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From the Pugilist

My First Pug
My First Diesel
Peter Wilson

With diesel converts jumping into print these days, I should point out that my first diesel experience was real pioneer stuff.  I learned to drive on a preWorld War II German-made Bulldog Lanz tractor on a farm in New Zealand in the 1950s.

picture linkThe Lanz was powered by a huge single-cylinder diesel with a gigantic side-mounted flywheel that could have gone on a steam locomotive.  It was a big-hearted beast and after the war, the design was ripped off and identical tractors were produced in Australia, but not with the same steel quality, I'm told.

It had a great starting procedure with none of that sissy modern glowplug stuff. First, I had to learn to light the blow torch.  You used the blow torch to heat up an exposed "hot bulb" under the engine's cylinder head in the morning.  Just keep the flame on it until it was a glowing red.  Then, unclip the steering wheel, put it in a socket in the flywheel and heave to turn it over.  Put, put, put, putta putta putta... and away it would choomp.  Then, leap into the saddle to hurtle away, gathering speed until the tractor hit its breeze-making 8 kmh max.

Like an old dobbin, it could take a while to cover a paddock length by length, but it was big-hearted and seemed unstoppable.  One day the revs dropped too low and the engine began running in backwards.  It could do that, which meant there was a choice of four reverse speeds instead of one!  However, I had harrows behind me so I stalled the Lanz and trekked off to find the farmer to help restart it.  It just needed another swing of the wheel in the side because the bulb was still hot.

The workaround for reverse running is to dropping the revs very low again until it is almost stopped and get it to swing back to its normal power cycle.  The farm had a later Lanz which could hit 20 kmh—too fast for schoolboy me—and a neighbour had a postwar model with a high-tech cartridge system to fire it up.

The farmer had dreams of buying the latest Lanz with some sort of electric pre-heating with his next wool cheque.  Any other make was regarded as rubbish.

Anyhow, I have not driven another tractor and the Lanz was a step towards driving my own 1955 Peugeot 203 a few years later.

Thirty years later, the start-up pause in a Mercedes diesel seemed the epitomy of luxury compared with a blow-lamp lad but the rattle seemed ridiculous after that solid, steady Lanz choomp choomp choomp.

I borrowed a friend's 1979 Peugeot 504 diesel when my car was being repaired and was struck by the economy.  He said $5 worth of fuel would do for the weekend. I put in $10 and had $5 worth over.

Now I'm driving my own second Peugeot turbo-diesel, a 1995 model 405.

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Last Updated Feb 25 2004