Eli and Me

Eli at Home

The day I brought the Eli home. What was I thinking?

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12234 Harris Carleton, Michigan 48117

There were many times that I thought a better title would have been 'Bits and Pieces,' because it seemed for the longest time that I had more bits and pieces than an engine but that could be another story.

I picked up this engine from Ed Laginess a couple years ago. He had received the engine as a wedding present I bet the new wife was all excited about that gift! Oh, I'm just kidding! The Eli was in a little bit rougher condition than what he had hoped, but it was not a total loss. Ed has another Eli engine, #1426, that was very much complete only missing the original fuel mixer. The engine that was sent to him did have the proper mixer on it.

When Ed did get around to getting his Eli repaired and running, he used the mixer from the gift engine. Now what do you do with the old Eli parts engine? He did with it as the rest of us would do. He put it in the corner of the garage. And when you clean the garage, you move it from one side to the other, but you don't throw it out.

Now this is where I come into the story. Ed was restoring a 5 HP Columbus. I was helping him with the cylinder. The bare cylinder weighed 135 lbs., so it was a two-man job. The repairs took a couple months to complete. Now, being dedicated collectors and restorers, we would work on the Columbus for a while, then go and play I mean study other engines he had in the shop. We started and ran his Eli, and I was quite surprised how well and smooth it ran, for a two cycle engine.

Now I must have walked by the Eli parts engine dozens of times, but never paid any attention to it. But then it happened. One night I had a dream about the Eli engine. If I'd had any brains or common sense whatsoever, I would have gotten up out of bed, taken two aspirins and a cold shower, gone back to bed and forgotten all about it. But no, when the weekend came, I went and saw Ed and asked him what he was going to do with the old Eli parts engine. Before I could say anything more, Ed said, 'That would be a good project for you. Why not take it home and see what you can do with it.' He also said I could take his running Eli home and use it to make up missing parts. At that point I told him I wasn't worried about needing any parts. I said if the inside of the cylinder was cracked, that would be too much work and money to repair, in light of all the other damage and missing parts on the engine.

We loaded it up and I took it home. I started to work on it the next day. It had double trouble both the piston and cross head were rusted solid. One nice thing about the Eli is that the cylinder and block are bolted together. Once the cylinder was unbolted, all I had to do was get the cross head to move a couple of inches and remove the taper pin. Then the cylinder and piston would be off. To get this job done I used a lot of heat and jumped up and down on the spokes of the remaining flywheel. I took the cylinder and pistons to the auto parts store. They put it in one of those hot tanks for degreasing engine blocks. We left it in there all day. I picked it up in the afternoon and took it back to work while it was still quite hot. I used my air hammer on the end of the rod. After a few seconds of hammering, the piston started to move and soon it was out.

I sandblasted and honed out the cylinder and checked for cracks. There was a lot of rust and pits, but no visible cracks. At that point I decided to repair the water jacket. I went to the scrap yard and picked up a cast iron pipe, cut out a piece to fit the hole and veed out all the other cracks in the water jacket. I put the whole thing in the barbecue to preheat it for brazing. After it had cooled, I put it in a milling machine and made a light cut on the top of the cylinder to make sure it was flat and would hold a head gasket.

Something I noticed about the cylinder was that the water jacket on the right side was completely plugged with calcium and the water outlet for the left side had an opening about the size of a pencil. The exhaust port that is about four inches long and a half inch wide was carboned up to a hole about the size of the end of your little finger. So this engine in its last days running must have been down on power and ran awful hot. The calcium and carbon was hard even after being in a hot tank for six hours and in a hot barbecue for four hours. The only way I could remove it was to drill holes in it and chip it out with a punch. What I could not remove with a punch, I removed with a sand-blaster.

I was able to remove all the rings from the piston without breaking any, but they were completely worn out and could not be reused. This piston used five rings that were 7/16 inch width. That is a lot of piston ring for one piston. Replacing the rings may have been a tough job, because no one had a ring that wide in stock. I thought about stacking or putting two rings in each groove, but worried about their catching on the ports. I then sent a letter to Joe Sykes of New York. He custom made the ring for the engine at a very fair price.

When I made the decision to put forth the time and effort to repair and restore this engine, I knew that not everything was going to go right all the time. I knew there would be some setbacks, but I decided to call them slowdowns instead.

After cleaning up the cylinder head and making a gasket, I grabbed some half inch bolts to put it on. I soon found out the bolts went about three turns and then stopped. I checked the threads, and they were half inch twelve, instead of the half inch thirteen used today. This was a little slow down. I had to find some hex bar stock and make up some on the lathe. I was able to order a tap and die from one of the local tool shops. Now that cylinder head was bolted on and the water jacket filled, I watched and waited. Good luck no leaks!!

