The Cultivator
Thoughts from the editor.

Piersen Engines and Shows

Well, I’m almost ashamed to report that I’ve yet to get my 1920 5 hp Piersen running. Worse, I can’t even say I’ve put much time into the effort since last issue, focused as I’ve been on helping my kids get their vintage motorcycles ready for the new riding season. Charlie, just turning 21 this summer, has been upgrading and modifying a 1972 Honda CB350 that’s been hiding in the back of the shop for some 10-plus years while Madeline, now 23, is learning about the 1980 Moto Guzzi 500cc V-twin she recently acquired. The Honda’s moving toward new paint and final assembly, while the Guzzi’s apart for new cylinder base gaskets and pushrod O-rings to take care of a persistent oil leak.

In the interim, however, it’s been enjoyable hearing from readers who also own Piersen engines. And also something of a surprise, as outside of my Piersen I’ve never seen another one and simply assumed they were very few and far between.

Which, in fact, they are. Yet at least four made their way to California, where they’re now in the possession of California engine and tractor historian Jack Alexander. Another Piersen made its way to Illinois, now owned by longtime reader and regular contributor Gary Bahre. Gary’s engine is actually a Collis, made in Clinton, Iowa, after Collis acquired Piersen in 1921. Its brass engine tag announces its heritage, with “Collis” stamped in large letters at the top of the tag and “Formerly The Superior Piersen Designed By E.B. Cushman” stamped in smaller letters below. The tag on Gary’s Collis includes a May 23, 1922, patent date, making it one of the later engines made as it’s believed that Collis went out of business in 1923. Jack’s engines span the 1919-1921 time frame, when engines were made in Topeka, Kansas, by Piersen. One of Jack’s engines shows serial number A755 and another A805. Mine shows serial number A775, making it possible Jack’s engines and mine were built within days or weeks of each other.

My lack of movement on the Piersen is a little frustrating, as I’d really hoped to show it off at the 23rd Annual Power of the Past Antique Engine and Tractor Show in Ottawa, Kansas, Sept. 8-10. The largest engine and tractor show in Kansas, Power of the Past draws an impressive and growing selection of engines every year, making it kind of a natural for a hoped-for first showing. I’ll still hit the show, but I guess the engine will have to wait another year.

On that note, among other shows on my list I’m hoping to make it to the 50th Annual Buckley Old Engine Show in Buckley, Michigan, Aug. 17-20, when the Northwest Michigan Engine & Thresher Club hopes to spin the giant 1907 1,100 hp Snow twin tandem engine we featured in the June/July 2016 issue. It won’t be burning gas yet, instead powered by compressed air, but watching that 225-ton monster spin its 18-foot flywheel will be a sight to see.


Richard Backus
Editor-in-Chief
rbackus@gasenginemagazine.com

A 5 hp Piersen and Good Intentions

Last issue, I noted my ongoing motions toward finally getting my 1920 5 hp Piersen running. With the engine finally pulled out and occupying the middle of my shop, I was confident that I’d finally make some real headway on it – to the point I suggested I might even have it running by now. Heck, I was so sure of myself, I even plugged it in the table of contents as an upcoming, next issue article, confident my good intentions would be met with success. Well, we all know the old saw about good intentions and the road to hell …

But it’s not all bad, because I did in fact make some progress with the Piersen. With the engine finally cleaned up a bit, it was quick work to confirm a good hot spark from the non-stock Wico Model X/XH150B magneto. From what I can find, the original magneto should have been a Berling, a Dixie or an Ohmer, although it appears the latter was used after Piersen was acquired by Collis in Clinton, Iowa, around 1921.

It won’t fire successive revolutions, but I have gotten it to bark a dozen-plus times. Funny enough, at the same time I was working on the Piersen, managing editor Landon Hall was working on his scruffy, new-to-him 1974 Norton 850 Commando motorcycle. Totally by luck, both engines fired for the first time in who knows how long at exactly the same moment!

With a good spark confirmed, I turned my attention to the mixer, which is an over-flow design. The incoming air charge passes through a gulp valve of sorts, a spring-loaded disc that appears to open against spring pressure during intake in response to cylinder vacuum. The fuel charge is pulled in with the incoming air, passing through a simple jet at the base of the mixer. I suspect the mixer works, but so far I’ve been using the priming cup for starting and I haven’t been able to spin the engine fast enough or long enough to get successive combustion cycles. Unlike an engine with a spoked flywheel, there’s little to grab to really get the engine spinning, and there’s presently no hand crank, which, as we know, is something of a twin-edged sword.

