The Springfield Gas Engine

springfield 1

Circa 1891-1897 6 HP Springfield gas engine owned by John Davidson, Bristol, Wisc., and shown at the 2008 Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Assn. show in Portland, Ind.

Photo by Christian Williams

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Editor's note: This article was originally part of a series on the gas engine hobby that appeared in the March/April 1971 issue. It has been edited here for clarity.

On numerous occasions the Springfield gasoline engines have been mentioned and illustrated in G.E.M. I am endebted to Roger Kriebel of Mainland, Pennsylvania, for some excellent colored pictures and for the use of his instruction book and his letters for the following information for this story on the Springfield engines. Roger has a 10 hp. and his father, a 6 hp. portable engine.

These engines were manufactured at Springfield, Ohio, from about 1895 to about the second decade in 1900. This make of engine was given the honor of appearing on the cover of G.E.M. on Vol. 1 and No. 1 issue in January-February 1966. This was a portable 6 hp. Type A on a wooden wagon wheel horse drawn truck, which truck was handmade by Charles Fegely. This outfit is owned by Ray Geisinger of Kutztown, Pennsylvania.

Details of design
The design of the Springfield engines were quite unusual, and some were fitted to operate on natural gas. The early engines had slide valves with a side or lay shaft on the right hand side of the engine when facing the crank end. This shaft is gear driven from the crankshaft and operates the valve mechanism which is built cross wise of the cylinder head. An inertia governor drives a second slide valve that opens the gas intake and operates the igniter. Some models had hot tube for ignition while others used the hit-and-miss igniter system.

Being a four-cycle, single-cylinder heavy duty engine, the cylinder was cast separately and bolted to the cast-iron base that contained the main bearings in the open crankcase. The crank bearings are oiled from an oiler mounted on a post next to the crankshaft. A hole in the cheek of the crank picks up oil from an oiler wick. The mains are oiled from oil reservoirs cast on top of each bearing cap which contains a wick to the bearing. The governor is driven from a belt on the inside of the flywheel on the left hand side of the cylinder. Some models were equipped with a fuel pump which was operated from an eccentric on the lay shaft. Other units had a water pump mounted in this location but only one pump on an engine could be driven in this manner.

Overhead camshaft
Later engines used a unique overhead cam arrangement. The departure from the general engine design that made these engines so different was the unique method of the lay shaft driving the camshaft. From a set of helical gears on the crankshaft and bevel gears at the cylinder head, the camshaft, which was mounted cross-wise and above the cylinder was driven. A cam lobe located on the side near the governor operated a vertical intake valve. At the other end was located the exhaust valve cam lobe. When an engine had a fuel pump, it was driven by a bell crank on the exhaust side of the camshaft.

The poppet valves being vertical with the head down, they were held on their seat by the valve springs. On some engines these valve springs were 'U' shaped while on other models they were the conventional type. In the middle of the camshaft is located a 'dog' that operates the igniter. The electrodes were adjustable and the top one was insulated.

Fuel injection
The belt-driven governor controlled the valve which permitted fuel to be injected through a small tube or opening to the air intake chamber from which the suction of the engine takes in the fuel. The fuel tank was located above and across the top of the cylinder.

These engines were large for their horsepower ratings and on the larger sizes the flywheels were very heavy to roll by hand to start the engine. To overcome this condition, they introduced an innovation for starting these large engines that is used today for starting most big diesels.

In their instruction book they outline a compressed air starting method using about a cubic foot air receiver that was pumped up to 40 psi. by a belt driven air compressor from the engine. The piston would be set just past top dead center, then with a quick opening valve an injection of air into the cylinder would turn the engine to start.

Early engine safety
These Springfield engines were built in ratings up to 50 hp. in 1907. Portable units were offered from 5 to 25 hp. and a traction unit was built in sizes from 6 to 25 hp. The early instruction book for the operators of these engines was most interesting and cognizant of the fact that customers in these times were not familiar with the hazards that could be caused while working with this new kind of power. For instance, they cautioned the operators never to look into the igniter opening while someone turned the flywheels, with the cylinder out, as an explosion could cause physical injury.

As to the matter of adjusting the fuel injection plunger, it explained the effect upon the appearance of the exhaust, such as too much fuel would cause dark smoky and odorous exhaust, while too little fuel would cause a back fire through the air intake pipe. Then it stated that the operator should not be afraid as it only indicated that more gasoline was required for the right mixture. The book advised, "Never allow anything to rattle, knock or become loose on the engine." All such suggestions could well be kept in mind in the operation of engines today.

Not many of this make of engine are in existence and most of them are in the eastern part of the country. They were very well constructed and nicely fitted out with brass, oil cups and accessories. Present day owners say they run very well and are a collector's pride and joy.