Rock Island Engine

The 'before.'

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Langhuisterweg 45, 9076 PL Sint Anna Parochie, The Netherlands e-mail

In the early spring of 1998 we were visiting a collector who just had gotten a fair couple of engines home from Canada. When wandering around the engine shed, our eyes fell on a small attractive-looking engine. With closer inspection we learned that it was a Rock Island, serial #4341, and that it was in a very bad condition. A list of damaged parts : connecting rod had been broken and welded; the cylinder head was broken; the piston had a hole almost as big as the diameter (someone tried to tap it out). Nevertheless, it was a very nice looking engine despite its poor condition. We didn't buy it at the time, though.

Later that evening at our house we took the Big Yellow Book, and looked for Rock Island. We learned that Rock Island never made any engines but just sold other engines under their brand name.

This particular model was made by the Jacob Haish Company of DeKalb, Illinois. Rock Island sold these engines between 1912 and 1914. We decided it would be a nice engine to work on, although it would be a big challenge to get it back in top condition again. I called the guy and we talked about the engine a little. I told him we were interested in the engine and asked him the price; well, that was far more than we were willing to pay! We knew it would cost quite a lot to have all new parts cast that were needed to bring it back in running condition. I told him that his price was too high. After a while haggling about the price, it was obvious we wouldn't come to an agreement. It took about six months until we came to an agreement, and we got it home in early August 1998. By that time he had taken it apart so it only was a pile of parts. It was looking even worse now!

When we unloaded it at home, we both thought it wasn't the smartest buy we ever did.

A catalog of parts that needed to be cast for it includes: the piston (the piston's head was completely gone; after inspection we noticed this piston wasn't the original anyway, as it was much too short); new connecting rod (the old one was made longer to give the engine at least some compression with the wrong piston); main bearing cap (the old one was cracked); the cylinder head (there was a large piece broken off the head, presumably because someone tightened the head too much); and finally, the governor weight bracket.

We decided to make a wooden pattern for the piston, as we had no idea what the length of the original piston would have been. We had a lot of guessing. After we made the wooden pattern for the piston, we had to figure out the length of the connecting rod. We cut off the 'head' and after a lot of measuring, we welded a new massive bar on top of the conrod. We just glued the broken piece back on the cylinder head, as it was only needed to be in place for the pattern and no stress would be on it. As both main bearing caps were the same, we could use the good one as a pattern for a new one.

We brought the pattern to the foundry and it took quite awhile before they made them. In the meantime, we honed the cylinder and it was in good condition, so I ordered three new piston rings for it. The big end of the crankshaft was badly pitted and needed grinding.

While we were still waiting for the new castings, we put the engine aside for awhile and worked on our 6 HP International Famous, but that's a different story.

During the spring of 1999 we got all parts back, but as it was almost show season we didn't start working on it until October 1999. We started with the machining of the piston, as it seemed the easiest to start with. The machining of the piston went quite well, but it involves quite some time and measuring. When the piston was machined to its correct size, it was time to make the wrist pin hole. We drilled the holes smaller than its final diameter and set it up in the lathe again in the independent four-jaw chuck with the holes in line with the tailstock. Then we 'line bored' it with an adjustable reamer; this way we were able to get both holes in perfect line, and diameter.

Next came the machining of the new head. As we only had a ROUGH casting, it was obvious that it would take a lot of work to make a head of it! First we drilled the four mounting holes and cut thread in them. By cutting thread in the holes we had a way to screw it on a mounting plate and machine the surface of the head. The head also had a 'ring' high that fits in the cylinder. This ring came in handy, as it was something to hold in the four-jaw chuck. We then drilled the valve guides and reamed them to fit the 'new' valves we intend to use. Now we had to machine the exhaust port to size and cut the thread for the exhaust pipe. We made some special tools to mount the head under a 90-degree angle and machined the exhaust port and cut the thread on the lathe. Finally, the head needed valve seats, but we are very fortunate that our friend, Gerrit Venema, does head revisions as his work. He offered to make the new seats and make the valves fit. Now the only thing we needed to do on the head was to drill the carburetor. The carburetor is cast onto the head. We drilled from the outside of the carb onto the intake port in the head. Then we drilled the hole for the needle valve and cut the thread. On the other side of the mixer we cut thread for the gas line. Now the head was ready; unfortunately, we didn't take any pictures of the machining of the head.

Next was the machining of the new connecting rod. The foundry suggested using another, stronger, type of cast iron for the conrod, as it gets a lo t of stress when running. This sounded like a very good idea, but it was almost impossible to machine. We had to heat the head of the conrod three times before we were able to drill a hole for the wrist pin bearing. Cutting thread for the big end bearing cap was almost impossible! Now that we had machined the conrod, we poured a new big end bearing. We also poured new main bearings.

In the meantime, we had made a new bronze bushing for the camshaft. Now we could reassemble the engine again. We already had all the main parts sandblasted and primed by this time. After lots of adjusting and adapting, we had it all together and it was time for its first test run. We used a small can as a temporary fuel tank, and set up a coil and battery. The engine started surprisingly easy and ran very nice and slow after a few adjustments. We decided to take it to the last show of the season, the next weekend, to see how it would run for a longer periods of time. Well, the engine ran all day without stopping! Now we knew we could finish the engine.

First, we made some skids for the engine; we had some nice oak we used for the skids. The skids are quite simple but needed to be cut to size and we wanted round ends. Our friend Henk Herrema helped us with this, as he has the machines to do it. We varnished the skids and let them cure for the time we needed to restore the engine.

Then we took the engine completely apart again and cleaned it thoroughly. We spent quite some time with the filling and sanding job. Fortunately, it wasn't a very big engine; we didn't work on the Rock Island alone, but also on our 4 HP Associated that we 'technically' restored as well. (But that's another story.) Painting consisted of a layer of primer, three layers of filler, and about four layers of DuPont Centari number 68532. That color was close to the Dulux 24590 listed in Wendel's Notebook. Dulux is not available in Holland.

The first day we put on the primer and filler. The next day we sanded it in the morning and painted it in its color in the afternoon. We let the paint cure for a few days, and then added the pinstriping. I tried to make the pinstriping look as original as possible, and used the engine in Wendel's BYB (big Yellow Book) as an example. It only needed striping on the hopper and on the flywheel spokes. After the paint had cured, we took the skids and assembled the engine on the skids. Finally we had this 'nasty critter' back together. On the crankguard we added the original Rock Island decal. I think the result is quite nice.

We have taken the engine to several shows during the 2000 show season, and got a lot of comments on the engine. Lots of people ask why we painted the engine in that brown color. Seems not everybody likes the color that Rock Island used for their engines. The engine runs real good, but we had one problem. On a small show it blew out the head gasket. As we didn't have a copper gasket we used asbestos. We made a new gasket and so far, we had no problems again.

I would like to thank Gerrit Venema for his help with the making of the new valves in the head, and Henk Herrema for his help with skids.

I haven't seen another Jacob Haish-built Rock Island so far, but I know of two others in the U.S.A. If anyone has a similar engine, please contact me. My e-mail address is

The technical specifications are: 1 HP @ 500 rpm, bore stroke=3' x 4', replacement = 44 cu., serial number 4341, made approximately 1912.