Nicholas Fluhart

October 21, 2012

Ditch Witch R40: First Run

Filed under: Project: Ditch Witch,Trucks & Equipment — Nicholas Fluhart @ 7:51 pm

A while back, I posted about the Ditch Witch R40 my friend Philip picked up with the intention of doing a partial restoration. A lot has happened since then, and I decided to give it a spot on my blog. To pick up where I left off, Philip brought the machine to my shop where we would have an endless supply of tools. The first order of business was to get the engine running properly so we could actually operate the machine to see if there were any other issues and proceed with the project. Knowing that there were a couple of stuck valves, Philip proceeded with removing the cylinder heads to assess if the valves were damaged or just stuck with carbon. Upon removal of the heads, he discovered the latter was true. Using penetrating oil he freed the stuck valves, then cleaned the gasket surfaces. That was a fairly easy fix for the valves, however, when removing the rusty head bolts, one of them broke off in the cylinder…and this presented a challenge.

Since there was about 1/4 inch of the bolt sticking out of the cylinder, we had a few options. We started with the easiest solutions, and then worked our way to the more complex. First we tried using a stud extractor, but we couldn’t get enough of the stud into the tool. Second, we tried vice grips and applied heat to the area around the stud. That didn’t work either. The third attempt was to weld a nut onto the end of the stud and use a wrench to remove it. No good. The stud just kept breaking off leaving us with a shorter and shorter area to grip. After much deliberation, it was decided to drill the stud out. Philip flattened the top of the stud with a grinder. Then he reinstalled the cylinder head to use the bolt hole in the head as a guide to center punch the stud in the cylinder. Using a hand drill, it is very difficult to drill completely straight. To counter that challenge, Philip built a tool. Using a lathe from his machine shop, he built a drill bit guide which would fit into the bolt hole on the head and guide the drill bit straight into the stud in the cylinder. This would help ensure not to drill off center and damage the bolt hole in the cylinder. I’ve posted a picture of the guide and bit below.

That did the trick. He drilled the broken stud out of the cylinder and cleaned the threads with a tap. Now it’s just a matter of cleaning everything, fitting the new gaskets he ordered, and reinstalling the heads with new bolts.

Now it’s time to reinstall the engine air shrouds and covers. The Wisconsin engine is an air cooled unit, and it is important to have all the shrouds installed to maintain proper air flow across the cooling fins. We also install thicker exhaust gaskets as the exhaust manifold has apparent warped slightly. The thicker, crushable gaskets, which are actually some motorcycle exhaust gaskets I had, did the trick nicely. We then checked fluids, installed a new fuel line, battery, and some other odds and ends.

We still have the problem of the broken drive chain which connects the transmission and transfer case and subsequently drives the wheels. However, we can still run and drive the machine by using the crowd control which operates the hydraulic motor on the transfer case. This is used for trenching speed only, so it will be very slow. Nonetheless, it should work fine. And…

Success! The engine fired up, and the hydraulics and trencher work great. Oh course, we couldn’t resist cutting a test trench in my back yard, so Philip jumped on the machine and made a go at trenching and backfilling. Check out the video below:

This was a successful test run. Other than the above noted drive chain and the brake master cylinder, there is nothing else wrong with this machine. It won’t be long and it will be ready for its first official trenching job.

Until then…

UPDATE: Check out the first job here.


  1. […] UPDATE: See the project post for this machine here. […]

    Pingback by Retreiving Ditch Witch R40 « Nicholas Fluhart — October 21, 2012 @ 7:53 pm | Reply

  2. What engine do you have? My boss has the same engine in his r40 and I need to get the right head gasket. Local NAPA won’t order any parts without the engine model number. I can’t find a tag on it.

    Comment by Ray Shelley — July 19, 2015 @ 11:04 pm | Reply

    • Sorry this is so late. It’s an air cooled Wisconsin engine. I don’t have the numbers with me, but if you are still working on this I can locate the machine and get the numbers. Just let me know.

      Comment by nfluhart — October 26, 2015 @ 9:13 am | Reply

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