by Curtis von Fange
It came as a surprise. The tire on the tractor needed to be pulled off
to get to the brakes for service. The tires were blocked, the rear end
raised on jacks, the lugs loosened and the tire loosened from the hub.
Then, as the big lugged circle of rubber slipped off the last wheel
stud it became apparent that there was more there than just an empty
tire. Four hundred pounds of rim, tire, and fluid dropped to the
ground like a sack of wet cement. Fortunately the installer jumped out
of the way in time to avert a dangerous disaster. So what was this
stuff in the tire and why was it there?
Long ago farmers discovered that by adding weight to a tractor certain
benefits were recognized. One of those benefits was traction. When
pulling implements like a plow or heavy disk through the ground the
added drag often caused the tractor tires to spin. By adding weight to
the pulling unit the tires could pull more of the tractor weight
without loosing the traction. Some farmers installed counterweights on
the front of the tractor such as one hundred-pound slabs of steel
bolted to the frame. This helped to hold down the front end of the
tractor when rear wheel spin would actually raise the front end off the
ground due to the implement drag. Others added fluid to the tires.
This would increase the overall tractor gross weight which could also
increase the amount of draw bar pull by delivering more engine
horsepower to the ground through the wheels. In addition the extra
tire weight also increased the traction characteristics of the tire by
burrowing the tire lugs deeper into the ground with better holding
capacity. Fluid added to the front tires helped hold the front end
down while pulling large loads, especially on hilly terrain where the
front end would tend to bounce off the ground.
The fluid added to the tire inner tubes is simple water. That is why
it was so popular to use when extra weight was desirable. Water was
cheap and plentiful. The only problem was that it froze in the winter
time. In order to keep this from happening the farmer started to add
antifreeze solutions to the water. The more expensive types of
antifreeze that were used included alcohol and ethylene glycol. These
worked quite well but with the potential of running an ever so common
briar through the tire and losing the liquid onto the ground a cheaper
and simpler solution was used. Calcium chloride became that more
attractive solution since it was easily obtained at a cheaper price.
It came in powder form and was mixed with water which was then pumped
into the standard tire inner tube with a small reciculating pump and
valve stem adapter. When a weight mix of 29.8% was used then the
eutectic temperature, or the maximum temp that the freezing point of
water can be depressed, is around minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This
type of mix was usually found in most weight based fluid filled tractor
tires. Water was put into a barrel or container then the calcium
chloride was added and thoroughly mixed. Then the tire was filled from
half to three-quarters full, depending on the desired weight to add,
then topped off to the standard pressure rating with air.
One negative aspect of using the calcium chloride is that it is quite
corrosive. This can be noticed by the corrosion and excessive rusting
around tractor rims where the fluid has leaked out of pin holes or
leaky valve stems in the inner tube. But with some simple care in
filling, repairing leaks, keeping rims primed and painted, and simple
washing off of leakage areas this problem can be readily circumvented.
Be certain that if the tire encounters a leak that when the tire is
removed from the rim it is thoroughly washed to remove the calcium
chloride residue. Both the rim, tube and inside of the tire should be
rinsed. Another aspect to be aware of is that the extra tractor weight
will tend to pull more equipment but it will also sink deeper in soft
ground. Yes, the traction will be there but if the soil is too soft to
support the total weight the tractor may bottom out on the drawbar and
leave the wheels spinning. Either way, be cognizant of the ground
conditions before trying to plow, disc, or bushog in wet land.
Calcium chloride is still used in tractor tires today for adding extra
weight and traction to the tractor. A tire store that services farm
and/or industrial excavating equipment would be a good place to start
when looking for a business to fill this need.
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