A Sparkling Discovery

Part one of three on restoring a 4 HP Charter-Mietz oil engine


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This adventure started on a miserable but fateful day in February 2005. It was a cool, wet, drizzly day - the kind of day when you just want to go home and sleep. After 10 hours of being soaked while unloading plumbing pipes, I had had enough. I went home (another hour's drive) only to find that my wife was in just as foul a mood as I. She had to work in a cold office building because the heat had gone out the night before and repairs had not yet been made. We looked at each other and said, "We're eating out!" We both laughed and headed for the car.

We were eating our salads when another couple was seated near us. My wife, Mary, noticed that they were wearing western outfits. I knew that there was a dance hall nearby and told Mary they had probably been line dancing.

Throughout dinner we exchanged looks with the other couple, and the gentleman even walked by our table giving me the once-over. I had put on a brand new shirt with one of my engine club affiliations printed on the back. It was for the North Jersey Antique Engine and Machinery Club, of which I am vice president.

When we were leaving, Mary told the couple she liked their outfits. The people explained that they had indeed been at the dance hall. The gentleman introduced himself and said he liked my shirt, too. He asked me if I worked on engines. I told him I did and that I belonged to several clubs that repair and display old engines and machinery. He told us he had a couple of old engines in his yard he would like to get running. I gave him my business card with my phone number, and told him to give me a call when he was ready and I would come over and take a look at the engines. I learned that his name was Bill and he lived only about eight miles from my home in a town called Cedar Knolls.

More than a month went by before I heard from Bill. Finally, he called, "Hiya, this is Bill - the engine guy? I wanted to know if you have any time Saturday to come and look over the engines?" He said to bring my trailer as he had some stuff he wanted to give me.

The first thing I noticed as I pulled up in front of Bill's home was a small-sized (so I thought) horizontal engine painted blue and silver on a couple of 4-by-6-inch timbers that were in bad shape.

Bill and his boss had picked out engines together. When his boss died suddenly 16 years earlier and the company was sold, Bill expressed an interest in the engines and inherited them. There were about five or six engines in the warehouse where he used to work, most of which had sat idle for over 10 years. Bill loaded two of the engines onto his truck and took them home. He went back to the warehouse the next morning and noted the other engines were gone. He asked some of the nearby workers where the engines were and was told they were in the dumpster. When he found them, they were thoroughly broken into small pieces - what a loss.

The engines he did get, he put on display in his yard. For over 15 years the two engines stood out in the weather. As Bill was explaining how he got the engines, we were walking around his yard looking at them up close. The first one I looked at was a maroon upright engine. It was a Fairbanks-Morse igniter-fired marine engine and stood about 3 feet tall.

We then went to look at the blue and silver engine. The first thing I noticed was that the engine had a weird head. It had a protrusion and a cover on the front, but had no valve linkage. At first I thought something was missing, but closer examination brought out a surprise - this was a hot bulb engine! I then spotted the brass engine identification plate. It read as follows:

Patented in USA and Foreign Countries
SPEED 550 TYPE H 4 HP C.R. 5.5:1
ENGINE No. 9146 Size: 4-1/2 x 6-1/2

I looked the rest of the engine over and noted it was equipped with a Madison-Kipp Model 50 mechanical force-feed oiler. It was frozen tight. The oil level glass was broken, but in place. The oiler drip sight glass was missing, as were about a half a dozen screws from the oiler top. The zinc flow meters were heavily corroded with chunks of zinc missing from the catch cups. The hand primer crank was there and was still free on the shaft. All the activation linkages seemed to be there. Some of the oil distribution lines were bent or broken. The governor mechanism was free, although the rest of the moving assemblies were not. The crank seemed to be frozen in place and the small pumps on top of the engine were stuck, too. There was a connection on the exhaust that looked like a heat exchanger. It was in place, but the piping was wrung off long ago.

The 4-by-6-foot wooden skid the engine was mounted on was in really poor shape. The right side was collapsing. Bill told me the engine was extremely heavy for its size and that he blew a hydraulic hose on his tractor taking the engine off his truck. The engine was mounted on a subbase with two 2-inch holes in it: one in front and one in the rear, along with a tapped 3/8-inch pipe-threaded hole at the rear of the engine, just above the 2-inch holes. It also appeared that the cast iron fuel tank was mounted on top of the engine crankcase with a loose-fitting lid. It was clean inside and smelled slightly like fuel oil or kerosene. The piping from the fuel tank was sheared off the pump end, but was still there.

Of the two engines, I?told Bill this would be the showstopper. It was a neat piece and was well worth restoration, although it looked like the Charter-Mietz needed more work than the Fairbanks-Morse. Bill stated that he really didn't have the time to give to the engines, as he had the dancing and worked on cars. He asked what I would do with them and I told him I would display them, show people how they worked and try to obtain some history of the manufacturers and the engines themselves. They both needed a lot of TLC. Bill looked at me for a few seconds and said, "They're yours." I stood there sort of dumbfounded and said, "What?" He repeated his statement, "They are yours, as long as you promise to display them and show them, and not to lock them up in some garage like a lot of collectors do. I want people to appreciate them and see them. I think you will do that, won't you?" I couldn't believe my ears. All I could stammer was, "Yes sir!"

