Learning About Antique Engines in High School

A new program with a new twist

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Herb Wilcox removing carbon with wire wheel from a 6 hp. Novo piston.

Photo by Greg Wedin

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At Warren Western Reserve High School old single-cylinder antique gasoline engines have added a new dimension to the small engine power mechanics program.

Western Reserve High School is in its fourth year of existence, with a total student enrollment of 2,300 students. The school with its modern architectural styling outside is offering new and unusual course offerings on the inside. One of these is a course entitled, "Small Engine Power Mechanics." The program as well as the shop is designed with the facilities to teach exclusively two-and-four-cycle gasoline engines.

At the time of its conception and first year of operation it dealt exclusively with four-cycle engines such as those found on lawn mowers, go-carts, mini-bikes, etc; two-cycle engines as used on lawn mowers, chain saws, etc. and the ever popular two-cycle outboard motor. As a teacher I encountered many problems faced by most teachers, but due to inherent interest of most teenage boys, motivation was not as big a factor as it is in other teaching areas but there were inevitably those students who could not be motivated or reached.

Quite inadvertently a fellow teacher, Mr. Al Lietzow (graphic arts instructor), asked me if the boys would like to work. The answer was "yes" and shortly thereafter a rusted hunk of cast iron in the form of a 3 HP Fairbanks-Morse throttling governor engine found its way into my shop. The fervor of interest and the motivation that this engine caused was phenomenal. Everyone wanted to work on it. No matter what the job or how dirty or time consuming, there was class after class of eager beavers.

Being that this engine was so different from those that we currently see, it became the conversation piece of the industrial arts and vocational education department as well as other parts of the school. Being a younger fellow this engine was strange but not totally unfamiliar. Because of my background (my father at 72 is still running a general repair shop for anything that has a motor or wheels) and the area where I grew up (the farming section of southern New Jersey) this strange brute was somewhat familiar. The students worked, adjusted, made, designed, manufactured parts, readjusted, redesigned, and remanufactured parts in a futile effort to get the engine running.

As I also teach driver's education I am on the road in the driver's education car many hours a week. One day I passed the home of a fellow collector and GEM subscriber, George Bunting. A few days later I returned to the house with the gasoline engines in the yard, and what is now a wonderful friendship was started. At that time George introduced me to GEM and lent me some back issues to read. In reading these issues I came across the name, Carleton Mull with whom most of you are familiar. With his knowledge and help, some minor adjustments were made on our 3 HP Fairbanks-Morse and it was running. Now interest was really boiling. Such weird noises, parts moving back and forth, sucking noises, gears turning all where you could see them out in the open. What a sight, and, by-gosh, a fantabulous teaching aide. Would you believe a running four-cycle engine as good as any cutaway teaching aide?

From this humble and somewhat shaky beginning the old gasoline engine has become the "bag" or the "thing" in power mechanics here at Western Reserve. At the present time we are working on and have in the shop about 18 engines of which some are my own, some belong to the school and even occasionally a student digs up one himself. These engines, because of their antiquity, the obsolescense of their parts are the most valuable teaching tool that I could have. A student's mentality, ingenuity and manipulative skills are taxed to the fullest.

It has developed to the point now where almost every shop at the school is involved in one way or another in the engine restoration. Parts are designed, drawn and dimensioned under the watch-ful eye of one of our drafting instructors, Mr. Wayne Stiffler. Broken parts are brazed and welded with the supervision of our two welding instructors, Mr. Dick Haynes and Mr. Dean Thomas. Our skids and dollies are manufactured at least in part in our wood shop under Mr. Robert Morrison. Mr. Bob Hanbaugh in the vocational machine shop supervises our large turning and machining jobs with Paul Pritchard in auto mechanics grinding heads and valves on the larger engines which my shop is not equipped to handle. Mr. Miles Cuckovich in auto body is our technical advisor and helper in the refinishing of the engine. Mr. Lietzow as previously mentioned, who started it all, being a very successful antique car restorer and having won several national first prizes for his car restoration, provides invaluable technical assistance. With the help of these faculty members we have remanufactured many many parts and made repairs on what would seem like hopeless, worthless hunks of junk. The rougher the engine the greater the challenge.

But in the course of time the engines seem to progress slowly to the point where they eventually do run and look very very respectable. The students have shown some of the finished products locally and we hope by this summer will be able to get around to some of the local shows.