Bills Bisschop

The 'Bisschop' Patent Gas Engine


Content Tools

8315 Amber Lane Newcastle, CA 95658

The Bisschop engine was first patented in 1871 by Alexis De Bisschop of Prussia. The engine produces 2 man-power or 1/3 HP at 110 RPM. It has a 4' bore with a 9' stroke. It has flame ignition and is a two cycle engine.

I first became interested in the Bisschop engine when I saw it in Wendel's book where it is listed as a Sombart. Going through my mind was the regret that I would never see one in iron. Then, on a tour to the British Isles and Scotland, I saw a five man-power Bisschop in a museum in Edinburgh. I was all over it, checking out its operation and taking pictures.

I then found some drawings in a book, on a two man-power, 4' bore, 1/3 HP Bisschop. The drawings only gave me one measurement to work with.

On my next gas engine trip to the East, I went to the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. There I found a two man-power, 1/3 HP Sombart.

Again I took pictures and measurements. With these measurements, I converted the drawings in the book to the dimensions I would need to make a full size engine some day.

In the spring of 1990, I started work on the wooden patterns. I have some knowledge of casting and pattern making. With this knowledge, a pattern maker's shrink ruler, and help from reading and asking questions, I was able to build sixteen pattern pieces, three core boxes and four back up plates to cast the metal components for my engine.

While showing my 1889 Regan engine at an engine show in Amador County (part of California's Gold Country) an engine buff named Scott Overstreet stopped by.

During our conversation about various engines, England and the Bisschop engine came up. Scott said that he and a friend, John Rex from Massachusetts, had seen one working in Manchester, England, and they had taken measurements to make a working model. I told him I had almost completed my pattern for a full size engine, but did need some help on some dimensions. Scott said that John was coming out west soon, and they might want to stop by and see my project in November. They came and brought some patent articles, pictures and measurements that helped me to complete my project. (Thanks John).

The first part of December, I took the patterns to the Knight Foundry in Sutter Creek, California. This foundry was built in 1873. They did work for the gold mines and railroads in the Mother Lode country. They also made a water wheel for powering equipment. The foundry is water powered and has the first lathe in the U.S., and it still runs as it did in 1873. The proprietor is Carl Borgh, who gave me a lot of help. I picked up the castings in January.. (Note: Carl closed operation of the foundry shortly after he did my castings.)

Now I had to machine and assemble the engine.

First I had to locate a lathe big enough to turn the 31' flywheel. I checked with a friend, John Manzinali, who lives a couple of miles from my place in the old gold mining town of Ophir. He said he had a big lathe in the back of his shop and for me to go check it out. I made my way past many projects in progress to the back of the shop. His lathe came from the street car shop in Oakland, California. It can swing 36' and has 10 ft. centers. John said to help myself, but when I brought the flywheel over, I could see he wanted to be involved in the project. Besides, his old lathe had its tricks-it had a pipe fitting hanging on the cross feed clutch to hold it in neutral. 'Best let John help,' I thought.

I had lunch with John, and he gave me two bottles of home brewed wine. I paid him, which he reluctantly accepted, and I went away happy. Another step in my project completed.

Next came boring the tower for the cross head. I took the part to two machine shops to get an estimate. At one place the set up time was too costly, and I still haven't heard from the other one.

So I took it back to my shop to look it over again, and decided to do it myself. I had to take off the chuck and make a special boring bar as my lathe only has 32' centers, and I needed to travel 36'.

All my tools are very experienced. I have a Lodge and Shipley lathe, a Hendey and Norton mill, and an old Buffalo drill press, all flat belt equipment. The old drill press came from the Pino Grand saw mill, an old steam mill in the Sierras. The drill press had to be repaired by a blacksmith before it was ever used, as it fell off the wagon and got broken when it was delivered.

The Pino Grand had many Shay steam engines working in the woods. It was famous for its large cable across the American River canyon, which was used to ship finished lumber to the rail head in Placerville. The cable was of special twisted steel rods, not wire, imported from Germany.

At last the parts were machined and assembled. Next came the searching to find out how the cam on the crankshaft was set for timing the intake and exhaust valve. This turned out to be 135 degrees in lead of the crankshaft.

The single spool valve does not close the air fuel intake or the exhaust as a poppet valve does, so the 25 to 30 pounds cylinder pressure comes back to the air and gas inlet valve, each having a one way rubber flapper valve, no flame reaches the rubber flapper valve as they are upstream from the explosion.

I know how Bisschop must have felt when he was building his engine: he had no one to follow. All of my knowledge of gas engines did not help me on this project. The fixed timing single valve and cylinder pressure back to the inlets just did not seem right, but it was.

We must give the early builders a lot of credit for their ingenuity-they were truly geniuses of their day.

I finished the Bisschop in June and tried to run it on propane. It would run, but not properly. I switched to acetylene and it ran good. It took two days to get the smile off my face!

I took it to the Amador County Fair for its first showing in July. Scott Over-street came by (one year after our previous conversation) and said it sounded just like the Bisschop they had seen in Manchester.

I then took it to the National Show in Winfield, Kansas; Portland, Indiana and Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. Had lots of interesting comments.

This has been a rewarding experience thanks to the help of Scott Overstreet, John Rex and John Manzanila.