Content Tools

Virginia, Illinois 62691

One time when I was a kid I got a bunch of empty wooden spools out of mom's Singer sewing machine drawers. I put a nail through the hole in the middle and nailed them all over the back of the chicken house. I didn't nail them tight, but left them loose so they would turn. Next, I put a string or rubber band around one spool and then another till I had them all connected together. I then put a nail in the outer edge of one of the bigger spools and used it for a crank. As I cranked one spool round and round, it turned the next, and the next, until every spool on the back of the chicken house was turning one way or another. It was sure pretty to watch. I cranked those spools till I had a blister on my finger.

I enjoy mechanical things even yet, especially old things that don't work anymore but could. Some of the people around here know that and tell me about some aging piece of machinery that might interest me. Several years ago a farmer a few miles east of here asked me to come look at an old gas engine beside his shed.

'It don't work anymore, but I'd like you to get it out'a there so I can mow my weeds,' he said.

Well, it was a pretty good sized piece of old iron laying there on its side with the finer working parts buried in the mud. But I agreed to 'get it out'a his weeds,' for a few dollars. A local tow truck uprighted the heavy engine and delivered it to a place beside the garage here at home.

I scraped and cleaned and found it was about a 1915 International Harvester six-horsepower engine. A one cylinder that weighed close to 1000 pounds. It had not run in 20 years or more. To get it running was going to take some time and patience. The first thing I do with such an old piece as this is begin oiling everything that moves and things that don't but should. I do that for several months. At the same time I try to find out as much as I can about the old engine and where I might find parts. It takes a little neighboring and letter writing to people all over the Midwest. I enjoy it and meet some really fine folks that way. And there are meets where gas engine hobbyists get together to exchange stories and parts.

Within a year after I'd gotten the old engine, I had the ignitor off and sent to a shop in Minnesota that repairs nothing but ignitors. In a few months I had it back good as new. But it was the only part of the engine that was.

I had the cylinder head, complete with valves and springs, soaking in a bucket of kerosene. It must have been there close to a year. When I got it out I was able to free-up the valve stems. A machine shop in town re-ground and seated them for me. A little at a time I was getting the thing back in shape. I traded some other odd engine parts for missing grease cups. Still I didn't have a magneto. That is what makes the spark, to fire the gas, to make it run. But this spring, after three or four years of looking, I located a magneto in Michigan. With a bit of dealing we agreed on a price and I soon received the magneto by mail in a nearly destroyed shipping box. Magneto- okay.

By now the engine had been painted a solid dark green color near to the original and was mounted on a truck which is something like a heavy duty four-wheeled toy wagon.

The cylinder head with valves fitted was installed, the igniter was fastened on and the magneto was mounted. I read through the instruction book that I had acquired for the engine. I went down the check list. Oil in the dripper, grease in the cups, water in the hopper, and gas primed up. 'Now spin engine rapidly,' it said. Well! Ho! Ho! Ho! How was I going to spin those big old flywheels rapidly? I fastened on the crank and turned the engine. It wheezed and wheezed, then I wheezed and wheezed. I cranked some more, then huffed and puffed. I squirted a great gob of gasoline down the carburetor hole, then we cranked and wheezed together till I got a blister on my finger. On another turn it let out a big puff of smoke. 'Well, by golly,' I thought, 'after 20 years of laying in the weeds and 4 years of tinkering, this old engine was trying to run again.'

I added a spring to the trip rod, then more gas and cranked again. Ka-Boom - - Ka-Boom - - Ka - Boom. This was a serious effort. As the old engine picked up speed, I adjusted the gas feed which was all new to me, and the choke flap. It was running faster than it should and I was trying to slow it down with the governor rod. At the same time I squirted more fuel down the carburetor. In all my checking and years of working on it I failed to remember to put the proper keeper on the intake valve. So about that time the engine decided to swallow it whole and chew it up inside the cylinder. Such luck. The engine clanked and coasted to a stop. Back to the begging and bartering for parts.

But, the engine wasn't damaged as much as I thought, so in a few weeks I had valves reworked and back in the head. By now I have it starting easy. I can spin it rapidly. I have figured out the right combination and how to hold my tongue in my teeth just right to make it fire. The blister on my finger has healed.

This evening I started it and let it run for maybe a half hour. I sat on a five gallon bucket and watched the gears, eccentrics, trip rods, and springs all moving in a rhythm to make the exhaust go chuff, chuff, chuff as measured as can be. It was worth waiting for. Better than spools on the chicken house.