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Old 02-13-2014, 02:20 AM   #1
Snow VP
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Default 2014 Tractor Problems

After a very difficult couple of weeks, I am finally able to release some details on what has been going on here the last couple of weeks. I apologize that I have not been able to be more forthcoming but the reasons for that will become apparent as you read the following story:

Straits Area Snowmobile Club has unprecedented difficult start to 2014
By Neil Hill ~ Club VP & grooming coordinator



Well as most of you know, we had engine problems with our John Deere 8120T #5 tractor. On January 1 2014 our Groomer #6 in St. Ignace would not start sue to the sub zero temps. Groomer driver Randy Lee and I tented the engine and placed a salamander heater on it to warm the engine enough to get her started. It worked and the tractor started OK. After warming the engine and tractor for almost 90 minutes, Randy began his grooming run. About an hour later Randy called for assistance, and it looked like the fuel gelled out on the trail. We had major difficulty getting the fuel filters off, and after having 3 people simultaneously pulling on the filters we ultimately broke the filter mount. At that point we were out of options and I called Bob to come into town with #5 to give us the required tow. On January 4th we repaired #6 filter mount, changed the oil (and sent out samples).

Some time after that, Groomer Bob noticed that #5 had started blowing a just a little oil out the breather overflow, and the issue got worse during the following 2 runs. Total oil loss was around a quart - not bad for a diesel, but not right for one of our tractors. On Monday Jan 13th we had our dealer do a compression test. The results came back that #2 cylinder was down to 15% of normal compression, and several others were low as well. The engine was hurt bad enough that it would have to be trucked to St. Louis to have an overhaul. Since we have never had any major engine issues before I was a little gun shy, so while the dealer was here for #5, we had him do a compression test on #6 as well. She came up with a clean bill of health, with 97% or better compression on all cylinders.

Since this is considered a 'major repair' I had to obtain authorization from the DNR, and #5 left the UP on Thursday January 16th to be fixed. Since once the engine is tore down, you almost have to do everything, they are putting new sleeves in all the cylinders, along with pistons and injectors. The head was sent out to be checked and had a valve job with 2 replaced. The fuel system is being flushed and then everything is being cleaned and replaced. They did minor engine break-in, then put the tractor on the dyno to make sure it is pulling the kind power that is is supposed to, resulting in about 10 more HP then spec. Everything looked to be going well. What was the cause? Well still tough to tell for sure, the issue seemed to be overheating of the #2 cylinder, which may have been caused by either a plugged injector, or a eroded or faulty injector which dumped too much fuel into that cylinder, although the injectors did not look too bad. For sure the piston overheated and the result was something called piston de-bonding. A crack and chunk came out of the top of the piston. All new to me, but apparently it does happen on occasion, and costs $20-$25k to fix.

Pics of the teardown & problem piston
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piston.jpg

Meanwhile back in the UP... the groomer drivers had been working together very well and coordinating a tough schedule of double shifting tractor #6. We moved it to be based out of Groomer Wayne's house in Moran as it is more centrally located, and then groomed both North and South from that location trying to cover the entire system with the one machine. Some days the tractor ran for 20+ hours to cover our 101 miles of trail.

The dealer called us up and due to bad roads delayed our delivery by a day or two, and we settled on them trucking the tractor to us on Monday January 20th. The Friday prior to that I received a call from Groomer Randy that there was oil blowing out of the overflow on #6 during his run. It still did not seem to be using any oil, and quit leaking, so we though that there was a bad o ring that was replaced on Jan 4th. I spoke to 2 different dealers on that Saturday morning and both advised me to run the tractor through the weekend as there did not seem to be any obvious issue. Over the next 2 days #6 went through over 6 quarts of oil, so I made the call to park it on Sunday night, knowing the dealer would be here the next day.

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On January 20th Bader's delivered #5 to us with their lowboy. Sam the Technician ran a compression test on #6 and the results were obvious 7% compression in #1 cylinder, some 60s & 70s, only 1 at 100%. We have a bad piston in #6 too, so we decided to not even wait for DNR approval since the truck had to leave right away. I loaded up #6 and sent her down for repair.