With no cracks in the cylinder and a source for rings, I was now thinking about having a flywheel and other parts casted up. I had never had anything cast before, and knew very little about it. Larry Massey from the Early Engine Club at Greenfield Village helped me out with this part of the project. With his instruction, I made the remaining flywheel into a pattern. Good thing that the flywheels on this engine were the same. I had to build up the outer rim and sides of the flywheel with auto body filler, and turn it down on a brake drum lathe at work, to make it smooth. This was necessary because when the new wheel was poured, it would shrink when it cooled. Also, the spokes were filled to make them as smooth as possible.

Next came a parting board. This was needed at the foundry when the sand casting mold was being made. I had four parts made up for a total of 120 lbs. of new iron. If you don't understand all these foundry terms, don't feel bad, neither did I at first.

All of the machining of small parts I did myself, but the flywheel was a different story. I called Ken Currie of Brighton, Michigan. He had a lathe big enough to machine the flywheel and cut the key way. This next part is hard to describe in words. When I went and picked it up, what I saw was a brand new old part, with casting numbers and all! It was a site for sore eyes.

At about this point in the project I started to look for information on Eli engines. Ed put me in touch with John Davidson from Bristol, Wisconsin. John sent me some nice pictures and a copy of an Eli book that he had. I was very thankful for that information. The restoration would have been hard to complete without it. I referred to this information many times.

When I was replacing the piston rod, there was a bolt in the top center of the piston that I assume held the rod in.. I found out later that it was the remains of a piston trip ignitor system. The ignition system had been converted to a spark plug. After all of the time and work that was put into the engine thus far, I wanted to put an ignitor back in if I could. I knew that I would have to make it up. All I had for a reference on the ignitor were some pictures Ed had taken of George Archer's Eli at the 1988 Portland show. It was the middle of the 1993 show season. You know how people say engine collectors have the craziest luck? I was set up at the Henry Ford Greenfield Village show. Guess who shows up and sets up next to me. You got it John David son yes, he had is Eli with him. It was a great weekend for me. John let me take the ignitor oft his engine and make a print of it. You know the old saying: 'One picture is worth a thousand words?' Having the part in your hand that you want to make is worth a thousand pictures. About a month or so after the show I had finished making the ignitor that I hoped would work.

There were many missing, damaged or worn out parts that had to be made. As each new part was made, I put it on the engine. During the week of Thanksgiving 1993, there were enough parts put together that the engine could be started.

I hooked up the ignition power, put some gas down the compression release, a few turns of the flywheels, I felt a little nudge of power. With great expectation I took the engine off the bench and set it on the floor. Using an olive jar for a gas tank, I cranked that engine for the next six hours until I thought my arm would fall off and my back would break in two. With only a weak little pop from the exhaust from time to time to keep my hopes up, I gave up for that day. I had had enough.

The next day I tried it again. After cranking on it without much luck, my brother Ken stopped in. We decided to belt it up to my IHC LB and run the rings in. I removed the Eli cylinder head so it would turn over as easy as possible. I hooked the LB with a come-a-long to the drill press. Ken held the LB down while I kept the belt on the Eli with a shovel. Let me tell you, this was a real three-ring circus. We kept this up for about a half hour. I put the head back on and tried again, but we could not keep the belt on, so back to cranking.

It did crank easier after that and the compression came up a little. After a while cranking, I removed the ignitor and installed a spark plug and hooked up a buzz coil. This did help a little. By the end of the second day, it would keep firing as long as I kept cranking. When I would stop, it would fire about two or three times on its own, but would not run. I took the following day off. My arm was too sore and I was somewhat disappointed, but not discouraged.

When I went out to the garage on the third day to try and get it running, I went out with a positive, can do, attitude. I turned the heat on in the garage, picked up some fresh gas, made adjustments to anything that I thought would help. I even warmed up the cylinder with a heat gun. When I cranked it up, it started firing as it had on the second day. But this time, when I quit cranking, the Eli stayed running. It was laboring hard and running slow, but running on its own. It stayed running and eventually it came up on the governor. The more it ran, the better it ran. After it ran a total of about two hours, I reinstalled the ignitor.

There was much more work that had to be done and many more slowdowns to overcome. I ran it off and on most of the summer, working out all the bugs a total of about six hours. When I was satisfied that everything was going to work and stay together, it was time to start getting things ready for painting. The engine that I had just spent a year and a half to repair and get running, was completely apart in less than 45 minutes just a large pile of parts on the bench. I always look forward to painting an engine because that means the hard work is over and that I've reached the last step in the restoration.

When I decided to repair this 3 HP 1903 Eli engine #1011, there was so much work to be done, I did not set a completion date. I worked on one part at a time. When I completed one, I would repair another. So how many hours did it take to restore this engine? I don't know. I never tried to keep track. How long did it take? About two years. Did I enjoy myself? Yes! Would I do it all again? ABSOLUTELY!!