A potential issue is what appears to be an unpredictable loss of compression, as if one of the valves is hanging up. When compression is present, it’s surprisingly fierce, requiring a fair bit of effort to spin the flywheel. But occasionally, it’s as if the engine has latched out, and it spins easily. A bit more inspection should confirm the issue.

The old oil’s been drained and replaced (I’m always amazed how clean non-detergent oil looks even after untold years of sitting) and I’ve confirmed the Piersen’s odd oil reservoir – a Ball canning jar – works properly. Next up is a thorough cleaning of the gas tank and, I hope, finally getting it to bark for more than one or two revolutions.


Richard Backus
Editor-in-Chief
rbackus@gasenginemagazine.com

Getting Started in 2017

In a bid to stick to my stated New Year’s goals of last issue, namely finally getting my 1921 1-1/2 hp IHC Model M and/or my 1920 5 hp Piersen running – or at least on the road to running – I recently pulled both engines out from under cover. Taking the coward’s way out, I’ve decided to start with the Piersen, if only because it seems to be complete and therefore an easier prospect to get running without having to tear it down.

Pulling the Piersen out from its long slumber has so far revealed at least one pleasant surprise. Dusting it off, I realized I’d never really examined the homemade cart it’s sitting on, basically just a few pieces of 2 x 6 pine bolted to an old set of trucks. The trucks are actually a bit nicer than I realized, but the real surprise was discovering a spare intake/exhaust rocker arm wire-tied to the cart. That’s a big find, because the rocker arm currently fitted had broken at some stage in the engine’s life and then been brazed together.

Thinking back, I remembered that the engine’s previous owner, Bill Sterrett, now deceased, had told me that he had a spare rocker arm, but hadn’t bothered to fit it since, well, why bother? If the repaired one worked, it just meant he had a replacement ready at hand should the other fail. How I’d missed the spare rocker arm I can’t say, but I’m awfully glad to have found it, and like Bill, I’ll now probably leave the brazed rocker arm in place.

Although it hasn’t been started in decades, it was a running engine before Bill relegated it to storage. In that time it’s been undercover and indoors, so it hasn’t suffered the ravages of weather and it rolls over on compression just fine. With any luck, by next issue I’ll have the Piersen running again.

The 43rd Annual Farm Collector Show Directory, our annual guide to engine, tractor and farm shows across the U.S. and Canada, is now available. As before, the 2017 directory lists swap meets, threshing bees, engine shows, tractor shows and farm shows – more than 1,000 events across the United States and Canada.

It features complete event listings and advertisements from show sponsors and hosts, providing complete event information and telling you who to contact if you need to learn more. Indexes in the back of the directory let you look up shows chronologically and by feature, and there’s also a listing of national clubs and publications. Shows are pinned to state maps to give at-a-glance locations, a handy feature when you’re just thumbing through and trying to decide where your show wanderings might take you this year. You’ll find full ordering information here. In the meantime, even if it’s the off-season right now, make sure to keep those flywheels spinning!


Richard Backus
Editor-in-Chief
rbackus@gasenginemagazine.com

Gearing Up for 2017

I know it’s early for New Year’s resolutions, but this being the December/January issue, it seems appropriate to set out some goals for the new year.

Chief among them is to finally start working on the 1921 1-1/2 hp IHC Model M I picked up some years ago. I’ve had plenty of excuses for not getting around to it. Regular work limits play time, as does real life, what with kids in school, leaky roofs to replace and old cars to keep on the road.

Yet much as I like to procrastinate, I’m running out of excuses: The kids are out of school, with daughter Madeline graduated from college and son Charlie from woodworking school; the roof’s been replaced; and while the old cars continue to play up, they’re running OK. There are always other projects, but it’s time to get the IHC – and the 1920 5 hp Piersen sitting next to it – running.

