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Location: DownByTheRiver, Central Iowa, United States

Husband of the world's most wonderful wife, father of the world's four most brilliant children, grandfather to the world's eight most beautiful granddaughters and two handsomest grandsons

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Suction Pipe Follies

... or, how the River Rat Ranger saves time and money by fixing his own garden tractor.... My grass gets its major trimming from an ancient Cub Cadet garden tractor. How ancient? The serial number is under 700,000 which puts the elderly Model 682 back a quarter of a century. They were red for some years back there because they were owned by International Harvester, the now defunct farm implement company bought out by Case Tractors. My H Farmall is an IH, as were most of the tractors on the farm where I grew up.

Naturally the Cub Cadet belonged to Grandpa Ranger, my father, and naturally as it deteriorated over the years he bought a new one and I inherited it. It is a massive, troublesome beast with a two cylinder Kohler engine and the innovation that was supposed to set the world on its ear in 1985... a hydrostatic transmission. No gear changing on the 682, no clutch, very little braking. Just one lever that makes it go forward when you push it up and in reverse when you pull it back. And the further you push or pull it, the faster it goes... in either direction.

It was beginning to misbehave this year, getting touchier and touchier about the forward and back stuff. Like it was slipping, so I called the local Case International Dealer for advice. How long since I'd changed the oil filter and fluid on the hydrostatic. "There's a filter on the hydrostatic?" Oops. I bellied down on the ground beside the Cadet and reached up into its bowels with a rag and started wiping grease. Guess what? A spin on filter. How often should I change it? Every 50 hours of operation. And the transmission hydraulic fluid? Every 150 hours. Both a MINIMUM of once a year. I called Grandpa Ranger. How often had HE changed the filter in the 20 years he used it. "Uhhh.... once maybe." Hmmmm.

So I'm off to the Case International dealer. This is where the Real Farmers go. My diminutive Geo Metro, the Green Hornet, looked ludicrous among the the monster 4 wheel drive farmer trucks parked in the lot. So I wandered over to the used tractor lot and admired an H Farmall that is in even worse condition than Helen Wheels, my H and is priced at $2,200. Mine cost $750. So things are looking up. I went in and perched on a tattered bar stool in front of the parts counter. Very manly. ALL parts counters in real auto, truck, tractor, etc. stores have tattered bar stools. There may be a law requiring it. My turn came. "Filter and transmission fluid for a 682 Cub Cadet." I demanded bravely. The clerk sneered at me and came out from behind the counter. Instant shame and mortification. The things I needed were on the display shelves. A REAL man would have known this and brought them to the counter himself. I was an unmanly interloper on the worn-out bar stool. I didn't fit in. I didn't belong. I paid my forty dollars and retreated in embarrassment.

Then I took those goodies home and attacked the 682's guts again with an oil rag. There was NO drain plug... none. I called Grandpa Ranger. He thought there might be one, but it had been so many years. Back to my friend, Ebay, which listed service manuals for 682's for around $50 or the same on a CD for $15. I ordered the CD. Eventually it showed. 232 pages on Adobe Reader. No drain plug. I went through each of all those pages. I used the search option.... nothing. So it must be in the Owner's Manual rather than the service manual. Ebay had one of those too... 15 more dollars. I ordered one. It arrived with sickening speed Priority Mail. The owner's manual made it plain. Don't touch the hydrostatic... take it to the dealer. After all... THEY have the service manual!

I stumble back through the service manual. And there, like an afterthought, in instructions for replacing some pump it says.... "... place pan under transmission and unfasten the SUCTION PIPE from unit and swing it aside... allow transmission to drain." That's gotta be it, right? So back to the underside of the Cadet. By this time Mrs. RRR is losing her patience with me running out to the shop, wallowing about in the dirt and grease, running back in, standing on the deck while she sweeps me off before I can look for more info on the computer. None the less, 35 years of marriage to me have instilled a certain amount of resignation and she refrained from beating me with the broom.

I look again... there is the suction tube, just as advertised. I go to remove the bottom end flare fitting and discover that it is 1" in diameter. My largest flare wrench, indeed the largest flare wrench I've ever seen anywhere, is only 7/8". So I make do with a regular 1" wrench. And skin my knuckles and bang my head and stretch and ache and at last loosen the flare nut.... and nothing happens. Wait! A drop of burned looking red fluid, about the color of a garnet or cheap ruby. Another drop. Another. Then nothing. No movement at all. So how do I "swing it aside?" Well obviously I must loosen the other end of the suction pipe. The old filter is in the way. Back with the grease rag... then the filter wrench. More of the nasty used fluid, maybe a 1/4 cup, but nowhere near the 6.3 quarts the transmission is supposed to hold. And the fitting on the other end is 1" also. I put the wrench on it. And tug. And pry. And hammer. Nothing. "Tighter than the bark on a tree", my Grandfather would have said.

So Mrs. RRR and I are off to find a 1" flare wrench or a 1" crows foot flare socket. First to the County Seat. Nothing at Sprawl Mart. Nothing at the Farm and Home store. Nothing at the hardware store. Around the Big Lake to Dutchtown. Nothing at the auto parts store, not at either parts store. Nothing at the hardware store there. I'm stymied. Other than an ice cream cone for Mrs. RRR which she graciously shared, the trip is a bust. Strengthened by righteous indignation I attack the fitting again. I put both feet against the rear wheel and grab the tractor frame with the left hand and with the right hand PULL. Movement! I try again. It's incredibly hard, though. It should break loose and spin freely. I look underneath. I am slowly, forcibly twisting the suction pipe into a knot. I spray everything with Kroil. I turn backward and forward. Every movement twists the pipe. So I give up and twist it off. And from the ruptured pipe runs the hydraulic transmission fluid into the coffee can I'd placed there.

I held the twisted off end of the pipe in my hand. Up under the bowels of the Cadet was another fitting screwed into the transmission. The flare fitting had fastened to IT. I was supposed to put my 1" wrench on that fitting and a 1" flare on the other and brace with one and turn the other. I sat on the shop floor and looked at the pieces in my hand and had long thoughts about The Meaning Of Life and other things. One more trip to the cabin. Once more Mrs. RRR sweeps me off. Back to the Internet, source of all expensive things. I went to the Cub Cadet website. They sell parts for every model made. No listing for a suction pipe. At last I go to the schematics and go from page to page looking. Eureka! There is a picture. It's no longer a suction tube. Now the official name is Tube Assy-Hydraulic. The part number is 927-3008 should you care. The price $26.09. The shipping... $8.99. Now I am up to $100 for this project. About what it would have cost to take it to the dealer and had the same thing done.

There is a lesson in all this somewhere.

(as an aside... the pic I snatched off the Net shows a 782 instead of a 682, but the appearance is the same except for the model number.)

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