Different strokes for different folks that’s what I always say. It’s funny how different yet the same city kids are from farm kids. It’s two completely different worlds both with their own unique pros and cons. My freshman year college roommate was a corn-fed farm boy named Anthony who hailed from Kimball, Nebraska… a one stoplight town located right smackdab in the panhandle of Nebraska. I on the other hand was a mischievous city lad from “Hippie Town USA” also known as Boulder, Colorado. Despite our different backgrounds we became quick friends and the following summer Anthony invited me to visit his hometown for a weekend. I didn’t think I would enjoy my trip to the land of dirt but I obliged my friend and went anyways. But hey maybe an adventure awaits I thought? And off we went.
Not to my surprise but my preconceived notions were confirmed as we discovered there was a whole lot of nothing up there in Kimball, however there was an energy about the people that made the town feel alive. I felt the hospitality of Anthony’s family at supper that evening. This felt like the America I had seen so often portrayed on TV. After dinner I was informed by Anthony that the real was just getting started. That warm July evening began by cruising the back dirt roads looking for others. At each stop I was introduced to another easy going character each with their own backstory. There was Matt, Dusty and “Dave The Dave”. The smile on my face was from ear to ear. How could anyone have a bad time with someone named “Dave The Dave”?Eventually, we congregated at the local gas station where we found other likeminded kids. It’s where the cool went to see and being seen… and we were definitely large and in charge that weekend. Being underage at the time I was informed that we were going to a secret spot to engage in some adult shenanigans.
A big group of us disappeared into an endless ocean of amber corn as far as the eye could see with brewskis and Lynyrd Skynyrd setting the tone for that night. Ah to be young and to feel completely alive. The highlight of that whole night, other than slyly flirting Dave’s sister, Katie, was monkeying around with a homemade double barrel 7ft long potato gun one of the kids had made in his garage. This beast was made from PVC piping, a one way valve, automatic igniter switch 1/3 and 2/3 the way up the barrel, an inlying fan inside of the barrel powered by a 9V battery with a compression and gas meter. The thing was a monster and shot spuds over 400 yards. The trees never stood a chance that day my friends… neither did an old rusty barn door which now permanently featured a 15” diameter hole as part of its charm. I was hooked on not having a care in the world. I even got to fire it a couple of times myself. Good times were had by all during my weekend to Nebraska and luckily I came back with all of my fingers. I made some great new friends that weekend and learned all about a different way of life other than mine own that I’ve taken with me all of these years later.
It turns out that small town farm kind are still having the same kind of fun today as they were 20 years ago. A group of talented students from Hamilton, Ohio have taken the concept of the backyard potato gun to a whole new level. Ross High School has a Butler Technical College sponsored engineering shop where a student team came up with a great idea of installing a John Deere 4045T PowerTech in a Dodge Ram pickup. Sounds crazy right?! Their teacher approved the idea and fostered their creativity. The team of students consisted of Doug Loos, Alex Slade, Ben Warman, Tommy Hall and Nick Zaenkert.
The team got to work by first purchasing an older 2001 Dodge Ram 1500 extra-cab in fair condition but sporting rust, body dents and a completely blown transmission. Their mission was to transform the truck into something of pride for the small farming community. They chose to put a John Deere in the truck out of respect for their farming heritage. To start the rebuild the students removed the gas engine that was currently in the pickup as well as the shot transmission. The chassis had to be custom fabricated with new support housing to accommodate the larger 4045T John Deere PowerTech 4.5L diesel engine. The John Deere 4045T was a good running takeout, not reman engine, from an agriculture straw chopper.
After mounting the engine to the new frame the students then had to bypass the ECM in the John Deere with its own dedicated ignition system. The ECM in John Deere 4045 was not compatible with the on-board Dodge computer. The current transmission proved to be the biggest obstacle with the project. Since the existing 46RE transmission was bad the team decided to simply replace it than rebuild the old one. Trying to make the electronic controls on the 46RE work with the new John Deere 4045T proved to be rather difficult so the team decided to install a 47RH transmission which was compatible with the Deere. The team decided to install the transmission that operates solely on hydraulic pressure rather than electronic controls. Shifting gears is handled by a floor-mounted B&M Megashifter. The 47RH transmission was linked to the John Deere 4045T by a custom flex-plate along with a torque converter made by Chrysler. The transfer case, which is manual, was not scrapped and used to keep the four wheel drive functional in compatibility with the Dodge ECM. Lastly to properly power the axles the front driveshafts had to be lengthened while the rear axles had to be shortened to accommodate the bigger sized 47RH transmission.
