3083 Malcolm Road Barboursville, West Virginia 25504
My wife Carla and I have been taking trips to the Amish Country of Holmes County, Ohio, for several years. We try to go once or twice each summer. In May of 1996 we had made plans for a trip along with another couple, Alan and Christy Gianettino. Two days before we were to leave, I had a strange dream! I dreamed that while in Amish Country I found a hit and miss engine and purchased it. Stranger still, I even dreamed of the specific place where I purchased it a small 'junk' store that we had visited a couple of times before! The next morning I told my wife that I thought we should take my truck on our Amish trip instead of the car, as we had originally planned. Well, she got a real suspicious look on her face. At first she asked why. Well, I hemmed and hawed, trying not to admit to this ridiculous dream. But she saw right through me. 'You're not planning on buying an engine while we're up there, are you?' Well, I caved in and told her all about my dream. She said, 'You've already got one of those things in the barn, why do you need another one?' I replied, 'Zach [my almost one year old son] needs an engine.' As you would expect, she thought that was pretty funny, but she did agree to taking the truck instead of the car.
We left on a Thursday evening and stayed with relatives in Canton, Ohio, that night. When we got up Friday I was chomping at the bit to get to Holmes County and see about this 'dream engine.' My wife, however, was in no particular hurry to have a good laugh at my expense, so we didn't get to the little store till late that evening. I got out of the car and approached the owner. We talked for several minutes and finally I asked him if he ever ran across any of those old hit and miss flywheel engines in his travels to farm auctions. My hopes were dashed when he said, 'Very rarely.' I thought that was that, but all of a sudden he said, 'Well, I almost forgot. I have one out back right now. It's pretty rough and I'd forgotten about it till you asked.' As you can imagine, I got very, very interested. Maybe this dream was coming true! I looked at my wife and I could see she was more surprised than me! He took me out back and showed me a very rusty, partially disassembled 2 HP headless Witte. I was familiar with this engine, as my dad, Lee Booth, has a 4 HP of the same type. The flywheels had been removed and laid to one side, the piston was stuck, both the intake and exhaust valves were stuck, the fuel valve was rusted solid, and the gas tank and oiler were missing. Still, this looked like a fun project. We discussed a price and I told him I would think about it and return the next day.
Alan and Christy met us that evening at our hotel and I told them the whole story. They thought it was pretty funny, and the next day when they saw that hunk of rust they thought I had lost my mind! But after a little more negotiation that 'hunk of rust' was in the back of my truck headed for West Virginia.
When I got it home I immediately began trying to loosen everything that was stuck. The piston came out easily; the valves, however, did not. I soaked the carb/valve assembly in kerosene and began to tap on the valves with a hammer and block of wood. Eventually they loosened. The fuel valve was so solidly rusted that I completely ruined it getting it out. As it turned out, the intake and exhaust valves were so pitted that they could not be saved either. I filled the hopper with water to see if it was sound, and lo and behold there was a hairline crack in the water hopper beginning at the front of the engine and running underneath it. My father-in-law, Mike McDonald, and I removed the hopper from the base and he ground out the crack in a V shape and welded it beautifully. (It helps in this hobby to have a father-in-law who is a retired machinist and welder.)
With the help of Hit & Miss Enterprises I obtained the valves, valve springs, a gas tank, a fuel valve and the associated parts I needed. I ground the valve seats, removing some very severe rust pits, and installed the new valves and all the other parts. Now it was time to see if this hunk of rust would run. I filled the gas tank, primed the carburetor and pulled on the flywheels. It fired immediately! It died after one or two explosions, so I adjusted the fuel and the air and within a few minutes it ran like new! All that was left was to sand and paint the engine and construct a new skid. I finished these tasks in the spring of 1997 and the Witte is now ready for the 1997 show season! The photos show the Witte in its 'before' and 'after' condition as well as a shot of Zach and I with the engine before it was painted.
This is, of course, a common engine. However, it was my first 'from the ground up' restoration project, and for that reason I will always have a soft spot in my heart for it. And best of all, Zach (now two years old) tries to start the Witte every time he is in the barn! Maybe in a few years he'll be trying to preserve our country's farm heritage also.
I'd like to thank my wife Carla for traveling to all the engine shows we went to in 1996, and my father-in-law, Mike, for his help. I'd also like to thank my friend Bob Doss for allowing me to pick his brain and look as his 2 HP Witte as an example. This is a great hobby, as my dad convinced me several yeas ago, and I hope to remain active in it for a long time!