The Gilson Dream

Porch

October 1992: the day it landed on the front porch.

Content Tools

707 Crestwood Drive Marshall, Missouri 65340

This all started after a morning's worth of working on various projects in the late July heat. Dad and I decided to cool off and have some lunch. I was reviewing the August '92 issue of GEM, after eating, when I saw it right there in the classified ads; highlighted in yellow were those words I thought I would never see! 'FOR SALE Gilson 4 HP vertical.' When I asked Dad about it he said, 'I must have forgotten to tell you about that yesterday.' After discussing it for a while, we decided that it was just a dream!

After dreaming a bit, we decided to call anyway, dialing the number with no hope of it still being there. Joe was the gentleman's name on the other end of the line. After a minute or two of talking he stated, 'You're the third one to call about the engine.' My heart sank. He then said, 'If the first two don't take it, would you be interested then?' Of course my rusted blood, or my lack of good sense, told me to tell him yes. He told me if they both turned down the engine that he would give me a call. As I hung up the phone, I explained the deal to my dad. He agreed that it was just a dream.

About three or four weeks went by, and I happened to be at Dad's visiting him after some surgery. That's when Dad told me Joe called to tell us that the first two guys backed out. My first thought was GREAT! Then I wondered why anyone would turn down a prize like this? My answer soon came, when I called Joe. He said, 'It's in pretty bad shape.' With no hesitation I said, 'I'll take it!' After making the plans with Joe to get the engine, I hung up the phone and turned to Dad, who was looking at me like I was crazy. He soon agreed that we should go for it. Joe said he would send us some pictures before we had to make up our minds. (Too late-we were already hooked!)

A week and a half went by before the letter finally arrived with the photos enclosed ( a week and a half is an eternity!) Joe wasn't lying. The engine was in sad shape. He had drawn an arrow to a crack in the outside of the cylinder and wrote that there was a crack inside, also. At least the piston wasn't stuck; it was lying on the ground in front of the engine. In the photo I could see all the working parts except for the carburetor and muffler. The engine lacked trucks, skids, battery box or cooling tank of any kind. The pictures weren't top quality, but they were good enough to convince a Gilson nut like me! Again I called Joe, 'I'll take it!' Now the dilemma was how to get the thing from Maine to Missouri, a little bit more than a Sunday drive.

Joe said that he bought the engine at a farm sale in Ontario, Canada, and brought it across the border into Maine. He told me he would meet me somewhere to pick up the engine, although it was not a good time for either of us to travel. A few days later we talked again to settle payment. Joe said his neighbor, a truck driver, hauls to Columbia and Kansas City, Missouri. occasionally, and that he might be willing to haul it for us (for a reasonable fee). In the meantime, Joe sent the smaller parts by common carrier.

A week went by. I got home from work one evening to find two boxes from Joe. Krista, who was one year old at the time, and I tore into those boxes like it was Christmas morning! I was amazed by what I found. The boxes contained the rocker arm, intake valve cage, piston and rod, some broken pieces of the igniter, nuts, bolts and even the exhaust valve (well, the head of it anyway).

More weeks passed. The phone rang one day and the man on the other end said he had 'something' on his trailer with my name on it from a guy in Maine! He told me he would be in Columbia, Missouri, in about three days and he would give me a call to pick it up there. Great! That is only 60 miles from Marshall, and it sure beats driving to Maine.

The days and weeks were beginning to really add up and the wait was killing me. Finally one day, when I was home for lunch, the truck driver called and said, 'I'm in Columbia unloading. Is there some place we could meet and exchange this thing?' When I started to explain to him that I did not know Columbia enough to tell him a place to meet, he said, 'I mean in Marshall where you are.' He then explained he was on his way to Kansas City and he didn't mind the ten miles extra to drop it off in Marshall. He said he would be here around 5:00 p.m. Now that is service!

At 5:00 p.m. I was in the parking lot at the IGA store a half mile from my house. After a short wait the truck pulled into the lot. The driver said, 'I've got somthun' in a crate for you.' When the door opened it was right in the back and all we had to do was slide it down the ramp onto my truck. Once the engine was loaded, he asked that question we have all heard a million times, 'What is that thing?' When I told him it was an antique engine he just scratched his head and nodded with a strange look.

When we got it to Dad's, the only place we had to put the engine was on the front porch. We slid it onto the porch and started taking some pictures as we were getting our first real good look at this prize. The first thing we looked for was the tag. There it was, still in place. It read 'Gilson Engine Company, 4? HP Serial No. 5002,' then on the bottom it is stamped 'GUELPH, ON.' We also found the remains of the exhaust valve stem still rusted in the guide, and the igniter was a sight to see. It looked like many hours were spent tinkering, welding, jury rigging and swearing, which all came to an end with a short temper and a large hammer! To say the least, it was a nightmare of what used to be the igniter. With a flashlight in hand, we looked at the cracked jacket. It wasn't that bad, just about six inches long. With a little welding we should be able to fix it. I then looked down into the top water pipe hole into the water jacket, and to my surprise I saw the crankshaft. Yes, I looked to where the water comes out and saw the bottom of the engine.