Let’s talk about horsepower! The turbo on the John Deere 4045T usually makes around 150-180 HP with 339-374 ft/lbs of torque. The John Deere 4045T engine is a 4 cylinder turbocharged, watercooled, 4.5 L, Tier II-IV compliant and rated to optimally run at 2300-2600 RPM. The John Deere 4045T is a smaller diesel engine used primarily at 60%-75% load for intermittent duties and typically isn’t used for full continuous power in genset units. Recommended continuous usage for power generation is only 16 hours at full load. The John Deere 4045T is capable of producing 78-112 kW of electricity.
In the case of the conversion, the 4045T is a solid engine to provide slow and steady power to the Dodge Ram and is a perfect engine for towing capabilities; with almost 400 ft/lbs of torque while still providing 24 MPG on highway. The students really classed this truck up with 4-inch exhaust passages that expel spent gases via the DPF from the turbo to the bed where it exits from dual chrome polished Aussie-Cut stacks. This baby is rollin’ coal Ohio style! Don’t worry though, this engine is still EPA Tier III Compliant and meets the Clean Air Act. The students even installed an additional Spectre air filter to provide clean air directly to the turbo.
After the engine and transmission were properly installed and linked up with the Dodge Ram’s computer interface the students focused their attention to the chassis of the truck. A ride this cool can’t simply sit on the ground like a common truck, thus a lift kit was needed. A lift was also needed simply due to the oversized oil pan on the John Deere 4045T. Without a suspension lift the engine wouldn’t be able to clear the ground. The students installed a 5-inch BDS Suspension lift kit employing the front springs. This type of lift kit was intended for a 9,000 lbs. truck but needed to support the weight of the bigger John Deere 4045T which weighs 1,019 lbs.
The rear suspension of the chassis included a ladder structure of traction bars to prevent wrapping of the axles. The students didn’t replace the axles as both the front and rear end were ½ ton rated which were enough to support the weight of the engine and transmission. The factory brakes were also retained. The team swapped out the Ram tires for a set of LT325/60-R20 Nitto Terra Grappler All-Terrain tires enclosed around chrome 20 x 10 inch Moto Metal wheels for performance and classic looks.
Once the suspension was taken care of the team got to work on the body of the truck. The homestretch was in reach and the John Deere Truck was coming together. The students removed the dents, refurbished areas with rust, welded up weak spots near joints. The Dodge Ram ½ ton was made to look like a ¾ or 1 ton cousin by installing cab marker lights on the roof and larger tow mirrors. The original paint was removed and completely re-painted. Boitnott’s Custom Paint in Fairfield, Ohio donated the darker Planet Green color and added tear away custom graphics to reveal John Deere Green and Yellow accents colors along with Ross High School’s logo. Once the paint dried the team installed new stock front and rear bumpers along with aftermarket headlights and taillights.
The front interior seats were completely ripped out and reupholstered using a combination of black and yellow vinyl to match the stock dashboard and rear seats. Albeit the dashboard was not replaced the team installed Auto Meter Pro-Comp Ultra-Lite gauges in an A-pillar pod to monitor boost, transmission temperature and EGT to ensure long-life of the John Deere engine. These gauges were necessary since the Dodge Ram ECM and gauge readout was not compatible with the John Deere 4045T.
The entire rebuild took 9 months and was documented step by step by the students in a series of YouTube videos. At the end of the 9 month journey the team entered the completed truck into the Tech Prep Showcase taking first place and the additionally took first place in the 2012 Ohio Skills USA Competition and National Skills USA Competition.
And that’s my friend is what small town living and ingenuity is all about; which takes me back to that weekend in Nebraska. You know I never made any real headway with Katie that evening but I’ll never forget the creative nature of small town farm folk. You make your own fun and make do with what you have. Good work gents, that is one badass John Deere 4045T truck!
References: Thanks to Diesel World Magazine and specifically Adam Blattenberg for the exposé on this story!