victorious tractor session! We know the fuel system will need another clean before driving, so that will be the next task.

A tractor on its own is little more than a motorised horse. For the little grey Fergie to earn its keep, it will need to haul an implement. That’s a bit of a challenge as the PTO on the Fergie is a little smaller than that of modern systems, so we’ll need an adapter. Another order of parts will be required.


NEXT – Starter Motor Troubles
PREV – Fergie Wiring System

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