To put it mildly, the cylinder had suffered too many years of Canadian hard water. It had a 4-inch by 9-inch chunk broken out of the cylinder wall. Luckily, the piece was still in the water jacket. The crankshaft didn't look much better. The rust pits were as deep as I have ever seen in a steel shaft. After that discovery, we knew this was more than just a dream-it had all of the signs of a nightmare!

After nearly a year of soaking and tapping, with a little luck, we finally got the exhaust valve out without breaking anything. But the igniter was still stuck tight. We had to cut a large hole in the water jacket so I could weld the broken piece back into the cylinder wall. The chunk that broke out was busted from the bottom of the water jacket to the top of the combustion chamber. While it was cut apart, we used heat and a big patch to drive the broken igniter out of its longtime home.

With the top end completely disassembled and repairs under way, it was time to tackle the lower end. The crankshaft was so badly rusted that we decided that there was no way we were going to reuse it. Especially not on an engine with flywheels that weighed 150 pounds each! Apparently the base, which has no drain hole, had filled with water, and of course the connecting rod had to be down in it. The flywheel keys were another disaster. They were both driven in flush with the hub and had no gibb to pull them out. Then they rusted.

The pulley wasn't any better. At least it had set screws on top of the keyway that were twisted off. It was a tough decision to start sawing on the pulley, as it appeared to be the original. It had a chunk broken out of it and a crack on the other side with one spoke broken. The pulley was scrapped!

Then came the crankshaft! I had to saw it on both sides between the mains and flywheels using a torch to remove the keys. The crank was lost, but the irreplaceable parts-flywheels, timing gear and main bearing-were saved.

After several months of patient tinkering, the engine was finally in pieces. Many parts had to be newly constructed from scratch and numerous repairs to existing parts. There is still hope for this one.

The first thing to do-sandbast everything! After sandblasting was finished, I attempted to spot weld that piece back into the cylinder wall. As I found with my other Gilson engines, the cast iron they were built with was not of good quality, and it was difficult to weld if it would weld at all. After this, I decided to braze the piece back, taking six to seven hours to adhere the broken piece, the piece I had cut out earlier, and repair the crack that Joe had pointed out to me. Dad thought we had better pressure test the water jacket. Good thing! Inside the cylinder, above where the sleeve would cover it, we discovered a leak. I had to cut a three-inch square piece out of the water jacket to locate a hairline crack in the combustion chamber. We are not sure if we missed it earlier or if it cracked while cooling down after the first weld.

Finally, with the welding all done, we were ready to have the sleeve put in. As we found out real quick, machine shop prices and this old hobby do not mix very well! When you don't have the equipment to do something yourself, you have to hire it done, and if you have to argue over the price, you can't afford it.

The crankshaft was all new to me. I have never welded on a shaft before, and I sure haven't ever built one. I talked to some local expert welders and, using their advice, I welded a crankshaft from new steel. It looks great! I did it with a Lincoln AC welder. Just shows that anyone, with a little help, can fix almost anything on these old engines. Dad was able to turn the shaft in his lathe to do the straight parts, but back to the machine shop for the rod throw and keyways. Boy, this is getting expensive, but this engine is worth it!

Getting the igniter out of the cylinder was just the beginning of this mess. The body was in more pieces than we found for it. After spot welding the pieces back together, Dad had to fill in the blanks with epoxy. Then the missing pieces were cast in aluminum. Many a casting was made before Dad was satisfied that he had it right. The same goes for the small parts. No one's sure how many hours were spent just building a working aluminum igniter, but there were almost as many hours fitting all the cast iron parts to make it work right. The finished igniter is a work of art that runs perfectly. Thanks, Dad!

Now that the major repairs are all complete and the small parts have been fixed in between the big projects, we are ready to fit everything together. Setting up an engine dry to fit it, time it and adjust all the pins and bearings has to be the most fun part of restoring an engine (next to the first startup, of course). The anticipation of getting the engine running is so close!

A great engine deserves a great coat of paint, right? I mean, when it takes you a thousand hours over seven years to restore an engine, I don't think I should paint it with just any paint. I wanted it to look like a million bucks! I just didn't know that's what it cost, too. But now that the pain is over it was worth it.

On to the trucks. I thought this was going to be easy-just widen the frame rails and paint. Yeah, right! Just like the engine, the set of trucks I chose to use were severely rusted and some parts had to be replaced; no sense in doing things halfway now. So, bite the bullet and do it right.

Everyone gets lucky once in a while. One stroke of pure luck is having a sister who is an artist. Jona did a very professional job on the lettering and it sets the whole thing off perfectly. Thank you, Sis! Dad did the woodwork as he does for all our engines, and once again he did a wonderful job. My dad never fails to amaze me with his perfection.

Well, here it is! The finished engine speaks for itself. I'm proud to have this one in my collection of Gilsons. I have some others I'll write about some time. This is the worst engine Dad and I have had the pleasure of restoring. Definitely the most rewarding. A big thanks to everyone who helped and gave valued information. And if I am dreaming, please don't wake me, not yet!

I read in this magazine that this could be a 'fever.' When you take on a project like this, I think it's more like a 'serious disease.' I hope I never find a cure! If you think you might have a similar ailment, give me a call at 660-886-7480. Dad's number is 660-886-2350.

Ill Forever, Bill Anderson.

P. S. I know of only one other vertical Gilson. Any more out there? Let me know!