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Chris changed our happy face to something more appropriate
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Our club does good maintenance on our tractors, we take care of them, keep them clean and in good working order, now we have had 2 MAJOR engine problems in less then 10 days what could possible cause such an issue? It is driving us crazy, nothing has changed, we have the same drivers, same procedures, same everything as years past. After some discussion the only thing that we can say for certain that was common to the two engine failures is fueling at our Brevort storage tank. You see, when tractor #5 went down, we started covering the entire system with tractor #6, which meant that when it did its South run, it fueled in St. Ignace, but then when it did its North run, it took fuel in Brevort. Did fueling in Brevort actually kill a tractor? Worse, it it take down another engine in 10 days? We really trust our fuel supplier, and so had to start to think... sabotage? It was the only thing that made sense, so we coordinated with the fuel supplier and pulled samples from both tanks, and tractor #6. I sent in an independent fuel sample to check the suppliers lab and we just had to wait. Meanwhile, I had to find fuel storage as I dare not use the 1,100 gal of fuel that we already bought. I borrowed 2 small tanks and had them filled with enough fuel to get us through a few days.

The drivers continued to double shift, now tractor #5 all repaired and running strong. She sounded good, had lots of power and we were feeling pretty good about it. Over the next few days we racked up the miles, and hours and took care of the whole system. The repair on #6 was coming along OK, and it was determined that it was the same issue as #5. The dealer had things all set and a delivery was set for Friday February 7th.

Thursday I though we were going to be all set for the upcoming weekend, and finally get back to normal. That evening Groomer Dave called, tractor #5 had a serious issue deep in the woods and he was forced to shut it down. I was out of town and called Groomers Wayne and Chris to retrieve Groomer Dave and his son from to on the trail. It was 9pm and with a temp of -6 it was imperative that we get them out there ASAP as the tractor will cool down to outside air temp in about an hour. Wayne and Chris went on the rescue and buried their truck attempting to get close enough to Dave. I called Groomer Randy and he headed out with a ton of chain and straps, but unfortunately got stuck trying to get the first truck out. Meanwhile Wayne retrieved Dave and son from the groomer with a snowmobile and the 3 of them were able to push Randy out. By this time I was back into town, and we decided to tap into George's Body Shop Lance to the rescue. Lance and I went out and were able to winch the stuck pickup out with over 400' rope, chain and cable. Somewhere around 1am. The groomer would barely turn over, and we were forced to leave it in the woods for the night. Wayne called our dealer and they formulated a plan. At first light the lowboy with our freshly repaired #6 unit was heading North, ETA 12pm. At the same time they were sending a fully equipped mechanic van and Technion to try to diagnose the new issue with #5 and try to get us back to 2 tractors for the weekend.

Friday February 7th and our plan was in motion, and I diverted the lowboy with #6 to Trout Lake. Groomer Chris brought out a snowmobile and we got to work. He brought Dan, our mechanic out to the disabled #5, and I unloaded #6 in preparation to tow #5 out of the woods.

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By the time I was able to drive into #5, Chris and Dan had found that the oil was over 2 high on the dipstick the motor was hurt again, with less then 65 hours on it since the rebuild. I could not get the clutches to release and our mechanics had to use a porta-power to get things freed up so I could tow #5 out.

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Chris ran point clearing the way with his sled, and I towed #5 out to the Huckelberry road, where I was able to push it onto the lowboy to head back South.

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towing.jpg
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WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?? Is it possible that we just have this much bad luck?? Chris and I returned on the trail and retrieved the drag from the breakdown, and groomed North, where Chris drove to Trout Lake to meet me as I groomed the tractor that direction. #6 was delivered with only 40 gal of fuel, so I had to buy $450 worth of diesel in Trout Lake. While I was there I finally got cell service and checked my messages. Among other things, I got a message from our fuel supplier, their lab gave all 3 samples, both stock tanks, and the groomer fuel came clean so we don't have a fuel issue. Back to the tractor, everything was running great, and looking good, so Chris headed home, and I groomed from Trout Lake down to Moran on Friday evening.

