An Old Air-Cooled Engine

A contributor describes the rare air cooled engine—distributed by the short-lived Air Cooled Motor Company—he found and restored.


The air cooled engine, assembled and distributed by the Air Cooled Engine Company of Lansing, MI. Courtesy of Wesley B. of Leicester, New York


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Soon after I became interested in collecting and restoring old engines, a friend of mine stopped in to tell me he knew of one which was located about a half mile from my home. He said it was in an old field which had grown up to weeds and bushes. I became interested, so we went to look at this "gem" and found it be pretty much all together but in pretty bad shape. The fellow who owned the engine and the field it was in had gone to California, so I had to wait for his return before I could ask about it. When he returned he told me the engine had been given to him about fifteen years before but he had not been able to get it to run, so had dragged it out in the field and planned to sell it for junk.  Because I expressed interest, he decided to give it to me instead. I took it home and started to work.

The only information on it was on the brass nameplate, which read "The Air Cooled Motor Company, Lansing, Michigan." I decided to dig out all the information I could while I worked on it, so first wrote to the Lansing Chamber of Commerce. In a short time I received a note from them stating that they had no record of such a company, but suggested I contact Mr. Robert Huxtable of that city for he is a collector well known in that area. I wrote to Mr. Huxtable who, though he is a very busy man, was kind enough to take time and help me with my quest. Mr. Huxtable secured a copy of a page from the Lansing City Directory of 1906, which showed a picture of the engine and gave the name of the company that sold it. It appears from this information and other information I have that the engine was imported in parts from Sweden and then assembled and sold by this company.

The company was run by the two brothers of Mr. R. E. Olds, namely W. S. Olds and B. W. Olds. It appears that the engine or its sale was not a success, for the company didn't last long. In Clymer's number 7 book on old automobiles there is a reprint of an ad for a similar engine with the ad dated 1908. The engine is much larger than the one I have though it looks very similar.

This engine has a 3-inch bore and a 5-inch stroke and I assume it to be about 2 hp. It is air-cooled and is cooled by a fan which is driven with a round belt off one flywheel which is grooved for this belt. I suspect that under continuous load this engine might run very hot, for the cylinder and base are all one casting and there are just a few fins on the cylinder. The gasoline tank is cast in the base and the exhaust valve is operated by a beam type of lever like the Witte engines. The carburetor is a Lunkenheimer mixing valve located on a level with the bottom of the engine, so the fuel has to be drawn a long distance to the cylinder head. The ignition is by spark plug and the spark timing is by use of a spring contact hitting on a knob on the timing gear. No balancing of any kind has been done either on the flywheels or the crankshaft, so if the engine isn't bolted down it chugs back and forth as it revolves. Crank shaft bearings are small, as are the connecting rod bearing and the wrist pin bearings. The engine runs backward from the conventional engine, so it is cranked from the side opposite the gear train.

The restoration wasn't too difficult but started, of course, with complete disassembly. It required a large press to push out the piston, but the cylinder bore turned out to be fairly clean and smooth. Bearings were loose but the crankshaft and piston were good. Cleaning out the gasoline chamber in the base proved to be a tedious and difficult job, for it was filled with mud, rust, and any other crud which could get in and there were only two small holes into this space. One hole was for filling and was closed with a 3/8 pipe plug, with a vent hole drilled in it, and the other hole was the outlet to the carburetor or mixing valve which also was 3/8" pipe size. I poked, shook, and scraped, then steamed and steamed with a steamer until it finally appeared to be clean. Careful scraping showed the original color had been a rather dark gray, so this answered one problem. Honed out the cylinder, got new rings, made a new exhaust valve stem, ground the valves, poured new bearings, and made a new wrist pin. Rebuilt the fan blades and guard which had been smashed and made new skids. After priming and painting, I put it back together and then tried to time it. I had no luck with the timing, for nothing came out right until I finally woke up to the fact that it was a left hand engine. As soon as I got the timing organized she fired right up and runs fine.

The engine appears to be rather low on power, but I have never really had a load on it to check it out. If any readers possess additional information on this engine I would appreciate hearing from them.