The THING In the Corncrib


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103 Academy Avenue Alexandria, Tennessee 37012

I remember some 25 years ago playing around this strange looking mechanical thing in the corncrib of our barn. I was a kid then, and those flywheels looked so big. Of course, at the time, I didn't know that they were flywheels. Not being able to budge them, my interest was short lived, and I would move on to other things around the barnyard. And thus it would go for the next several years.

I didn't know then that my grandfather was periodically cleaning, greasing, and oiling the mechanical thing in the corncrib. I'm very thankful now that he did.

The last run of the Rockford was sometime in the early 1950s. The old model T coil had quit providing a spark, and the engine was given a rest over in the corner of the corncrib. Electricity had come to rural areas of DeKalb County, Tennessee, by that time, and the Rockford wasn't really needed anymore. So no effort was made to replace the coil.

My grandfather, Charlie Bailiff, purchased the 1912 hit-n-miss 1? HP Rockford engine from a neighbor's brother in nearby Smithville during the early 1930s. For the next 20 years the engine powered a generator from an old Pontiac car to charge batteries, as well as providing the power for a corn grinder.

During the 1980s the old bam was torn down, and with my interest being on other things, such as getting a driver's license and girls, the old mechanical thing was totally forgotten. Unbeknownst to me, my grandfather had moved it to the woodshed and was still periodically cleaning, greasing, and oiling the moving parts.

In September of 1995, my grandfather had a stroke. I then began to take more responsibility around the farm. I'm sure that I had seen the engine over by the woodpile before last fall, but last October those flywheels 'jumped' out at me. I told my wife that I thought it would never run again, but what an interesting item to have around. So, I flipped the engine over onto the flywheels and rolled her up an old ladder and onto the truck. I now know that loading the engine in that manner was not the best method, but it worked.

Neither my wife nor I knew at that time that her uncle, John Jones of McMinnville, is a collector of old iron. My father-in-law and I took the Rockford to McMinnville to let John have a look. What wonderful news it was to hear that this old engine could have life again! But first it had to have some work.

What gaskets remained would have to be replaced. The needle valve for the fuel was rusted so badly that it could not be turned, and a piece of old pipe served as a muffler. Both would have to be replaced. The oiler leaked and was missing some small pieces. The check valve was missing the ball and only one of the three grease cups could be found. The crank guard was missing, and all but a couple of the springs were so brittle that they broke under the slightest pressure. All would have to be replaced. But, thanks to my grandfather for all of those years of maintenance, the piston was free and the flywheels easily turned.

John gave me gasket material to use, and I made new gaskets. After three nights of soaking the needle valves in WD-40 and applying heat, I was able to remove the needle. John made a nice new brass one. I ordered a new ball muffler from Mr. Elrey Grambart, a GEM advertiser. A new brass check valve was purchased from Chuck Balyeat. I purchased a new oiler from Essex Brass, and picked up a couple of grease cups at a local swap meet to match the one original that I had. I fashioned a new crank guard with heavy wire and sheet metal. Everything was beginning to come together.

With words of wisdom from the Stationary Engine List (SEL), especially Ken Christison, I began my education of basic mechanics and old iron. I must have e-mailed Ken a few dozen times in just a few short weeks. I thank him for his patience and help.

With all of the new parts attached, I was ready to start the engine. John lent me a model T coil, and I had purchased wire from Bill Lopoulos. Tom Gibson and Ted Brookover of the SEL e-mailed me with instructions on how to attach the wires to the model T coil.

No matter what I did, the Rockford would not start.

The valves were leaking, and it was losing compression. The intake valve was slightly bent. I didn't know at the time how to check for leaking valves. But with some guidance from John and SEL member Jimmy Priestley, I became educated. Leaking valves mean very little compression. Very little compression means hours of cranking with no luck! A new valve job was scheduled for the next week at a local machine shop.

Jimmy sold me a cart. And Mark Wigmore, Lawrence Sutherland, and Ron Long shared information about their Rockford engines with me. So, with a little paint, a new battery box, and a new fuel tank from Hit-N-Miss Enterprises, the Rockford began to look a little like the picture in Wendel's big yellow (or red) book.

With the valve job complete, John and I started the Rockford on Saturday, February 19, 2000. My 88-year-old grandfather was elated! He reminded me that he had told me back in October that it would run, when I doubted it. It was always a good running engine and there was no reason why it would not run again. I was very glad that he was right.