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I got in about 11pm and was pretty wiped out. I checked the oil, checked the pan underneath, no oil no leaks, no fuel leaks and aside from me thinking that things sounded a little loud in the cab, I thought tractor #6 was in good shape.

Saturday Morning February 8th Groomer Wayne was going to bring the tractor into town to fix up the RR Grade as it was a little tore up. Unfortunately Wayne called me at 8am, tractor is chugging along, has not power and spitting blue smoke!

20140208_085755.jpg

Upon checking the oil we found it was 3/4 high now it looks like we have the same issue as #5 did, 36 hours before, and with only 10 hours runtime. We called the dealer, and again formed a plan. It was that time that I had to announce that we were suspending grooming for the rest of the weekend.

Monday February 10th the lowboy was again in St. Ignace, were we had to again load #6 up and send it South for repair. Bader's brought up their 4 saucy track demonstration groomer for us to use, which we have been putting through its paces as we double shift it and cover all of our trails.

20140210_120154.jpg

By Tuesday afternoon it was determined that the first set of engine failures were not related to the second set of failures, and we should not be charged for anything related to the unfortunate circumstances. Both of our tractors are cost shared machines however, and we will have to go good for a portion of the repair on the original incidents. The formula is a $1000 deductible, and then 25% of the remaining cost, for both groomers. It looks like we will be dipping into the groomer barn fund for more then $10,000. We have not had one in many years, but I am going to talk to a few people, and it may be time to have a fund-raiser to see if we can recoup some of this un-expected cost.

As of now, the dealer has put two shops full of mechanics on our projects, and are planning on turning both machines around for this Thursday and Friday. Since Thursdays weather doesn't look good, we should see one of the tractors back on Friday, and the other on Monday. We have the loaner tractor, we will be at full grooming capacity for this weekends traffic, and should have our equipment back on the trail early next week.

Again, please forgive me for not posting up the full details before now, but until we got fuel samples back, and then had them verified by our lab, I could not be certain if we have really bad luck, or someone out there had a grudge, and we needed to contact the authorities. I will let you know more as soon as I get more info on tractor deliveries.

I have to give a HUGE shout our to my groomer drivers, Bob, Chris, Dave, Randy & Wayne, who have been great at working together to coordinate the tractor double shifts and covering a ton of trail with the required equipment. As well as spending lots of extra time dealing with equipment and recoveries.

Don't worry, we will get through this, and will be back to normal soon. Then again, if we have any more major issues, I am just going to cross the bridge, and not stop until I hit Jamaica!
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Old 02-13-2014, 08:33 AM   #2
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Default Re: 2014 Tractor Problems

WOW! All of these issues and the trails were still in very good shape this past Sunday when we came down from Newberry to ride them. I sincerely hope all of this run of bad luck with team green is behind you now Neil. Thanks again for everyone's efforts on the Straights Area trail system!
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Old 02-13-2014, 08:42 AM   #3
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Default Re: 2014 Tractor Problems

Wow Neil, sucks to be you!!!!

I sure hope that this is the last of the problems so you can get some peace of mind. I can't tell you how much we all appreciate all the work you and the drivers do to make our trails so great for US!!!! And without pay!!!!

Thanks, and I owe you all a beer!

If you want to do anything to help raise money during the car show weekend, I will help as much as I can. We always used to have Pitcher Dances to raise money for ball teams. Liability issues put a stop to those. Maybe a softball tournament along with some kind of raffle (everybody hates to sell raffle tickets). Maybe you can get your always cooperative Chamber Of Commerce to help! LOL,

Keep us posted.

