A Not So Easy Emmons

Badge-engineered Single Built by Stanley Co.


Content Tools

At the August 2001 Southern Tier Antique Gas and Steam Engine Assn. (STAGEA) show in Maine, N.Y., my wife Sherry and I set up my engines for display. I usually take a fast walk around the displays and flea market looking for "stuff" for the engine hobby or my railroad lantern collection (I am genetically pre-disposed to collect things). In the back of an old pickup truck I saw an old single-cylinder inboard engine with "$400" written on the side. I was intrigued because its nameplate said it was made by E. Gerry Emmons Corp., Swampscott, Mass., a maker I had never heard of. Although it had a big spark plug sticking out of the head, there were a lot of pieces and broken parts. I never got to speak to the owner, but I did get his phone number. Once home, I searched through some of my inboard literature and poured over the digital pictures I had taken. Finally, I spotted a similar engine (made by the Stanley Co., also of Massachusetts) in an old Motorboating magazine. It was clear I had missed out on a very neat make-and-break ignition engine.

That next Monday I was on the phone to the gentleman setting up a time when I could drive up and "see" (buy) the Emmons. After we made the deal and loaded the engine into my minivan, I headed back home, very sweaty, but very happy. Somehow, the motor got real heavy on the trip back and I had to get my neighbor Rick to help me unload it.

Engine Assessment

With the Emmons in hand, I began to do a survey of what was broken or missing. Right away I could tell the main bearings were pretty worn out - there was a loud "clunk" when lifting the flywheel up. I could also see that several of the ignition parts were gone and/or had been cut off and probably thrown away during the "blacksmith" conversion to spark ignition. The mixer on the engine was obviously part Schebler and part Lunk-enheimer. Then there was the question of why there was a cork wrapped in cloth electrical tape jammed in a hole down low on the engine casting right by the mixer.

What I believe to be a 2 1/2 HP engine turned over, but not too easily and there was a lot of blow-by. I was not really thinking about compression at that point. This little lack of foresight would come back to bite me after the engine was all assembled. I realized there would be a lot of machine work ahead, which is good in the winter months. I also knew I'd be attending the Hershey, Pa., Antique Auto Show and staying near an uncle with a big sandblaster. In the meantime, I dismantled and researched the Emmons as much as I could.

I was put in touch with Keith Billet of Billet Industries, who is the antithesis of the blacksmith repair man who modified the Emmons. Keith isn't into simple pencil and paper sketches of parts or approximate figures. He uses a CAD (Computer Aided Design) program to produce industrial quality drawings and CNC (Computer Numerical Control) tapes that will allow an automatic lathe or mill to produce a replacement part. Well, Keith is also an antique engine collector who happened to have a single-cylinder Stanley with the same ignition system. Keith was willing to lend me the parts from his engine that I needed to copy and I agreed to loan him the parts from my engine that were missing from his.

I was also put in touch with a Canadian collector, Larry Healey, who had a Toquet (a predecessor of the Stanley Co.), and while the ignition system was not identical, seeing the mixer on the Toquet was like getting the Enigma code or finding the Rosetta Stone: I now knew what the hole with the cork was for and why the Schebler/Lunkenheimer was made.

It turns out the Toquet Co. designed and cast their own brass mixer that bolted to the crankcase. It had a built-in check valve and an integrally cast brass air intake pipe. That pipe entered the hole (of the cork fame) and drew hot air from an annular casting surrounding the exhaust pipe, down the rear of the block and into the mixer. Toquet literature is pretty sparse, but what I have states that the Toquet would run on gasoline or kerosene. In all those early illustrations, the Toquet has a hot head, meaning it has no water jacket. This is a feature of kerosene-fueled engines to get extra heat to fully vaporize the kerosene. I assume exhaust heat would come up before the head reached operating temperature, and the designers knew they needed all the heat they could get.

I should backtrack here a bit to remind everyone that my research into the origins of the Emmons company had led me to the fact that Emmons was strictly a boat builder and that they bought their engines from other manufacturers, re-badged as Emmons. My engine was actually made by the Stanley Co. I have dated my engine from advertising to be a 1906 model. By 1906, Toquet had been almost absorbed by Stanley, who was no longer using the Toquet mixer designs in anything except a single-cylinder. All multi-cylinder Stanleys had a Schebler carburetor with an add-on hot air intake tube running around the exhaust casting. Thus, my Stanley needed an obsolete mixer made by another company.

