The Beginning of a Tradition


Inoperative engine

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Young 1-724 Otaka, Tako-Machi Katori-Gun, Chiba-Ken, Japan 289-23

I returned to the states in January 1993 to attend the annual installation of officers of my engine club, Western Antique Power Associates, located in the San Gabriel area of southern California. At that time, several members showed me the copies of a Gas Engine Magazine article written by Chris Madeley, a citizen of U.K. who also lives in Japan.

Madeley wrote about and had pictures of a Japanese engine club located on the island of Shikoku where he had previously lived. I contacted him in Tokyo when I returned to my home in Chiba, an hour or so east of there. Eventually he and two other old engine enthusiasts visited my place and succeeded in getting one of my Japanese finds in running order while I was inside teaching.

Having learned that at least one old engine can be located for every fifty Japanese farmers queried, I now ask all new acquaintances, even non-farmers. One rural friend suggested that I bring my engines to the nearby annual Imo Matsury (Fall Sweet Potato Festival held in November), so the local populace could have a look. I did. Many old gents were attracted, some with interesting stories to tell. All were surprised that the cranking handles had been removed, that the engines were started by pulling through on the flywheels. Several did mention cranking mishaps they had known.

Sure enough, before the event was finished, several clues were given as to the whereabouts of engines. A junior high school teacher said there were two in storage at his school that were unwanted and the principal would be happy to have them hauled away. Needless to say, he was quickly obliged. They were complete and in fairly good condition, having been stored inside the school for many years.

I will follow up on another lead in an adjacent prefecture soon.

My wife made some signs for our display. One invited the people to take a picture of an inoperative engine this year in its present condition and then again next year after it has been (hopefully) restored. Another put out the word that we are looking for a 15 HP, or larger, engine. We have located one but the owner doesn't want to part with it, saying he has been offered the equivalent of U.S. $10,000 for it by a company in Tokyo.

It is relatively easy to find one-lungers here in Japan at very nominal, if any, cost. Also, there seem to be very few Japanese collectors, although several forages by foreigners have occurred. Shipping costs are reasonable. Last year I sent four to California for U. S. $250 (that's the good news), but to have the necessary paperwork done to export them, plus the handling fees, cost another $650. More bad news is that Japan is not the country for restoration. Parts are just not available. Gasket material, bearings, bearing metal, sandblasting and welding services are almost non-existent for old machines, and the engines themselves are all post-war vintage. We did find one old machinist in a nearby town who had the remains of a small inventory of magneto parts. Now that supply has been depleted.

I had to take one 60 lb. head back to the states to have it repaired. Very interesting experience getting it through two sets of customs officials, security guards, and airline personnel. If any of you saw a passenger with a 15 degree starboard list boarding a 747, it was probably me.

After the day-long festivities ended, the townsmen who were in charge invited me to attend again next year. They in turn will seek participation by some of the local farmers who may still have an old engine or two tucked away somewhere.

Some of you may note a surprising similarity in these various makes of  Japanese engines to the American Fairbanks-Morse. Further, all dimensions are inch size, all threads S.A.E., which provides another obstacle to the restorer in Japan.

Post Script: One of the above mentioned school engines had its debut yesterday. The initial evaluation regarding its completeness was erroneous. Many carburetor parts were missing, magneto was not the one specified and it had the wrong gear. All oilers were gone. Perhaps this was to be expected of any item subjected to high school storage.