Whether you are preparing a tractor for a show quality restoration or working it hard on your farm, your tractor may have considerable dirt, mud, and grime caked on that just won't wash off with a rag and and a garden hose. If you happen to have a crawler, a couple of hours of dozing can throw as much as 12 inches of the stuff into the tracks. It can take literally hours to clean up the mess and usually a lot of cleaning chemicals you would probably rather not have on your ground, running into your garden or well. Enter the pressure washer. These little wonders probably probably rank high as one of the greatest time savers for the farm beyond the tractor itself. Once you have one, you begin to wonder how you ever did without it.
We tried a couple of smaller models including a 1200 PSI electric and a 1500 PSI gas washer. In every case, these seemed to show the promise of just how valuable a pressure washer could be without quite having enough oomph to thoroughly come through. Particularly greasy areas and paint that while thinking of coming off, wasn't quite flaking yet, all stubbornly held on. It appeared that these smaller units would be convenient for washing the truck and especially handy where the washing was more delicate such inside an engine compartment. Unfortunately, in only one instance did the small units prove to be useful for the tractors. This was the case where we had the tractor in the shop and immobile but had to remove some sandy dirt prior to splitting the hydraulic case. The small electric pressure washer had a low enough flow that we simply put a tarp down and actually cleaned the surfaces in the shop.
When we finally checked out the 3000 PSI North Star, the whole story changed. This unit was equipped with an 11 HP Honda engine with fuel shutoff, adjustable flow and optional syphon degreaser dispenser. It didn't have a pressure release or electric start to facilitate easy starting but according to the instructions, simply pulling on the trigger while cranking was sufficient. This method of starting proved more than adequate and kept the cost down on the unit. It had all the important features and none of the frills. From the start, it was clear that this unit would hit the top of the usefulness scale. When the pressure came up and you pulled the trigger, it had a kick more reminiscent of a 30-30 than the .22 kick of the little washers. Our first experience simply cleaning dirt, showed that when you pulled the trigger, the dirt was going to go (in all directions). We cleaned two well-caked crawlers and virtually as fast as we could cover the surfaces they cleaned up. It still takes some time to cover the surfaces because the pressurized spray is quite directional and if you don't specifically aim at a area and cover it from all sides, you do miss spots but this is the nature of a pressure washer.
The real benefits begin when you clean up a machine prior to sand-blasting or sanding for paint preparation. Since most tractors have years of grime and multiple coats of too-thick paint, you can waste a considerable amount of time that should be spent blasting and sanding by "cleaning with your sand". My experience is that sand-blasting is not the most fun part of a restoration but a necessary evil and spending as little time as possible in the sand-blasting area has its benefits. By a thorough pressure washing prior to sand-blasting, you only spend the time to prepare the surface, rather than wasting most of the time on sandblasting off excessive paint and dirt. This proved to be the most important use of the pressure washer. Oh yeah, the water is decidedly cheaper than the sand.
Another surprise was the ability to use the pressure washer for parts cleaning. The concept was an idea borne of several people on the Antique Tractor Discussion List as an alternative to hot-tanking. It is a great alternative to use when you have many blocks and hauling them to a shop with a tank seems inconvenient (which it always does somehow). Once all the components are completely removed, a thorough pressure washing cleans all sludge and even allows you to clean out the oil passages. Afterwards, a 100 PSI air gun is required to make sure that you blow out all water or you will have rust forming almost immediately. When parts cleaning with the larger unit, I found that every component of the engine with the exception of the block itself is subject to being blown over when you pull the trigger so it is important to set up the smaller parts on a firm surface prior to beginning the cleaning.
An issue that many folks wonder about is the water usage of the larger units and whether your well can keep up. If your farm has a low volume well system for your shop area, this can be an important issue. We didn't take any scientific measurements but the volume of our well is lucky to hit the normal minimum of 4 GPM and it seemed to keep up just fine. It supplied sufficient flow to keep the pressure washer from starving at anytime. Now this is with a system that normally will crank itself to low-pressure-shutoff in no time when one of the cows decides to nuzzle a float-valve off an automatic waterer.
As you are probably aware now, I found the pressure washer to be extremely handy. We found that while it was valuable for tractors there are many other uses for the rural homeowner. It keeps your metal roofs clean of moss, prepares building and fence surfaces for painting, and is a great way to get all that mud off of logs before you mill or buck. Many folks are set off by the rather high cost of the acceptable units. These can run from $900 to $2500 depending on engine and pump brands and volume. Since time is so critical even to a part time farmer, this may be one of the expensive items that saves you money in the long run.