I have always wanted a real Hi Lift jack. These go by many names: widow maker jack, farm jack, jack-all, railroad jack, etc. Their reputation is muddled by their very nature, but one thing most people agree on: They are handy. These jacks aren’t too expensive; You can find HI-Lift jacks on Amazon nowadays for right around $100, but I never needed one bad enough to spend the money. We have a cheap old jack to pull fence posts, but nothing as cool and sturdy as a Hi Lift. When I was in high school, we bought an old Ford F-150 to haul water. This work truck has over 250k miles but is still in good, useable shape. Recently I was removing decades of leaves, trash, and other debris that had piled in the back when I made an exciting discovery. The leaves had been hiding an old Hi Lift! How long it’s been in there is anyone’s guess, but at least a decade, maybe more.
I dragged the old thing out and stood it up. It was heavy. And I had no idea how it worked. Nothing moved. It was completely rusted together, and every part was stuck in its place. A very worn and peeling sticker said: “Hi Lift Jack Co. Capacity 7,000 pounds.” Score!
I used a screwdriver to remove dirt and debris from the spaces the handle socket attaches to the nose. Lots of material came out, and finally the handle moved. I was in business. It took me a couple hours to get it all apart, but I finally did. I started by removing (breaking) the old cotter pin holding the base plate on and pulling it off. Then I removed (broke) the cotter pin holding the handle in the handle socket, but it was stuck fast. A large pipe wrench and a cheater bar helped to break it free so I could remove it.
After that I started on the running gear. The climbing pins were completely, 100%, no shit stuck in the running gear. Zero movement. I sprayed the entire thing with PB Nut blaster and did what I could. I was able to remove the top clamp clevis. With the help of a hammer and punch (a 3/8” diameter bolt, not really a punch), I was able to remove one of the climbing pins and slide out the bar. The other climbing pin would not budge a millimeter. A torch made no difference. Finally, after much deliberation, a reciprocating saw removed it in three pieces. I removed the reversing latch and cam bar. Sadly, the spring for the cam bar was not salvageable. I was finally able to separate all the pieces of the jack.
I started scraping and scrubbing the parts with a metal brush, to remove all the big stuff I could. Some parts I could not reuse, and I set these aside to find replacements for later. This included climbing pins, springs, and most of the bolts. In fact, the only bolt I was able to reuse was the bolt holding the reversing latch in place. For smaller items like the cam bar, reversing latch, top clevis, and handle socket, I submerged in vinegar for two days. For the long pieces, the handle and standard bar, I made a cardboard form out of cut up boxes, fileted open a trash bag to line it, and filled it with more vinegar. For the most oddly shaped pieces, the large and small runners, I ran out of vinegar.
I did have access to a 5-gallon bucket and battery charger, so I set up my first electrolysis tank. I let this run for 2 days and it also worked wonderfully. To set up the tank I filled it with water, and wired a sacrificial piece of iron to the side. I hung my parts across the top with baling wire, the most useful of all wire. The red electrode (positive) goes to the sacrificial piece. The black (negative) goes to the good pieces. I turned it on and let it run for 2 days. Later that night, the water had already started to bubble and was tinged red with rust.
While the electrolysis magic worked on the jack parts, I went to town to find replacements for my bolts and springs. Luckily the farm and ranch store I frequent sold a Hi Lift repair kit for $20, including new climbing pins and springs, cross pins, shear pin, and small tube of oil. I still needed a new bolt for my top clevis, a spring for my cam bar, and a couple cotter pins. I was able to find these at various hardware stores. I just tried to match the sizes as best I could. While I was in town I bought some farm implement paint in colors I thought would look good.
The vinegar worked beautifully. It removed every last piece of rust and the film left behind came off easily with my wire brush. The electrolysis tank worked just as well. I wish I had known these methods years ago, so I could have been restoring old tools this entire time. Either way, I scrubbed the rust off my pieces and rinsed them, revealing the raw grey metal underneath. I laid them out and spray painted them as quickly as I could before they could flash rust. I sprayed 2 coats and let them dry in the sun and warm breeze.
Assembly was a fun endeavor. After some trial and error, I finally had my newly painted Hi Lift jack climbing and working perfectly. If you needed to buy required tools, vinegar, paint, and extra parts, you could easily spend the equivalent cost of a new jack. But fixing this one gave me a thorough understanding of its workings, and I had a ton of fun doing it. The satisfaction is real. There are many accessories you can purchase to make your life easier such as a wider base plate, handle keeper, running gear cover, and a well thought out attachment to aid in turning your Hi Lift into a come along. Using the jack requires your attention. If you pay attention, you will not get whacked in the head or hurt. You simply must use the jack properly with safety in mind.