Conversion from sideshaft to gearless

Results of a conversion from sideshaft to 'gearless' in the early 1900s.

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RFD #3,Box 5840 Gardiner, Maine 04345.

Should I investigate a lead that might end up in one of those famous wild goose chases that we have all been on? Seems to be a never ending dilemma in this engine hobby of ours. The 'when to', 'how far', 'how much' and other assorted 'hows' all, for some reason, take a back seat when the thought of what might be out there arises. Off we go again!

Such was the case when me friend and fellow engine enthusiast, Prince Stevens, heard about an old engine that was left to enjoy the quiet serenity of a wooded area not far from our homes in central Maine. Another friend and engine collector, Bill Ellis, had seen the engine while hunting and we all wondered if it could be the same 8 HP rumored to be in the area sometime around 1973. Bill, who felt he couldn't handle it due to its size, suggested that Prince look into it. What was to follow is a story filled with doubt, frustration, expense and the work of a lot of great friends.

The decision was made to try to obtain the engine and add it to the ever growing collection of old iron. After some dooryard negotiating, Prince was able to come to terms and the adventure of bringing it out of the woods began.

Just getting to it with a ton truck was an exercise all by itself. With son, Alec, the engine hunters proceeded across the dooryard past an electric fence and through a pasture. Next came a ravine that was so steep that the bottom had to be filled with old fence rails so the bumper wouldn't drag and the tail of the truck wouldn't hit going up the other side. The engine sat about 250 feet into the woods on its original frame, less its wheels. The original frame was, in turn, sitting on a rotted wooden frame and the cylinder end was at a 45 degree angle to the ground. Over the years water had frozen and thawed in the cylinder and you can imagine what that was like. Prince got the truck turned around and backed up to the cylinder end. The frame had a hole where the axle was missing and with planking and a come-a-long Prince and Alec eventually got it up over the truck body. They guessed the engine would weigh between two and two and a half tons. This put a lot of strain on the homemade boom on the truck. The old road through the woods was pretty well grown up and after bending over several trees it was time to tackle the ravine in reverse order.

Slowly they crawled down the bank and stopped on the old rails to level everything. Up over the bank, through the pasture, past the electric fence (making everyone nervous) and into the dooryard rolled the truck, engine and assorted bushes and turf. Of course it was then realized that a logging skidder should have been used in the first place. It might be noteworthy to add that it was raining all this time as well. When the sun came out, the words C. Lambert and Sons showed up on the water tank and seat box.

After arriving home, Prince thinking he might have a gearless Olds, found that part of the engine was missing and was back to square one, not knowing what he had actually found. Someone told him about Norm Anderson, in Ohio, who had a beautiful 20 HP Lambert all restored. When Prince told Norm that he had a gearless Lambert, Norm very nicely mentioned that there was no such thing as a gearless Lambert. Getting this mystery unraveled would be no easy chore. In the meantime, seeing if the engine could be made to run was the next order of business.

Nature had provided an open air engine unloader in the form of a very large oak tree in Prince's dooryard and the Lambert was soon disembarked from the back of the truck. Something had to be done so the engine would sit level, so Prince made a rear axle and used a front axle off an old cement mixer. Three head bolts had to be drilled out as they had rusted off where the water had set for so many years. The engine sitting at that 45 degree angle had created a regular birdbath which wasn't in the best interest of the bolts. The old engine was taken all apart and everything cleaned up. It was necessary to put a new top and bottom on the water tank and use an old gallon can for a gas tank. The ignitor needed to be drilled and pried out and machinist Ernest Hallowell made a completely new ignitor. Ernest was later to tell Prince that he thought, 'That was the worst looking thing that you have ever hauled into the yard.'

After seeing that all the moving parts were free and lubricated and the new ignitor installed, the engine was ready to test run.

It is interesting to note that the new ignitor resembled an Olds due to the fact that years before someone had made the engine over to work like a gearless Olds. The old engine fired and ran along with all the ills that could be expected. Over the next several years new 1/2' x 8' rings were added, but still there was too much blow by, and the piston was removed and the grooves were turned to 3/4' and additional 1/4' rings were installed. Everything went downhill after that and stayed that way, until the final restoration. As each new thing was tried the realization of more work to be done could not be disregarded.

The Lambert engine continued to be an interesting topic of conversation as it was taken to shows at the Boothbay Railway Museum in Maine, the Owls Head Transportation Museum (also in Maine), and Dublin, New Hampshire. The last time the engine was taken to a show before the final restoration was in the summer of 1987. Several of us tried to start it with no success. I can remember Prince saying, 'That engine got me down there and embarrassed me in the hot sun. It will never go anywhere again until it is resolved.'

Actual identification of the engine began to take an odd twist as C. H. Wendel's book, American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, lists Lambert Gas and Gasoline Engine Company but not C. Lambert and Sons, yet very clearly marked on the engine was this name. Perhaps C. Lambert was in some way related to, or associated with, the Lambert Company which is listed on page 271 of Mr. Wendel's book. Any information would certainly be welcomed.

The present clue to the original construction of the engine is the arm, still remaining on the head, that identifies it as an original sideshaft. Had the arm been ground off, the water tank rotted away or lost, the seat box gone, identification may have been impossible. Many questions remained to be answered. When did the conversion take place? Was it done locally and if so, where? And perhaps most importantly, what impact did it have on further engine construction? I took the opportunity to talk with Philo Hewett of East Winthrop, Maine, concerning the history of the old engine. Philo has been an active and much respected collector and restorer of engines for many years, and he was able to trace much of the history as anecdotes have been passed along through the years. Not too long after the turn of the century the Lambert ran a cider mill on a local farm. From there it ran a lineshaft in a blacksmith shop, as well as a planer. Apparently the design, or redesign as it appears, was copied from the Olds gas engine and according to legend the Olds people and the Lambert 'redesigners' nearly landed in court around 1909 concerning the rights of design. As a result the Stevens (no relation to the present owner of the Lambert) engine was put into production. A link from the Stevens to the Lambert lies in the connecting rod. These rods are different from those that appear on other engines and are unique. So far as can be determined three Stevens engines were known and only one remains, which is in Philo's collection. Mr. Hewett takes great pride in showing visitors his engine, and rightfully so.

The restoration of 1987 soon turned into the 'great restoration of 1988' as many previously unforeseen difficulties were soon to surface. Cylinder blow by caused the greatest headache and the decision was made to try and insert a sleeve into the cylinder. Locating a sleeve was finally accomplished only to be broken in the first attempt at installation. After more honing and the help of many friends, including Ernest Hallowell, Paul Tewksbury, Bill Ellis, Philo Hewett and me, the second sleeve was finally in and the piston installed. The tanks were repaired and the painting, assembling, repiping and striping followed. Adjustments were made and the Lambert was ready for its first 'new' show. After making a horse drawn wagon from old parts, the engine was taken to the Windsor Fair on Labor Day weekend to be drawn by horses in their parade as well as to be on exhibit. The wheeze, pop, bang, hiss and other as sorted noises drew many spectators and the old engine performed beautifully. We can just imagine these sounds some ninety or so years ago as this engine of C. Lambert and Sons provided its owners with the most modern piece of machinery available. To see this engine fully restored, running and a prize winner gives this story a very rewarding ending.