Bill said he had some stuff for the engine club if I wanted it. The stuff turned out to be a heavy 6-spoke flywheel, a boring bar machine still in the original wooden crate, some other miscellaneous hand tools and a Bunsen burner like we used in school. After all was loaded, the poor tires on the trailer seemed half-flat. I thanked Bill and proceeded home.

Freeing the crankshaft

There were five basic things to be accomplished in order to make the Charter-Mietz run again. I needed to free the engine crankshaft, repair or replace the Madison-Kipp oiler, sort out fuel operations, restore functionality to the pumps, create or locate a cooling system (the engine appears to be tank-cooled) and build a skid or mount the engine on a cart since the flywheels extended below the engine subbase.

I removed the rotten wood from under the engine base and using a jack and brace, I placed the engine base on two 4-by-6-foot beams. This left the flywheels about 3 inches off the trailer floor. At this time I noted that the flywheels actually did move, though only 1/8-inch. I decided that to simplify the restoration, I would remove all items that did not move. I removed the oiler, the primary fuel pump, the unknown pump and the pump mounting plate, which I found to be the transfer port and passage cover as well.

Removing the plate exposed the transfer ports and showed that the piston had covered the port when the engine had stopped so long ago. Luckily for me, there was no rust visible on the piston. I rocked the flywheels and noted the piston did not move. I sprayed Liquid Wrench on top of the piston, through the transfer port and at this time I also removed the fuel injector and piping. The injector is mounted in the top of the engine cylinder. It is made of heavy brass, threaded with a long tapered 1/4-inch pipe thread and has what appears to be a 0.06-inch nozzle, screwed into the business end. I jacked the engine up so that the head was nearly vertical. At this point, the engine base rested on the lumber, and the flywheels touched the trailer deck. The engine now stood on its tail, with no other support. I sprayed WD-40 into the cylinder for about a minute through the injector-mounting hole and screwed a Lincoln-type air hose fitting into the same hole. I attached an airline and put 100 psi of pressure on the cylinder. As I heard no air escaping from the cylinder, I propped the engine to leave it standing for the night.

The next afternoon after I got home from work, I took a look at the engine. There was a slight hiss escaping from the cylinder out of the exhaust tee; bubbles were escaping from around the piston through the transfer port. I shut off the air hose and let the pressure bleed off. I lowered the engine onto its base using a jack and opened the crankcase drain. A lot of crud and fluid drained out and I removed the inspection cover at the rear of the crankcase.

With a flashlight, I saw the interior of the crankcase was pretty clean and no rust was visible on any of the interior parts. After removing the safety pins, I used a 2-foot long, 1/2-inch drive breaker bar and an 18-inch extension with a swivel socket to loosen the connecting rod's big end retaining bolts. The crank throw had stopped approximately 90 degrees from top center at the top of the crankcase. When the nuts broke loose, they did so with a loud crack and the vibration made my hands sting for a few minutes. I backed the nuts off until there were only a few threads holding them on. As the connecting rod's big end bearing appeared to be made of bronze, I decided to try and see if the piston would break loose by letting the flywheel inertia move the piston.

I rocked the crank counterclockwise as far as it would travel. It spun about 1-1/2 inches at the rim. I then gave the flywheels a yank, clockwise and they came to a stop after the 1-1/2 inches of travel with a dull thump. I would have thought that the metal-to-metal hit would have bounced back, but it didn't, it just stopped. I tried to maneuver a second time and this time I nearly fell over, as I was hanging on to the flywheels. Instead of stopping, the flywheels and crank (and everything else attached) kept turning! The stuck piston had broken free. After a quick look at the crank pin journal, I reinstalled the rod cap and tightened the nuts to 45-foot pounds and reinstalled the retaining pins through the bolt ends. I should note that there was virtually no play in the rod bearing and after the re-assembly, I soaked the big end bearing with oil before reinstalling the inspection port cover and its four bolts. A quick look in the cylinder, above the piston and through the open transfer ports, revealed a shiny surface with no pits or rust.

I reinstalled the fuel injector, closed the open compression release and tried to turn the engine over. Forget it. There was so much compression, I could not pull the engine through the compression stroke. Opening the compression release allowed me to pull the engine through, but not on a continuous cycle. There was simply too much cylinder volume to allow a complete roll through. This thing was going to be a bear to start.

I then reinstalled the transfer port cover, opened the compression release and again turned the engine over. This time I was looking for the engine's air intake. It turned out that the two 2-inch holes in the subbase were where the air induction was. I made sure that there were no guests inside the intake and moved on to the next item.

Tune in next issue for part two covering the fuel pumping system and the Madison-Kipp oiler.

Contact engine enthusiast Andrew Mackey at: 26 Mott?Place, Rockaway Boro, NJ 07866-3022;