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Twenty-Five Hundred Miles and Two Leather Rod Bearings Later

Chris Bamford of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada actively uses both of his two antique cars, a 1925 Model “T” Ford speedster and a 1947 Dodge sedan on long road trips. For the last four years, Chris and his friend Jerry have driven the Ford from Edmonton to Oregon to attend the Northwest Vintage Speedsters 200-mile Endurance Run held on Labor Day Weekend. This year their time for the run was 7:54:59 that resulted in a 12th place finish in the field of 21 cars that completed the run. The total mileage was 2,568 miles that was covered over a period of 10 days.

  • The lead photo shows Chris Bamford of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, with his 1924 Model “T” Ford speedster and his friend Jerry on the way to the NVS Endurance run in Silverton, Oregon. 

Model "T" Ford speedster

  • The boxes on each side of the body are a cooler and the other is used to store gear. Behind the gas tank is a tool box followed by two spare tires mounted on demountable rims. 

The  speedster still runs on its original flywheel magneto that powers the four individual coils that provide ignition to each cylinder. Other than a high-compression cylinder head, 3 to 1 high-speed rear axle gears and accessory four-wheel brakes, the chassis and running gear is as built at the Ford Factory. Average running speed on the open road is 45-48 m.p.h. The fuel mileage was 20 m.p.g for the run.

With two passengers aboard with fuel and oil, spares and necessities the car weighs in at 2266 pounds. Behind the seats are the fuel tank, a tool box, an insulated cooler on the left and a storage box on the right. This year a cowl mounted Ford headlight with a halogen bulb and visor to prevent glare was added for the long days on the road that often end in the early evening. The canvas cover on the rear section extends to the windshield when parked for the night.

Burned out Model  T Ford rod bearing

  • Damaged bearing in the forth connecting rod with chunks of babbitt missing, the rod journal was OK.

581 miles from home this year on the return trip and just 8-miles from the US and Canadian border, the number four connecting rod bearing started knocking. After pulling the oil pan and the cap from the offending rod, Chis and Jerry found much of the babbitt was gone from the upper half of the bearing. The lower portion in the rod cap faired much better.

Burned out Model  T Ford rod bearing

  • The connecting rod cap on the left and some of the pieces of babbitt from the top half of the bearing. 

Many of you have heard tales of early motorists being able to limp back home after using a piece of leather from their belt or scraps of it to fashion a temporay bearing. Chis and his father had done this one other time years before with this car, and he knew just what to do to this time around.

Thankfully while contemplating the situation an old timer named Bill was driving by and stopped to offer his help. This roadside savior is a leatherworker, who offered to go home and get some leather scraps and the tools needed to make a new insert for the rod. Upon his return, Bill can be seen (below) at work crafting a new leather bearing. He used a .040-inch thick piece of leather for the new insert for the top half of the rod.

fashioning a piece of leather into a connecting rod bearing

  • Bill fashioning a piece of leather into a connecting rod bearing.

Chris explains the rest of the repair: “I buttoned it up, and all went well for the next 24 miles. The knock returned, faintly, so we dropped the pan once more and took the con rod bolts up a ways. There was still about 1/32″ gap between the cap and rod, and we expected to take it up again once or twice as the leather compressed. Fortunately, the rod bolts have self-locking nuts, so there was no monkeying around with cotter pin holes being at the wrong heights.

More knocking again 60 miles later, this time louder and all of a sudden. Turns out the first insert had disintegrated, with part remaining in the top, part migrating to the cap and the rest who knows where. Worse, the cap babbitt was now compromised although the journal remained OK.

We redesigned the leather insert using a different, smoother material with two pieces epoxied together on the top to keep it in place during installation. The cap babbitt was a little rough but basically all there so we used just one layer on it. This piece of leather was notched at the dipper hole.

On the second day, we traveled from New Denver BC to Golden BC, 193 miles at 30-32 mph. We covered 207 miles the next day on the second leather rod bearing and it worked fine – we tightened the rod nuts a half turn at 120 miles just on general principles, but there has been no detectable knocking. We were still 330 miles from home after stopping for the night.

The rest of the trip went smoothy and after retuning home the leather bearing has now served for 581 miles. I am thinking about tightening the nuts a bit further then running it as is until the car gets laid up for other work.”

