View Full Version : Off topic - starting tractor with Shotgun shell

02-19-2008, 04:55 PM
I was watching a program on TV and they showed an old British made crawler that stated by building a fire with newspaper in a compartment in front of the radiator, then a 12 gauge shotgun shell was inserted and hit with a hammer. The machine fired up. I was left wondering about this design. Did the shotgun shell provide roational force? did they use ordinary shotgun shells or blanks? It was impressive how well it apeared to work but as is always the case with television not much was explained. I assume the fire was to preheat the air intake. Anyone know how this system worked?

02-19-2008, 09:29 PM

I think you might be referring to an RFD TV episode which was highlighting a English Field Marshall tractor. I have not seen this tractor in person nor read about them but one has to presume that a true shotshell with lead pellets is NOT used (damage to tractor and possibly person starting the tractor) and a blank shell is used. I would think the flame that is provided by the shell as well as some of the rapid air movement combine to fire a primed cylinder(s)while starting the rotational movement without having to sprain a wrist cranking the tractor by hand.

Mind you this is postulation on my behalf.


02-19-2008, 09:53 PM
I wonder how often a loaded shot gun shell was used by mistake? Sure looked like an ordinary 12 gauge shell would fit. Would keep the rabbits from sitting under the tractor. I think it was an RFD program I was watching. Thanks.

02-20-2008, 03:50 AM
It seem like I saw a old movie with Jame Stwert where he had to start an airplane engine with what looked like a shot gun shell. It was the movie where they had crashed in the desert and rebuilt the plane to fly out.

Ron Gordon
02-20-2008, 04:53 AM
That is correct about the aircraft.That was a common method to get them to turn over in the old days.How things change,huh?Ron G

02-20-2008, 09:37 AM
It seem like I saw a old movie with Jame Stwert where he had to start an airplane engine with what looked like a shot gun shell. It was the movie where they had crashed in the desert and rebuilt the plane to fly out.

"Flight of the Phoenix" :D

02-20-2008, 11:35 AM
I had an Uncle that flew for the Army Air Corp during WW2 and he would tell about those cartridges. I understood they had both a charge to help turn over the engine over as well as ether or another substance that would fire. He said they would carry cases of them in the cockpit when flying over the Hump(himalayan mountains). The engines would freeze up and they would have to fly circles in the valleys until all the ice was off the wings and all the engines were running good and up to temperature! then they would head over another mountain!


02-20-2008, 12:49 PM
I never heard of using shells to start an engine but I remember some of the old Model "T" Ford engines when they were shut off and started soon after that if you just turned the key on they would fire and start.I guess one cyl. must have been up on compression and the mag. spark would fire the plug.

Mr Bulldozer UK
02-20-2008, 01:01 PM
Well although the cartridges are the same dimensions and pretty much identical to a normal 12 Bore cartridge.
The Starter cartridge has carbon particles instead of lead shot in them, this propells the piston over.

Here is a rough guide to starting one (from memory, i dont own one, but have friends who do).

1)Open throttle fully.
2)You take a threaded holder out of cylinder head first and prime engine by turning over with handle.
3)You set the arrow on the fly wheel inline with the arrow on frame,
4)Then set decompressor mechanism by placing the litle wheel one turn over on grooves on flywheel.
5)Set valve on cylinder head to cartridge start position.
6)Remove cartridge holder and insert cartridge, Tightening with a gentle tap from hammer.
7)Then you roll up a small square of paper (This is soaked in saltpetre, i believe).
8)You insert paper into threaded Holder and light exposed end with lighter or match. Then you blow out flame on paper, so it just glows ( very tricky on a windy day)
9)Re insert paper holder, also tightening with hammer.
10)Stand and tap pin on head of cartridge holder, smartly with hammer.
After a bang she is normally away. fingers crossed.

To start manually You do the above but:
In step 4) you place wheel 4 Grooves (This means engine turns 4 turns before coming onto compression)
5)Leave valve in hand start position
6) Ignore this step.
10 Instead you insert handle and wind as fast as you can, counting revolutions, getting ready to pull handle out after 4 turns. This is easier with two people, sometimes on Series 3 and 3A and Fowler VFA tractors, you try and get as many people as possibe to help you.
Not forgetting they were getting 40+ HP out of one cylinder.

Its about the only tractor in the world you set fire to and then shoot!!!!!
And you thought starting a D2/4/6/7/8/9 with a donkey engine was a handful.

The Field Marshall was the wheeled version, the Series 2 Was put on tracks and sold as the Fowler VF, the Series 3A was The Fowler VFA.
Hope this is of interest.


Mr Bulldozer UK
02-20-2008, 01:08 PM
Oops forgot to mention, these are Diesel engines And you can certainly sprain more than a wrist while hand starting, I once read that you needed "the Body of an Ape cum Weight lifter". I can confirm this is definetely true, especially when you consider the starting handle is over 3 Feet long and at least 2 inches+ thick Solid steel.
I will try and find some pictures of Tractor to post.


Mr Bulldozer UK
02-20-2008, 01:19 PM
Here is a box of Cartridges, These were sold on Ebay. They made good money, and cost good money to buy new, mainly due to only one main supplier.
I will research costs.

02-20-2008, 02:25 PM
have a watch and listen of this :)

02-20-2008, 07:44 PM
An old tanker who was with Patton in WWII told me of "Herkimer radial tank engines" that were started with a cartridge. Anybody know about them? Ad's gone on; I can't ask him.

More recent: I saw operating instructions for a modern air cooled diesel that used "starting paper" placed under a cap, presumably in the cylinder head. What was that all about? Is there anything that hasn't been tried?


02-20-2008, 09:37 PM
My father was in the 281st Engineer combat battalion, with General Patton's 3rd army, and has told me about tanks that were started with those shells.

One of his Patton stories is, he was traveling with his platoon when General Patton and his driver came up besides them in a jeep, Patton in his legendary outfit, pearl handled pistols etc. Patton ordered the driver to stop and and turned to one of the solders near my dad who did not have his helmet on, and roared at him " soldier get that goddam steel on your head" and drove off.
I understand it was not uncommon to see the General among his troops.
My father, Aaron, who some of you met at Tractor Don's 06 BBQ, is still telling stories of that war.