The Rest of the Story

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I would like to start this article by introducing myself. My name is Mac Macomber. I have been a gas engine collector for twelve years. I also have had about ten tractors through that time and with that said, I can get to the business at hand.

Early in December, I was looking through the Publisher's Letter in the January 1994 issue of GEM. I noticed in the editor's opening letter that a gentleman had written in about the lack of 'how-to' articles. I often thought to myself as I was reading a story about the restoration of a collector's latest find, 'what a good story, I wish he would have gone a little deeper with information.' I am also guilty of this same practice.

I had a story published in the November 1993 issue and I just scratched the surface of what I went through in the restoration process. So to set the record straight, I'm going to share with all of you, some tips I have picked up along the way. I would like to stress to all of you, these tips are not carved in stone, they are merely suggestions that I have found to work for me. If any of you have a better idea, feel free to write into this fine publication of ours and share it with the rest of us.

When I get an engine home, the first thing I think about is getting it started, but before you can do that there are a few things that need to be done. (This is going on the assumption that the engine just purchased was not running.) You first need to make a visual inspection of the engine to make sure all the parts are there and none are broken. After you have replaced or repaired all the broken or missing parts, you can move on. Check the timing the exhaust valve should open just before bottom dead center and close just after top dead center. You should have spark just before top dead center.

After the timing is checked, see if you have enough compression to make the engine run. An old rule of thumb I picked up is: if the flywheels will rebound against the compression stroke, you should have enough to make it run. If there isn't enough compression, it could be a sticky valve or stuck piston rings.

There's a temporary quick fix for a sticky valve: spray some WD-40 or equivalent on the valve stem, then grab the stem with a pair of pliers and turn it until you get it reasonably seated. This does not replace a full valve job, but it might get you going. As far as stuck rings, there's no quick fix, the piston must be removed and the rings freed from the piston, but be careful, old rings snap easily.

Your engine is now complete, it has compression and is in time. The next thing is spark. On a Wico magneto fired engine, if you have no spark first, check the obvious. Make sure you have a good plug with no bare spots in the wires. Still no spark? Make sure your mag is being activated properly when the engine is brought up on the compression stroke. The mag should 'snap' open, it should not be a mechanical action. If your mag is not tripping properly, you may have to add a washer or replace the springs on the actuator.

If you still have no spark, you need to go into the mag. Remove the covers, check all the terminals, make sure your contacts are clean and there are no broken wires and replace the condenser. You should keep a spare Wico EK condenser on hand. This should solve the problem, but if it does not work, seek the help of a professional or a friend who knows his way around a magneto.

If you have a Webster magneto and igniter you need to make sure you have no broken or bare wires and your magnets have a strong pull. If your magnets are weak, a re-charging is in order. There are a number of people that do that all over the country, just check the classified ads in the GEM.

The other common types of ignition are: battery, coil and igniter and battery, coil and spark plug. In both of these types make sure you have a good coil and a well charged battery. In the igniter, make sure your points are clean and the mica insulating washers are good. On the spark plug type, make sure the commutator or timer, as some call it, is well insulated. If it isn't, you will get the shock of your life. Seriously, these vibrator type coils put out a lot of electricity, please be careful. Okay, you have got compression, spark and it's all in time, all you need is fuel. Unless you are positive your fuel tank is good, do not dump fuel into it. Remove the tank to make sure it's good. Even if it looks good, I always put some sealing solution in just to make sure. I even use it in new fuel tanks. Make sure your fuel check valve is not stuck and is working properly. Now you are ready!

Make sure your engine is oiled and greased and you have a fire extinguisher handy (just in case). Spin it over and hopefully it will run. Now is the time to get all the bugs worked out before any paint is applied. I know a guy who gets an engine home, paints it, and then leaves it to a friend to get it running; needless to say, this a poor practice.

If I intend to put my current restoration project on a wagon or skids, I like to build the wagon or cut and finish the skids before I start painting the engine.

I completely disassemble and clean the engine. There are various ways to do this. Simply pick one that works for you. I do all my painting with a brush and I've never been disappointed with the results. If you have the equipment to spray paint, that's good too. It seems everyone has an opinion on how to paint an engine here again pick one that works and stick with it. On larger engines, I re-assemble them onto the wagon, it's a lot easier to lift various pieces of an engine, rather than a whole engine. You can now apply the finishing touches such as striping, decals, wiring and plumbing the fuel system.

I will now run down a list of items I consider necessary in my shop: head and igniter gasket material; spark plugs; igniter coils; vibrator coils; fuel line check valves; spare Wico E K condenser; fuel tank sealing solution; penetrating oil such as WD-40, CRC 556, Kroil; and Epoxy such as J B Weld or equivalent. It is good to have a spare oiler in case you get an engine without one. And springs you can never have enough springs around. I find I always need one somewhere on an engine. Save any pipe fittings you may find. If you have been to your local hardware store lately you will understand why. I have all these items in my shop in addition to the basic hand and power tools.

I could have gone deeper with information for this article but it would have been twenty pages long. My intention was to give a basic guideline that would have helped me when I first started this hobby and I got my first engine. This guy I know told me not to take it apart, because I would never get it back together again. He told me of a man who could possibly help me, named Herb Savage. Herb told me just the opposite. Herb says, 'How are you going to learn if you don't see what's inside.' Through trial and error and frequent calls and visits to Herb, the engine ran fine.

Since that engine there have been around 150 more that I have brought back to life. By the way, the guy who told me not to take my first engine part still brings his engines to Herb to get them running. Don't be afraid to explore, but have sense enough to know when you're in over your head.

I hope this article has helped in some way. Have fun and be safe!