All photos and the story are courtesy of Chris Bamford and were posted on the MTFCA Fourm.

  • Post run photo with a spare rod shows how the second leather bearing was positioned.

fashioning a piece of leather into a model T ford connecting rod bearing

10 responses to “Twenty-Five Hundred Miles and Two Leather Rod Bearings Later

  1. I find this amazing.

    My father told the story of some car he owned that was missing a chunk of babbit. He was a kid, working for a mechanic, and the old guy ran some solder into it and cleaned it up with his pocket knife. Dad put it back together and drove it for quite some time.

  2. It takes a hardy person to live in Edmonton. it’s on the same latitude as Moscow. The only month in which Edmonton has never had snow is July. I’ve been there when the temperature was 40 below (at that point Farenheit and Celcius are the same). The picture of Chris was probably taken on a lovely spring day.

  3. It looks like the upper rod bearing had a grove machined in it. This will cause it to fail. The misconception with model t conn. rods is to have “x” groves or straight groves cut into them, to provide oil to the bearing. The opposite actually happens. The load is supported by a thin layer of oil, across the entire upper bearing. If you cut groves into it, it gives the oil a place to go out, and it lets the load down, plus you have reduced the amount of bearing surface. Close fitting non-groved upper bearings work the best! In modern car & diesel engines, you don’t see oil groves in the upper rod bearing, or the lower main bearing.

  4. Remarkable, and absolutely wonderful. It proves that old pre WWII cars can be driven long distances, and can be fixed “at the side of the road”. I have great respect for those that have 100 point restorations and win awards . More so for the efforts of the restorers who have made those cars perfect enough to get the trophy . That being said , we all have fun with our old cars in our own way, some people want to win awards and some want to have the experience of being the pilot or passenger in a 70+ year old car going down the road. I am with those that find the thrill of the drive/ride is the most satisfying .

  5. Thank you, Mr. G., for reminding me of something I learned about a long time ago: adjustable babbit con rod bearings. I understand that the old Chevy six had those until the early fifties, splash lubrication and all. First I’ve heard about using leather as a temporary bearing though. Very educational.

  6. A story was told many years ago in our rural crossroad neighborhood (Macland) in West Cobb County, Georgia of a man who owned a Model T Ford. Another fellow continually pestered him to buy the car. When the car was finally on it s last legs the owner dropped the pan and replaced all the bearings with leather from an old belt, hitched a mule to the car and dragged it to a hill near the man’s house. Letting the car roll to the man’s front yard he announced that he was finally ready to sell the car which the other man happily bought. Unexplained is why the owner would not have replaced the bearings with actual bearings unless it was during the depression and he had no money or whether he genuinely disliked the guy. Also unexplained is what happened after the buyer found out he had been duped.

  7. I’m not sure where I learned the trick with using leather s a bearing substitute. It was either from Tom Joad or from Gus of the Model Garage.
    Old fix.

    • Probably both…. in the book version of Grapes of Wrath, there’s several pages where the Joads help another Okie repair a failed bearing during an overnight stop… I was surprised by the detail in Steinbeck’s description…

      I have also heard tell of guys using GI web-belts to reline transmission bands in Model Ts … don’t know if this is apocryphal or not.

  8. One story is about 2 friends of mine who bought a nice looking Model T that wasn’t running, for the right price. They decied that they would coast it down a short grade to put it on a trailer. The car coasted fine, until they needed to apply the transmission’s BRAKE band: Right to the floor-board!

    Somehow, they got down the grade and levered the car to a stop, in a vee’d ditch! What was wrong? NO BANDS IN THE TRANSMISSION!!!

    I have filled a large loose cracked out -piece in a Model B rear Main cap with torch, flux, Babbitt metal and hand scraped the bearing, using Prussian Blue and an excellent bearing scraper. The metals MARRIED and the rear main lasted, QUIETLY for another five years of daily use, at 55mph. There is NO similarity between QUICK and RELIABLE! Patience payed off, as I determined that 80 % bearing surface in the repair area would suffice. It did. Edwin – 30 –

  9. Love this story. Thanks for posting it. The older I get, the more I want a Model T in my garage. These seem like a blast to drive and monkey around with.

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