American Gas Engine

Engine in condition as found at my shop in March 1998.

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160 Malabar Drive Westbrook, Connecticut 06498

This is a story about old Consolidated and how I caught him out of work and depressed and how he was rehired to go to work for me. I am younger than some of you and older than others; how ever that doesn't change my love for old iron. When I was only five I remember my folks taking me to see the steam trains in Essex and the rest is a story familiar to many of us. I saw my first hit and miss show when I was about ten, and got a small Stover CT-2 basket case at thirteen. I restored it and went to many events, but soon I graduated and went into submarines in the Navy. I had little time for hobbies and sold the Stover.

I did my time proudly and got out and went to work in various mechanical capacities, always having in the back of my mind that I would someday get another engine.

I have a good friend, John Nedobity, who has a little one-man scrap operation in Killingworth, and one Friday night about two years ago, we were sitting around John's stove, drinking his homemade cider (smooth as wine but tough as nails!) as was often the case on a cold wintry Friday. I had been asking him if he knew of any engines, and he finally said that there was someone local who had one. He mentioned that I should jump on it, and I, after considering another sip, suggested that we take a look as soon as possible. A meeting was then arranged between me and Billy Vokel who, as it turned out, I knew from a few years back. We took my Buick up a path fit for nothing less than four-wheel drive, to Billy's farm in Killingworth, and braved old Ma Vokel's shotgun warning not to let my dog chase her cats, and met Billy.

Billy's farm and John's place are the last remnants of a dying era in New England that is becoming more scarce with the influx of people who think they can run everyone without a picture perfect yard out of town. I think a lot of you know what I mean, but that is another story itself. Anyway, Billy's farm is covered with old iron treasures, tractors, Model A's, balers, and of course a few engines. I said to Billy, 'So, let's take a look at this engine.'

I was afraid to answer. I thought, 'I waited for this thing?' It was only about horse, and the timing gears and cylinder were just about rotted off. What a disappointment. I said, 'Well, I don't think that's anything I'd want. You have anything else?'

Billy looked at me and John and then stroking his beard slyly said, 'Oh, we ain't done yet, I'm just whetting your appetite. I know you wallet's just makin' your leg itch, ain't it, boy? Ha, ha, ha! C'mon!

We walked down the old farm road, out past the tractors and Fords, to where the iron thins out and then, suddenly, there it was! Taking a slight list sideways with the bottoms of those thirty-six inch wheels settled in and a color only the weather can paint. I wanted to leap for joy; it was one of those medium-size engines I remembered from when I was a kid and could never somehow afford or find. Everything was intact, the Columbia clutch, the ignitor, and even the American injector brass fittings. I was floating on air, a dream come true! Billy broke in, saying, 'You're lookin' pretty hard at that one, boy, only I don't know if your wallet is big enough, ha, ha.'

I looked at John and then at the engine. He looked pretty depressed leaning over and slumping into the ground, so we made a deal. I came back with John a week later and Billy loaded it for us with his backhoe. On the way home I said to John, 'Well? What do you think?'

'It looks like a good load of engine scrap, we can head down to New Haven with it.' he chuckled. (Actually, John has a soft spot for old iron as you can see by what he doesn't cash in.)

The next thing I did was look it over good and see what this project would involve. A sandblasting was a must, so I marked the timing gears with a punch (a must for anyone who can't find the marks), removed all the brass, and proceeded on. I broke the engine down into its component parts and bagged and labeled all the small parts and those that would be good patterns for things too rusty. I protected journal surfaces, and things I did not want blasted, with duct tape, as the sand will bounce off it. The piston luckily, or should I say the balance of the engine caused it, was stopped nearly at BDC, so I left it in while I sandblasted. Then I primed it with NAPA Trio-Prime, which is an acid etching paint. I recommend that kind of primer because, if you take the metal down to near white, it is not coming off, it locks out moisture, and you can apply filler over it. The piston came out pretty easy once I blasted the open end of the cylinder removing the scale. I used a little penetrating oil and my friend Tommy helped me pop it out with a mallet and a 4x4.1 used another friend's machine shop to make various new parts such as the rocker pivot bolt, valve rod, ignitor shaft, and crown heads of various bolts. I did farm out some work like the cam follower and governor roller which had been hardened (many thanks to Bud at Eriksson's in Saybrook). The bearings were all in good condition and I had only to polish the journals with a crocus cloth. Thanks to my friend, Scooter, who ground the valves, and Tom P., who repaired a valve stem for me.