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Old 02-13-2014, 08:45 AM   #4
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Default Re: 2014 Tractor Problems

By the way, the pictures you have in your thread didn't come UP for me. Never had that happen before.
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Old 02-13-2014, 10:41 AM   #5
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Default Re: 2014 Tractor Problems

We were staying in Brevort that week and were nothing but pleased with the trails in spite of all the issues. Kudos to you and the grooming team for all the extra hours keeping things smooth and dealing with multiple breakdowns. We passed #5 dead on the trail on Friday, knew that couldn't be good! We've been riding the eastern UP for 30 years - you're trails now are the best they've ever been. Thanks
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Old 02-13-2014, 04:26 PM   #6
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Default Re: 2014 Tractor Problems

Kind of quick, but lots of people in town for pond hockey, maybe a great opportunity to help out the mechanical fund.
Raffle a couple of nights stay for the 2015 pond hockey tourney, maybe ones donated by local hotel, ( I know they get hit up all the time) just a thought.
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Old 02-13-2014, 06:11 PM   #7
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Default Re: 2014 Tractor Problems

Hats off to everyone involved for all the hard work. Takes a lot of effort to keep the trails in the condition you guys do with the proper equipment much less with only one tractor. Can't say thanks enough for all the hard work and efforts. See ya this weekend!
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Old 02-13-2014, 07:11 PM   #8
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Default Re: 2014 Tractor Problems

We we're in St. Ignace during the time you were having your problems and saw you guys loading the groomer.

Even with all the breakdowns the trails were EXCELLENT. Our hats off to all you guys and gals for all of your efforts.

We have been all over the U.P. and even with your equipment problems the St. Ignace trails were still the BEST we rode.
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Old 02-18-2014, 12:07 PM   #9
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Default Re: 2014 Tractor Problems

Well, we hope that things are all behind us now as #5 was delivered back to us yesterday, and the loaner tractor was taken back down state. Loaner was a good tractor, just not the horsepower that we are used to around here so things were a little slow for the groomer drivers. Bader's delivered #5 to Epoufette and Bob got the drag hooked up right away.

5 back1.jpg
5 back 2.jpg

Dave took it on a run over the North loop last night and said that it ran good and strong.

The overall results come down to we can't be 100% certain what took out the motors on the first go-around. It looks to be the same problem, and it is very very strange to have such a similar issue between 2 tractors, one at 2,500 the other at 3,500 hours. We should not have seen this happen until they reach 10,00 hours or more. Was it fuel? The tests say no. Procedure or drivers? Nothing different from previous years? Cold weather? Well maybe, but we have had that before? Just bad luck? Hate to just say that, as I really want to know why.

The second issue was the same problem, and it was a very small procedural problem from an experienced mechanic. A simple and unfortunate mistake that caused a whole lot of problems. The dealer owned up to it, is covering the associated costs, and generally has treated us well through the whole experience. They put a huge team of guys on our stuff and turned #5 around, with a whole new motor in a week. #6 was mostly rebuilt again, and was shipped to them on Monday, and returned to us on Friday. Both tractors were run down at the dealership and dyno'ed out well with more HP when the tractors were originally spec'ed out to.

All I can say it that I have some more gray hair, and need a vacation, and I am really really hopeful that we can just be back to normal.
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Old 02-19-2014, 11:00 AM   #10
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Neil, I give you a big thumbs up for the way this whole mess has been handled. I know you weren't planning on all this when the season started. If it had been one of our normal snow years this wouldn't have been quite the headache that it turned into. Kudo's for the effort.
It is odd that both machines with relatively low hours would develop the same problem at the same time. Dosen't feel right eh? Be very careful out there.
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Old 02-19-2014, 04:14 PM   #11
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What an ordeal! Thanks to you Neil and all the drivers for working thru this to keep the best trails still the best.
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Old 03-31-2014, 12:13 PM   #12
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I was able to get my hands on the pistons from the 2 tractors original problems.

I believe this is the #2 piston from tractor #5 and the #1 piston from tractor #6.

If I never see something like this again it would be too soon.
It has been a month since the rebuilds, and things are going well with the tractors. They run great and have lots of power. Hopefully all of the issues are in the rear-view-mirror.
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File Type: jpg 20140331_091019.jpg (114.4 KB, 51 views)
File Type: jpg 20140331_091026.jpg (123.8 KB, 50 views)
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