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Bringing Home a Barn Find

Tips for preparing a ‘barn find’ project vehicle for the road


By Steve Turchet


[caption id="attachment_3258" align="alignright" width="300"]bringing home a barn find While many of us in the old car hobby dream of stumbling across a dusty but otherwise all-original vehicle in a barn, it’s a very rare occurrence. That is not to say that it doesn’t happen.[/caption]

A question that many vintage vehicle owners are often asked about their vehicles (besides “is it hard to find parts for?” and “what is it worth?”) is where they found it. As most enthusiasts know, the general public usually assumes that most old cars were bought at a televised auction. However, those of us in the hobby often have much more interesting tales to tell about how and where we acquired our vehicles, along with amusing or adventurous stories about how we got our treasures home.


While some collectors do buy vehicles from auctions, many vintage vehicles come directly from private sources. We become aware of them through classified ads in this magazine or other  publications, by word of mouth and on eBay or other Internet sites. Sometimes, we simply spot a vehicle in someone’s barn or out in a field, often when we’re not looking for one. These are generically called “barn finds.”


Just about any barn find is able to be transported in a trailer, and many are towable, while a few can actually be driven home. However, sometimes what is towable or “trailerable” (and maybe should be) is transformed into drivable.


The adventure usually begins after the vehicle has been purchased. In many cases, the vehicle’s new owner has been told by the farmer/rancher/miner/logger, “She was runnin’ when we parked her 20 years ago.” What sometimes happens is the new owner decides that instead of renting or borrowing a tow bar or trailer, they are going to drive the vehicle home. I have done this many times, often in the desert or bush, and usually because I had to because I lacked the equipment to trailer or tow a vehicle or the funds to have it trailed or towed. However, for many people, there’s really no necessity to try to drive home a barn find, but there’s usually no necessity to climb a mountain, either.


While every situation has been a little different, there are also similarities, especially in the stories of others who’ve driven barn finds home, or tried. The same mistakes are often made and a lot of time is often wasted by not doing things in a logical order when it comes to inspecting a barn find, getting it started and making it mobile. In some cases, a vehicle simply can’t be driven — or shouldn’t be — and the sooner one learns this (preferably on the same day one makes the purchase), the less time will be wasted trying to do the impossible.


For example, a guy once told me he spent an entire day dismounting all 10 wheels of a barn find M35 military vehicle, hauling them two at a time in his SUV to the nearest town to air them up, only to discover at sunset that the truck’s engine was seized. Someone else told me of a day spent firing up an old 4×4 truck only to discover it was missing its transfer case.


The reason why embarrassments like these occur is because people don’t take the time to thoroughly check out a vehicle before they decide they could drive it home. Usually, the vehicle’s former owner was telling the truth and the vehicle had been running when parked, but parts were removed through the years and this had been forgotten. In other cases, parts may have been stolen or simply “borrowed” by other people.


Basic Check List


There are only a few basic things that need to be checked to determine if there’s at least a chance that a barn find can be started and driven. First, it should be obvious that no vehicle is going anywhere under its own power if its engine is seized. If one has jumper cables, it’s a simple matter to try the starter on vehicles with 6- or 12-volt electrical systems to see if the engine is free. For vehicles with 24-volt systems, 12 volts may not be enough to turn an engine that’s been sitting for years. However, on most vehicles, one can put the transmission in neutral, grab the fan, push down on the fan-belt with one hand to keep it tight, and turn the engine enough to see if it’s free. A hefty screwdriver or small pry bar on the flywheel teeth will also serve to turn the engine. If it’s free, and one trusts the former owner’s word that it was indeed running when parked, there is usually a good chance it can be started.


Even if it seems to be stuck, there are ways to break an engine free if its piston rings are just lightly rusted to the cylinder walls, as is sometimes the case. Still, I’ve only had about a 50/50 success rate of freeing frozen engines in the field, so one may want to consider towing options if a vehicle’s engine is stuck. On the other hand, if a vehicle’s engine can be turned over, the next step is to make sure that all the major and minor components required for self-propelled mobility are still present and connected to each other.


Besides the large and obvious parts (transmission, drive shaft and steering system), check that the steering wheel at least tries to turn the front wheels, even if the tires are flat or sunk in the ground. The vehicle’s service brakes probably won’t work, but hopefully that’s only due to loss of brake fluid. For the moment, make sure that the brake and clutch pedals are operational and still equipped with return springs. Small parts such as return springs are some of the common items often missing from a barn find. Also check for an accelerator linkage return spring, along with a spring or springs for the parking brake system if springs are used. If any of these are missing or badly rusted so they may break, buy new ones before you return.


Even if the clutch pedal works, it’s possible that the clutch disk is rusted to the flywheel and/or pressure plate. Many people don’t discover this until after they get an engine running. A simple way to check if the clutch disk is stuck is to put the transmission and transfer case (if equipped) in gear, push the clutch pedal down — either have someone hold it down or block it down with a stick if working alone — then turn then engine over by hand or with the starter. If the clutch has released, you’ll be able to turn the engine. If not, either the engine won’t turn or it will try to move the vehicle when turned over. A rusted clutch disk can sometimes be freed in the field, which I will explain later.


-Read more at: http://www.oldcarsweekly.com/restoration/bringing-home-a-barn-find#sthash.0thWYvkZ.dpuf



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