Both engines are fairly complete, the Piersen in particular. Still wearing its original paint, I plan on leaving it as is cosmetically. Mechanically, I think it only needs a partial tear-down and inspection. It hasn’t been run in probably 15-20 years, so the seals for its odd combined flywheel/radiator are probably suspect. The single rocker arm that opens both the intake and exhaust valve was welded up long ago after breaking, and while it looks OK, I want to look into replacing it, likely by modifying something from another engine, as Piersen parts are thin on the ground. I think the crankshaft and big and little end connecting rod bearings are fine, but I need to find out why the magneto isn’t hot.

The IHC will take a little more work. Like the Piersen, it’s still in its work clothes, but in this case they’re pretty threadbare. A kerosene-soaked rag just barely brings up traces of the original lettering on the hopper on one side, but otherwise the paint is pretty much gone, only a few areas showing traces of the original IHC green.

I like original over restored, so I’d like to leave the IHC alone, but I’m resigned to the fact I will probably have to paint it. Mechanically, I’m not sure what’s in store. A farm auction find, the IHC has no history. The gas/kerosene mixer is missing parts and I’m pretty certain the mag is dead. On the plus side, the crankshaft and connecting rod bearings appear good and the cylinder has compression. Unlike the Piersen, I expect to strip the IHC down to its base.

Of course, there’s one other project I have to start first before launching into the Piersen and IHC; renewing my latest find, a nice 1947 Southbend 9-inch Model B lathe with a 4-1/2-foot bed. It was hiding in a corner in good friend Walt Hull’s blacksmith shop, and when Walt discovered I was looking for a lathe, he decided to pass it along to me. I think I’d better get started if I’m not going to blow my New Year’s resolutions before the new year even starts!  
Richard Backus Editor-in-Chief rbackus@gasenginemagazine.com

Learning by Accident and the Monovalve Diesel Engine

I learn a lot by accident, although I think serendipity is a better word, the learning often the result of a chain of events sparked by a simple question or observation.

This issue’s Patent Page, an examination of a unique single valve – or monovalve – 4-stroke diesel engine, underscores this thought. Prior to last issue, I was unaware of the American Diesel Engine Co. and the 2- and 4-cylinder monovalve diesel engines it produced in the 1930s, but then reader Brian Barber wrote in to ask about a monovalve diesel engine he vaguely remembered. A little research turned up an article by Warwick Bryce in the October/November 1994 issue of GEM  about the American Diesel Engine Co. and the monovalve diesel designed by Charles A. Winslow, which led to some leads to more information on the engine, which led to a further examination of the design for this issue.

Winslow’s monovalve engines were an interesting bid to grab a share of the growing diesel engine market by offering a unique product that, it was claimed, possessed distinct advantages over any other engine available, a superior product guaranteed to render superior service. That’s hardly an unfamiliar claim, and judging by what little we know it might have been true, yet the monovalve failed to find market footing.

There could have been many reasons for that. While it did seem to offer some advantages – chief among them low fuel consumption – the design also had inherent limitations, including flexibility in engine speed. With a single valve and a huge opening duration, an engine like this would perform best in industrial applications, where steady speeds are desired, but would likely perform poorly in automotive applications, where engine speed flexibility is key.

Yet the monovalve 4-stroke diesel concept was, for at least a time, a high-profile, developing technology. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, both Packard Motor Car Co. and Guiberson Diesel Engine Co. manufactured a 9-cylinder radial monovalve diesel engine. Packard’s engine, the DR-980, was intended as a competitor to the popular 9-cylinder radial Wright J-5 Whirlwind, the engine that powered Charles Lindberg across the Atlantic in 1927. The Packard engine proved to be very efficient in tests, but was ultimately a non-starter owing to poor development and running issues including extreme vibration. Packard had high hopes for the engine, anticipating production of 6,000 units a year. Ultimately, it’s believed fewer than 100 DR-980 engines were built.

Guiberson, which developed its monovalve diesel around the same time as Packard, turned to a standard intake and exhaust valve layout and continued production of diesel radial aircraft and tank engines through World War II.

Ultimately, other designs prospered and the monovalve concept faded away, revived briefly in 2011 as the subject of a Southern Illinois University engineering thesis.

Richard Backus
Editor-in-Chief
rbackus@gasenginemagazine.com

Behind the Story of Restoring a 1912 Stover and a 1907 Gasser

Most of what we publish in Gas Engine Magazine comes to us by way of our readers. Historically, we’ve looked to engine enthusiasts themselves – that’d be you – for information, inspiration and restoration tales of mechanical daring do.

