Alpha De Laval W 1 HP

Sitting in my 'summer' workshop.

Content Tools

PO. Box 238, Ellison Bay, Wisconsin 54210

In May of 1995 I joined a group of men from our church in Ellison Bay, Wisconsin, who were going to lend a helping hand to some of the older members of the congregation by raking their yards. Imagine my surprise when I rounded the corner of the house where we were working and spotted the familiar outline of a water hopper and two solid flywheels protruding from the accumulated dirt and leaves. My heart rate, which was already elevated from the raking, jumped another few r.p.m.! Brushing away some of the trash revealed a nameplate that said Alpha De Laval W 1 HP.

I asked Mark Weborg, a local commercial fisherman who was in charge of the working party, if he thought the owner would be interested in selling it. He said that he would check when she came home from Florida, but he was pretty sure she would give it to me. Sure enough, less than two weeks later, Mark and two of his fishing crew drove up to my summer place, a mobile home in a nearby trailer court, with the engine. He said that he didn't know what I wanted it for and that it wouldn't even make a good boat anchor. I replied that I was going to make it run again. I think they were still laughing as they drove away.

Looking back, I think that was a pretty bold statement I had made. The engine had been sitting outside with the spark plug removed and the piston near BDC for 25 years or so. Naturally the spark plug hole was on top of the head providing easy access for the rain. The connecting rod was disconnected and protruded from the cylinder at an odd angle. Fortunately, the rod cap was found in the water hopper. Not one single part was free.

Having only my hand tools and a few supplies for tuning up lawnmowers limited my choices. A quick survey of my 8x10 storage shed revealed a can of charcoal lighter which I immediately appropriated for use as penetrating oil. A little soaking, a few gentle taps, and success, the crank handle was loose. Well, I had to start somewhere! A few more hours with Liquid Wrench and my trusty ball peen and every part except the piston and the exhaust valve was free. Even the old cotter pins were removed intact. As expected, the cylinder was badly pitted.

Removing the piston was a major chore. Success was achieved by tipping the engine up on end, filling the water hopper with well-lit charcoal briquettes, pouring a couple of inches of diesel fuel in on top of the piston and setting it (diesel fuel) on fire. After about two hours, and with the help of a hardwood block, a big sledge and a friend, the piston was grudgingly freed from its rusty prison. Amazingly, after a week of soaking, the rings were removed intact.

The engine was missing the EK magneto and bracket, all the trip mechanism for the mag, the drip oiler, three grease cups and the mixer. I had to heat the exhaust valve guide to a dull red before I could remove the exhaust valve. By the time I got it out, the stem was unusable. Fortunately, the valve head was screwed on, although the threads were in very poor shape. I brazed a new stem to the old head, achieving a reasonable degree of perpendicularity by holding the new stem in the drill press chuck with the head sitting flat on the drill press table. During this time, I had ordered an instruction book for the engine and grease cups and an oiler from GEM advertisers.

The crankshaft bearing surfaces were cleaned with strips of emery cloth and the cylinder 'honed' by wrapping emery paper around my fist. Took as much skin off my hand as rust off the cylinder walls! The flange was missing on one side of the cap half of the con rod bearing. I held it in place with a flat head screw countersunk below the bearing surface.

I reassembled the engine using all the original parts. Only new items were a spark plug and springs for the governor and pushrod. For ignition I tapped an 8-32 round head screw into the side of the cam gear and had just enough room to mount a mini-micro switch which I wired up to an old Model T coil found in a #5 box of junk purchased earlier at a local garage sale. An adapter borrowed from a spark plug sandblaster provided the conversion from a ? thread to 14 mm and a long reach plug was installed. For a mixer I used a brass tee compression fitting, turned and threaded a needle from brass rod and threaded a jet from a lawnmower carburetor into the opposite end. A gas tank was appropriated from my B&S WMB and we were ready for the big test. The compression was pretty poor, but the spark was really hot, and to the surprise of all the skeptics, the old engine ran again. Not very well, but it did run. It took almost constant tinkering with the choke to sustain operation.

Last winter I did a restoration job of sorts, including sandblasting and painting. Also replaced the sloppy intake valve, wrist pin and bushing and turned a new rod bearing. I took the cylinder to a local machine shop to check on boring and sleeving. They quoted a price of around $200, which was pretty steep for a retiree. We all know 'rusty iron fever' is a real disease, but I wasn't sure Medicare would pay their share of that bill, so I opted for Plan B. I sandblasted the deep pits in the cylinder walls and filled them with a high-grade machinable epoxy. When cured and honed the cylinder walls looked pretty good. It did wonders for the compression. Talked to (another) old-timer who's had good success repairing scored walls of outboard motors using this procedure so I believe it will work alright.

A good friend, Al Leafblad, lent another helping hand. He gave me an EK mag and bracket from some unknown engine. He also supplied the oak and turned the handles for the skid. I had helped him restore a 6 HP IHC Famous a couple of years before. My biggest challenge was figuring out the mounting bracket and trip mechanism. Pictures from the instruction manual were helpful. I made up all the parts and tried different springs until I found a combination that seemed to work. I also installed a Champion W89D spark plug. Its longer reach put the electrodes more closely in line with the combustion chamber. At this point the engine still sat in the basement workshop so I had to wait for the arrival of spring.

As I conclude this story, the weather has warmed a little, and the engine is moved outside. Now it not only looks great, it runs like new again. I thank Elliott Wollman for the many pictures he took during this project. Also John Supple and Scott Wilson for answering my recent ad in GEM for a proper mag bracket. John provided the correct trip lever and Scott sent beautifully detailed drawings for the mount and the trip mechanism. He also encouraged me to submit this story.

Last of all, I must especially thank my wife, Marge, who willingly shared part of her small laundry room with engine parts in various stages of disassembly, repair and refinishing (although she still believes I should install a lampshade and make something 'useful' out of an old engine!)

Well, this story started with helping hands, and it took many helping hands to complete, but then, isn't that what it's all about anyway? Now, if any of you need help with your yard work, and just happen to have some rusty old iron. . . !