Farm Boys’ Fantasy
Remember when school shop projects usually meant building a birdhouse, ashtray or a volcano? Well, for a talented group of kids in the Butler Tech-sponsored Engineering Design Shop at Ross High School in Hamilton, Ohio, the school project was much cooler! The student build team consisting of Jake Fritz, Nate Gander, Zach Habermehl, Tommy Hall, Doug Loos, Alex Slade, Ben Warman and Nick Zaenkert worked with advisors Eric Huhn and Bob Zaenkert to put a 4.5L John Deere PowerTech turbo-diesel engine in an ’01 Dodge 1500 pickup. The school’s sports teams are called the Ross Rams so building a Dodge Ram pickup just seems right.
The extra-cab Dodge was in fair condition when purchased, sporting dents, body and frame rust, and a blown transmission. But the students were determined to transform it into something their farming community could be proud of. To start the transformation, the student builders removed the gas engine and transmission from the truck and fabricated mounts to install a new power plant in the form of a 4045T John Deere PowerTech 4.5L that was originally installed in a commercial straw chopper. After getting the engine mounted, the crew also had to wire it as a stand-alone piece with its own dedicated ignition switch as they were not able to make the Dodge computer talk to the John Deere engine.
Since the truck already had a balky transmission, the build team opted to replace it rather than rebuild it and try to make the electronic controls on the 46RE work with the new John Deere engine. They chose to install a 47RH transmission behind the 4045T that operates strictly on hydraulic pressure rather than electronic controls. Gear selection is handled by a floor-mounted B&M Megashifter. The stock Chrysler torque converter was used along with a custom flexplate to link the engine to the transmission. The manual transfer case was also retained to keep the 4WD functional on the Dodge. To get the power to the axles, the front driveshafts had to be lengthened while the rear was shortened to accommodate for the longer transmission.
The non-intercooled 4-cylinder John Deere 4045T engine uses the original turbo and injectors to make around 150-180 horsepower for comfortable cruising or spirited driving in the 1500 Dodge with around 24 MPG on the highway. A 4-inch exhaust channels the spent gases from the turbo to the bed where it exits in dual 6-inch “Aussie-Cut” polished stacks. A Spectre air filter setup provides plenty of clean air directly to the turbo.
Once the engine and transmission were comfortably fit into the truck, the student builders turned their attention to the chassis. They installed a 5-inch BDS Suspension lift kit utilizing front springs intended for a 3/4-ton truck to support the weight of the 4.5L John Deere engine. In the rear, the crew fabricated a set of ladder-style traction bars to prevent axle wrap. Both of the front and rear 1/2-ton axles were retained, as were the factory brakes. The truck rolls on a set of LT325/60-R20 Nitto Terra Grappler All-Terrain tires wrapped around chrome 20×10-inch Moto Metal wheels for good looks and performance.
The next area of attack for the students was the body. They smoothed the dents and repaired the rust to get the truck into paintable shape. To make the 1/2-ton truck resemble its bigger 3/4- and 1-ton siblings, they installed cab marker lights on the roof and tow mirrors. Boitnott’s Custom Paint in Fairfield, Ohio, donated the Planet Color paint and laid on the custom tear-away graphics that reveal John Deere green and yellow colors with school logos. After the paint was complete, they installed the stock front and rear bumpers along with a new set of aftermarket headlights and taillights.
The students wrapped up the nine-month build by handing the truck over to Beckman’s Upholstery in Harrison, Ohio, to whip the interior into shape. Bob and Dave Beckman used a combination of black and yellow vinyl to match the custom paint when recovering the stock front and rear seats. Finally they installed a trio of Auto Meter Pro-Comp Ultra-Lite gauges in an A-pillar pod to monitor boost, transmission temperature and EGT to make sure their John Deere engine continues to live a long and happy life in its new Dodge home.
The students created a YouTube video documenting the build that can be found by searching for bleedinggreen4020 on the site. Additionally, they entered the project in the Tech Prep Showcase taking first place honors. Moving on to the next level they took first place once again at the 2012 Ohio Skills USA Competition and even won first place at the National Skills USA Competition. As you can see, these students are a talented bunch of youngsters with a bright future ahead of them in the diesel world; we just wish our school projects were as cool as this truck!
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Text and Photos by Chris Tobin