This issue is a great example of that fact, amply illustrated by two stories in particular: Ike Lockridge’s short tale of the discovery and restoration of his 1912 Stover 4 hp Type YB vertical and Dave Irey’s much longer examination of his restoration of a circa-1907 Grasser 2-stroke marine engine.

Ike’s engine was a woebegone wreck when he rescued it from the weeds. Broken and abandoned, it was the kind of engine most would consider good for parts only. Problem was, it didn’t really have that many good parts left on it, so Ike did what any good engine man does; he fixed it. And boy did it need help, as Ike explains.

Dave’s Grasser looked a lot better on first blush than Ike’s Stover, but like the Stover it needed a lot of love to get back to running. And where Ike had broken pieces, Dave had a few major ones completely missing, chief among them the piston and connecting rod.

That wasn’t enough to stop Dave from getting the Grasser running. If anything, it provided the challenge he wanted. Working with instinct born of experience and employing some simple practices we can all learn from, Dave determined what he needed in the way of a piston and connecting rod, making the former from a billet of aluminum and crafting the latter from old parts. Where someone else might have seen a boat anchor, Dave’s ingenuity – combined with a healthy dose of mechanical skill and a good lathe – enabled him to envision a running engine.

Dave’s approach is an interesting study in contrasts compared to the labors we see this issue from regular engine man Peter Rooke. Faced with a good piston but a poor bore, Peter took the long road with his ongoing John Smyth restoration. Instead of cleaning up the existing bore and making a new piston, Peter figured out how to make a portable boring machine and re-sleeve his engine.

Ike, Dave and Peter display great talent and tenacity. While their approaches to their challenges were quite different, in each case they led to a successful conclusion.

Richard Backus, Editor-in-Chief; rbackus@gasenginemagazine.com

Gearing Up for the 2016 Show Season

It’s a bit early still to start trumpeting the coming of the new show season, but I can tell that folks are gearing up by the increased activity I’m seeing in online discussion forums and by the increasing numbers of letters we’re getting here at GEM. As ever, many of you have “new” engines you’ve found or rescued and are now restoring, and we hope to share them here in the pages of Gas Engine Magazine.

One of those engines is the circa-1902 6 hp Goold, Shapely & Muir belonging to Canadian reader Alan Hough. Rare and beautiful, it’s been lovingly restored by Alan’s good friend Brad McBride. Abandoned and broken, it sat for decades before Alan happened across it. It took many years for the engine to finally emerge whole again, and now that it’s running it’s been viewed by hundreds of old-engine fans as Brad takes it to shows. You can read about this engine’s interesting history and amazing restoration here.

As you prepare for the 2016 season, don’t forget to order your copy of the 42nd Annual Farm Collector Show Directory. As the most complete guide to engine and tractor shows across the U.S. and Canada, it’s become a vital resource for old iron fans. This year’s directory gives date and location information for more than 1,000 shows, swap meets and consignment auctions, plus listings for national clubs and show features. You can order your copy by calling us toll free at (866) 624-9388 or by going online to www.FarmCollector.com/2016/Show/Directory.

One of the shows we hope to hit is the 2016 Coolspring Power Museum Summer Exposition & Flea Market. We covered the highlights of last year’s amazing expo featuring flame ignition engines from the early years of gas engine technology (Gas Engine Magazine, October/November 2015), and we hope to return for this year’s expo featuring rare, one-of-a-kind engines. Given Coolspring’s track record for pulling in surviving examples of some of the most amazing engines ever built, it’s a safe bet this year’s expo will be another home run.

We’ll be looking closely at some of the other major shows coming our way in 2016, and like the rest of you we’ll also have plenty of excellent local shows to attend, where new surprises show up every year. And fingers crossed, I might finally have my circa-1920 5 hp Piersen running and ready to show. Featuring a unique cooling system that routes engine cooling water through the flywheel (Piersen called it the Piersen Flywheel Radiator), it’s a unique engine and one I’ve never witnessed in running condition. See you at the shows!  


Richard Backus, Editor-in-Chief; rbackus@gasenginemagazine.com