I made a channel iron stand in which to place the upper main bearing caps upside down and then I could put the flywheels in to turn them for painting. The ignitor I rebuilt and purchased the mica from Hit and Miss Enterprises. Here is something I did that may come in handy to others working on ignitors: I needed new points, mine were pressed in. I remembered that Model A Fords had a post for one part of the points so I bought two sets, NAPA part #CS30, and drilled and tapped the ignitor to accept these; it worked great. On the fuel pump I resleeved it with brass and found ball bearings to make new check valves. The key here is to make sure the balls seat well while the piston-to-bore clearance is not so critical. When all the parts were primed and filled, I laid on a couple of coats of urethane enamel, a GM truck color which appeared to match a little color found at the head-to-block joint. I smoothed out all the casting marks with filler; on some engines this may be overkill, but on this engine I found traces of old thick paint filler as is still often used on castings today.

As the restoration was progressing, I was thinking Old Consolidated should have some function in life besides spinning away. I had an old LeRoy trailer, probably from the '30s or '40s, with rubber tires, and I thought it would be a good candidate for a saw rig. So, I went about gathering a few saw tables and vintage pulleys to put it together. I installed new I-beams in between the wagon frames to support the engine, countershaft, and saw table. I made a sliding table and since I wanted a right-hand saw, I had to build a countershaft. I used 17/16 line shafting (new) wow! Expensive! I made the tension rollers out of 3' schedule 80 pipe which I machined to accept bearings. The belt tension is adjustable by rod and nut. The Columbia clutch needed little but freeing up and new shoes, which I made out of oak. I made new fuel pipe from 3/8 brass (again expensive!); the original system was galvanized.

I was close to having the engine done, but was still waiting on the governor parts and had not yet finished the fuel pump. Nonetheless, I was anxious to see him go, so with John's son, Jonathan, we tried to start it with me acting as a governor. I set the ignitor timing where I figured it should be, we gave it a wing, and . . . nothing. About the time I was getting winded, John came over saying, 'I never did put much faith in those ignitors.'

I said, 'Well, I know it's sparking, because if I close the ignitor and touch a lead I get an arc.'

He looked down and said, 'No wonder. That six-volt battery couldn't light a cigar in a blast furnace! Try a twelve-volt.'

With a sheepish grin I did just that, and away he went with me holding the exhaust valve open when needed. On the second hit the old rusty muffler rivets gave up and the cover went across the floor!

I finally finished putting everything together the way it should be and got the saw working. I was so impressed with the way it cut with a sharper blade that I took it over to my father's where we burn wood mostly for heat. Although not too mechanical, both my folks, who have always encouraged my work, were impressed. Now we use the chainsaw for chunking the wood to four-foot lengths, split those lengths as needed, and then use the saw rig. It really cuts so fast I don't know why this method has been so forgotten. As for Old Consolidated, he hasn't been to any shows yet because he is back in the work force and by his exhaust notes and the way he fires right up, I think he likes it that way!

One final note: I have been a longtime GEM reader. I am willing to say, although my brass plate was missing, I am up to 99% sure this engine is a Consolidated Gas Company of New York. The description in American Gas Engines Since 1872 seems to fit, and another GEM subscriber, B. J. Benton of Texas, compared notes on a Consolidated he had. I'm placing it about 1912. If anyone begs to differ or has one of these engines, let me know. I figure it must be 8 HP. Part numbers cast are preceded by an H. Also, is there any connection between Consolidated (page 106) and Rawleigh-Schryer (page 408)? My engine does have one-piece valves. Finally, when I was fourteen I bought a very old five gallon gas can that I still have; imprinted on it is 'Consolidated Gas Company, New York.' Coincidence?

P.S. Let's hear some more from fellows who are really working their engines, too!