At some time in the past, the mixer on my Emmons must have developed a problem the local mechanics couldn't fix. Their answer was to toss the Toquet mixer and replace it with a Lunkenheimer thread-in mixer, modified by soldering a bolt flange and throttle from a Schebler carburetor onto the threads. I wanted to have an original, so Larry agreed to lend me his mixer to try to copy. Since Larry was going to Hershey that year, he brought the mixer for me to borrow. What transpired is what I love about engine collectors: We discovered that the other person had things we could swap with each other - and both make out like bandits. I would get the Toquet and have the mixer to keep, plus I got an engine I had been looking to add to my collection for a decade - a Dunn open crank inboard (GEM, February 2005, page 9). Larry would get a very nice Iron farm engine, plus a really rare Canadian Essex inboard.

As I headed away from the Hershey show, I went south into Pennsylvania to visit Keith and view some of his magnificent collection. I photographed his Stanley and took home a box of parts to copy.

Getting to Work

The disassembled engine was sandblasted and back home in time to clean and etch the castings prior to a nice coat of primer. There were three major areas on the engine that would need attention:

1) The ignition system needed a lot of parts made, and in some cases the dimensions of the missing parts had to be determined by measuring the existing parts and how far they traveled in their operation, and the shape and size of openings where the part went.

2) At this point, I didn't realize it, but the engine badly needed a new set of rings. It did get those rings, but not early on in the rebuild as would normally happen; it was done retroactively after the engine was restored (a process I do not recommend!).

3) The engine really deserved to be treated to the full court fill/wet sand and spray enamel finish, and have all the brass polished. Plus, the wood cart, battery box and gas tank had to be constructed.

With the mixer in my possession for good, I turned to the ignition parts. I had borrowed three important pieces from Keith and I wanted to get them back to him ASAP. I started with what I call the "igniter bearing tube." One of the nice things about copying a threaded part is that the thread depth and how much interference is allowed can be felt and measured with a micrometer.

Keith's parts confirmed that a thread of a certain inner and outer depth would fit fine. Parts like the electrode holder that thread into the head had been ground off and drilled out to allow some 1/2-inch pipe threads to be cut for the spark plug. I had no part like this to copy except the scraps of brass I managed to get out.

After I made all the electrical and rotating parts for the igniter, I had to make the sliding, or reciprocating parts. This was an assembly of five parts, the major one being a simple steel, cylindrical piece with two flats machined opposite one another for approximately 1/2-inch of one end. This slide piece is powered upward by the same eccentric wheel and arm that runs the water pump. It travels downward with just the force of a small compression spring, and if it was to jam traveling down, the make-and-break contacts inside the cylinder would not open and the engine would misfire, or maybe not run at all. What I did when making this part was to make the fit as smooth as possible and I machined the length to match the upward travel of the pump rod part under average timing conditions.

The trip arm I borrowed from Keith was a bit under 3 inches in length and needed to be milled out of 1-1/8-inch square bar stock. My well-stocked parts cabinet did not have such a piece, so I used a steel railroad spike to carve the arm out of.

The water pump actuating arm had a hardened steel axle bolt that drove the bigger main igniter slide. It was bent, and when I attempted to adjust it back into place in the vise, it snapped. I had to turn and thread and lap another one in place.

The ignition timing is adjusted with a short, brass-handled lever mounted high up on the front of the engine that swings left and right. Sometime in the past, the timing lever handle had broken off and was gone. I turned up a suitable shape out of brass and brazed it to what was left of the original lever. With a bit of grinding and polishing, it looks and works great. Except for a bit of spring adjusting and such, the recreated make-and-break ignition was finished.

Next, I started rebuilding the bottom end of the engine. A good friend gave me two 10-inch lengths of 2-inch oilite bearing stock. Having the old main bearings to work with for the overall length and O.D., I chucked each piece of stock into the lathe and turned the outside surface, marking the ends in relation to the locating pin hole and the grease tube hole. The 3/8-inch locating pin keeps the bearing tube from rotating or moving in and out. After I marked these dimensions and drilled the small holes, I reset the bearing in the lathe with an indicator to be sure the O.D. would be concentric with the hole I was about to bore. I increased drill bit sizes until the hole was big enough to use a boring bar to finish it off. By using both a micrometer and a vernier caliper I was able to get a clearance of 0.001". The grease forced into this space by the grease cups would both lubricate and keep the crankcase vacuum/pressure inside, ensuring good fuel mixture flow. The main bearings took about two months of weekends to make. The machinists out there will see that I should have used a steady rest, because the bearings were projecting too far out from the chuck jaws. If only I had such an option for my ancient South Bend, I would have used it! I was forced to take very small cuts, but perhaps that was best since I only had enough oilite material for one try.

