You Can Start This 70-Year-Old Tractor With Paper and a Shotgun Shell

Who knew a single-cylinder, two-stroke diesel engine with over 300 cubic inches of displacement would be so odd?

Didier via YouTube

Yes, I know this is a car site. No, a late '40s Field Marshall tractor isn't built for speed. But it's pure intrigue for gearheads who love the weird and wonderful, as its single-cylinder, 310-cubic-inch, two-stroke diesel engine has one of the strangest starting procedures out there. It's similar in theory to modern diesel engines, though instead of an electric starter and electric glowplugs, it requires a piece of burning paper and the option of hand-cranking or using the explosion from a shotgun shell to initiate combustion.

Straight away, you've got to line up a pair of arrows that have been painted onto the tractor—one that's stationary and another that rotates with the crank. By doing so, you ensure the piston is just past top dead center (TDC) and ready to move in the right direction once the charge is sent through the engine.

Classic Tractor Fever TV via YouTube

After that, you've got to prime the engine by manually pumping lubricant into it. Luckily, this is achieved by using a single externally mounted lever and it only takes a few seconds. 

Classic Tractor Fever TV via YouTube

When using the shotgun shell method, you'll want to move the compression release valve so that the handle rides on the first groove of the pulley. This way, when the charge is sent through the engine, it can make a full revolution and the compression release valve will kick off. Remember, it takes a big bang to turn the Field Marshall's enormous piston—max RPM is rated at just 750.

Classic Tractor Fever TV via YouTube

Now this is where it gets strange. Next, you unscrew the glow plug holder from the front of the tractor and load it with a rolled piece of paper. It's apparently important to use a type of paper that can continue to burn without an open flame, and the instructor in this clip uses a page from a specific catalog that "works well" for him. He even rubs it down with a candle to coat it in wax, making for a slow but efficient burn.

Classic Tractor Fever TV via YouTube

As you can probably tell, this wouldn't be easy to do in the wind or the rain.

Finally, you walk to the side of the tractor and open up the chamber which is meant to hold a 12-gauge shotgun shell. Once it's loaded in, there's a firing pin on the outside of the chamber that the operator hits with a wrench or a hammer to send a charge into the engine. This gets the monstrous piston turning and then it's ready to work.

This in-depth video sadly doesn't show the Field Marshall actually starting with a shotgun shell, though there are plenty of others out there that do, several of which we've included below. It's amazing to see and something that's almost unthinkable given how turnkey-simple everything is today.

Caleb Jacobs is Deputy News Editor at The Drive. He buys weird things, like a '66 Ford dump truck and a '65 Chevy school bus. We continue to employ him, though we can't seem to understand why. Send him a note: caleb@thedrive.com