Outsmarting a Deere

The junction of the two hoses.
The junction of the two hoses.

Nothing can stop a homesteader with a skid steer. Piles of snow, mountains of manure, hills of gravel—all are easily handled with the help of a skid steer. It’s an essential tool on homesteads that require more work than one or two people alone can perform. However, if your skid steer won’t start you have a problem. If your skid steer is a John Deere 240, you’ve got a major problem.

The foot of new snow and the pale pink glow of the winter sun lent a sense of calm to the rising Sunday morning. After sipping our coffee in the quiet of the morning, Wayne set out for the shed to start the skid steer. With two long driveways on the property, it was going to get a workout.

A few minutes after he left, Wayne returned with bad news. The skid steer wouldn’t start.

When he attempted to start it, he heard a grinding sort of noise, and when he investigated further he noticed a burnt odor. The starter was out. As he stood by the now empty coffee pot explaining the problem, I came up with a perfect solution. Just replace the starter. Sometimes, I amaze myself.

Wayne looked annoyed at my suggestion. Apparently, it was obvious the starter needed to be replaced. The problem was getting to the starter in order to take it out. This was the real challenge, because John Deere didn’t make replacing the starter an easy proposition.

The lift arms, commonly called the boom, cover the side access panel when in the down position on a John Deere 240. To make matters worse, the starter on this particular model is tucked well forward, towards the underside of the cab, so that even someone with small hands can’t get a wrench or socket on the mounting bracket. In order to lift the boom to access the starter, you have to start the skid steer. If the starter isn’t working you cannot start the skid steer. Immediately, that calm Sunday morning evaporated into a conundrum.

We briefly considered calling the John Deere dealer to come and haul it to the shop, but after considering that the cost would likely be north of $800, we put that idea at the very bottom of the list of possible solutions. There had to be a way to get at that starter.

As we were trying to figure out how to outsmart an inanimate object, it occurred to me to ask what the dealer would do to lift the boom. Wayne thought they probably had a special tool to lift the boom externally. Probably something that would hook into the hydraulic system. So once again, I made the obvious suggestion. Just hook into the hydraulic system with something else. I could see him thinking as the light came on.

“You’re brilliant,” he said. Sometimes, I amaze everyone.

Instead of having the dealer come and get the skid steer, Wayne used a hydraulic hose to raise the boom. One end of the hose went into one of the skid steer’s lift hoses, the other end went to a 6080 Allis Chalmers, but any vehicle with a hydraulic system will do the trick.

First he removed the hoses from both lift ports on the skid steer, leaving the other ends attached to the cylinders. There are two hoses on each cylinder connecting to the skid steer ports, both of which must be removed at the port on the skid steer. One controls the upward motion of the boom. The other controls the downward motion. You must remember which hose controls the upward motion, as you must attach the hose from the tractor to the lift hose. Removing the hoses is a critical step. The boom will not raise unless both hoses on both cylinders are removed at the skid steer port to allow venting of the pressure in the cylinders.

Using six feet of half-inch hydraulic hose that he found in the shed, he connected the hydraulics on the tractor to one of the lift hoses on the skid steer. It doesn’t matter which side of the skid steer you choose, but you must connect to the hose that supplies the lift.

If you buy hydraulic hose off the shelf it will typically have a half-inch national pipe thread (NPT) male fitting on each end. To successfully raise the boom without starting the skid steer, you will need to go from a pipe thread to a hydraulic thread on the same hose. On the end of the hose that would go into the hydraulic port of the tractor, he attached a universal quick coupler, a device with female and male ports that allowed the hose to be connected to the tractor.

For the end that would go to the skid steer’s hydraulics, he attached a coupling, which is hollow and threaded all the way through, that allows you to go from a half-inch pipe thread to an 8 JIC. JIC is the measurement for hydraulic thread. He attached a No. 8 JIC male fitting to a no. 12 JIC female fitting, because the increase in size was needed to attach the hose to the fitting on the lift cylinder of the skid steer. He used two fittings because there was no way to go directly from a half-inch pipe thread to 12 JIC with one fitting.

With a relative sitting in the cab of the skid steer, Wayne started the tractor. Using the tractor’s hydraulics and one lift hose of the skid steer, he raised the boom. Once the boom was raised, the person in the cab of the skid steer immediately pushed the boom locks into place, and Wayne disconnected the hydraulic hose connecting the skid steer and tractor. Then, he placed the hydraulic hoses back on the skid steer port. Like the initial removal of the hoses, this is also a critical step. If you attempt to start the skid steer without reconnecting the hoses, everything around you will be showered with hydraulic fluid. Be sure to check the hydraulic fluid in the skid steer when you’ve finished. You probably didn’t lose much during the process, but check anyway, just to be sure.

When he went looking for a starter, Wayne got another lesson in skid steer repair. The John Deere dealer wanted $540 for a new starter. The local discount auto parts store wanted $175 for the same brand of rebuilt starter. Since the skid steer wouldn’t know the difference, but our bank account would, we chose to pay the $175.

A few snowstorms and a pile of manure later, the skid steer is still starting and running fine, but Wayne is keeping the hydraulic hose and fittings at the ready, just in case. When I asked him if there was any way to avoid this problem in the future, he said there was. Just buy a different skid steer. Sometimes, he amazes me.

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