With the mains done, I could cut and fit crankcase gaskets, mount the piston and rod on the crankshaft, and re-insert the piston into the cylinder. Jumping ahead a bit, after the engine was all assembled, painted, polished and mounted on the mahogany cart, I tried to start it one evening. All I could get from it were a few pops and sputters, but worst of all, I could tell that the compression was really low, and since there were now no leaks from the head-mounted ignition parts I was forced to the realization that I had blundered by not replacing the rings when it would have been relatively easy. In desperation, I made up a gear reduction, chain-driven electric motor gizmo to turn over the engine, trying to seat the old rings. It did nothing. I had displayed the engine half finished at our show in August 2002, and completed in August 2003, without running it at all. I was mortified at myself for the error, but in my own defense, I would say the Emmons was the first engine I ever bought that had rings so worn it wouldn't run.

I removed the "jug" (cylinder, head and piping all attached) and bought two smaller-width rings from Paul Weaver of Bremerton, Wash., to fit in the old, wide slot. Being a 2-cycle with ports, the rings had to be pinned so the ends would not rotate around and end up over a port or an oil hole. I really hoped I could insert the piston with new rings down through the crankcase end of the cylinder, thus allowing me to leave the head, head gasket and paint in those areas untouched. Again, fate was not on my side, because each time I tried it, the new, tighter rings began to pull the ring squeezer into the bore or the rings snapped out just before insertion. So, I had to remove the head and drive a wedge between the gasket area to pop it off. I made a lot of extra work for myself because I was lazy. From now on, my motto will be, "change the rings no matter what."

It was pretty easy to insert the piston and rod from the top, but I had to come up with a method of holding the jug in place so I could attach the rod to the crank and re-safety wire it, then lower the jug into place on the crankcase base (still on the cart with the crankshaft and flywheel). What I did was get four pieces of 1-inch pipe about 6 inches long that I placed between the jug and the crankcase base. This space allowed me to work with the rod and crank, then, grasping the jug with my left hand, I removed the four standoffs with my right hand and lowered the whole thing back together. Before the August 2004 show I had to at least run the thing a little, then send the parts from my engine to Keith for him to duplicate, or at least accurately measure.


Because the Emmons is such a rare item, I decided to fill the castings and spray some enamel on it. After sandblasting and priming, the castings sat for a year while I built the mechanical parts. I painted and hung the parts from an overhead beam in my garage, and sprayed on the high-temp Bill Hirsch gray engine enamel (there were traces of gray on the Emmons under bolt heads and castings).

Rather than use the beat-up original head and exhaust bolts, I had some replicas made in stainless steel. After polishing all the brass piping and parts, I coated them with Eastwood's clear sealer.

Cart, Gas Tank and Battery Box

I have used the same design cart for years. The wood I use depends on what's available. I usually belt sand and finish sand all the pieces before brushing on a coat of urethane varnish, and paint the cart hardware black. I usually use a brass "white gas" stove tank as a gas tank that I bought in the 1970s when stuff was still cheap, storing them away for future projects. The battery box on the Emmons is from a local antique shop. It was an instrument case made of oak, dovetailed all over. I couldn't find a pair of 1/4-inch NPT grease cups big enough, so I turned down a pair of 3/8-inch ones that had bad threads. Lots of other small parts, like the retracting crank handle and drip oiler, had to be made or modified to work.

I connected the gas, water and battery, and with a can of ether, I pulled on the flywheel and watched in pure happiness and amazement as it took off and ran as smooth as you would want! I got the mixer set where it was not smoking so much from the exhaust and then looked over the ignition system for areas that needed a touchup. I just sat back and listened to something that had been silent for God knows how many years. I believe the engine ran for over an hour and I was sure it would run fine at the show a month from then.

As sometimes happens, the running at the show did present a problem with the igniter assembly, and I?had to stop it after about an hour's run time. Over this past winter I have fixed the problem and will be showing the Emmons at the 2005 STAGEA show in August. Restoring the Emmons taught me I could indeed push my tools and skills to a much higher plane.

The Emmons will be on display at the 31st Annual Southern Tier show, Aug. 26-28, Maine, N.Y. For more information, call: (607) 642-8554. Contact gas engine enthusiast Tom Stranko at: Tom.Stranko@hp.com