Engines & Engine People

5 HP Superior engine

Restoration has just begun on the 5 HP Superior.

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134 Wexford, Belleville, Michigan 48111

Well, the show season is over for the year, my iron toys are mostly put away for the winter, the old woman has a nice fire going in the wood stove, the house smells a little like wood smoke and the apple pie she just took out of the oven, and I have time to ponder some of the things that probably would never cross my mind if I had anything better to do.

Youth was okay when I still had it, but this old age isn't all bad either. Gives us a chance to back off and look around a little. Wasn't it Socrates who said, 'The unexamined life is not worth living?' Of course someone else advised, 'Don't kick sleeping dogs.' I guess we can take our choice but I'd like to share a few of the things that are going through my mind if any of you are interested.

Lately, engine shows with old iron, old ways of doing things, and especially old people have been a big part of my life. I enjoy most all aspects of engine shows, everything from the gigantic steam traction engines that currently change hands for more money than I paid for the house I live in, all the way down to those nasty, smoking little two cycle washing machine engines. But I have to say that my all time favorites are those big horizontal hit & miss oil field engines. You know the ones I mean. They typically arrive mounted on a trailer with at least two or three axles that look to be overloaded, and when they fire, which doesn't happen often, the whole thing shakes in spite of the owner's best efforts to block it up good and solid.

So I sit here enjoying the fire and dream about engines and engine shows in general, and I wonder why I am so fascinated by hit & miss engines in particular. Then it occurs to me that maybe it is because these engines seem to have an almost human personality. (No, it is only wood smoke.)

Bear with me. I will try to explain. It may not be easy. You see, the hit & miss engine's personality results from the four stroke cycle it employs and the governing device that is used to control its speed. You know all about four cycle engines I am sure, but let me just chase it through once the way I understand it.

Stroke 1: Intake. The exhaust valve is closed. The intake valve opens as the piston moves away from the cylinder head permitting a mixture of fuel and air to be drawn into the cylinder.

Stroke 2: Compression. Both valves are now closed and the charge of fuel and air is compressed as the piston returns toward the cylinder head.

Stroke 3: Power. This is the only time the engine is capable of doing any work. Both valves remain closed and now the fuel mixture is ignited, resulting in a rather violent explosion which drives the piston back away from the cylinder head. Through a system of a connecting rod and a crankshaft the rotation of the flywheels is accelerated.

Stroke 4: Exhaust. The exhaust valve now opens, and as the piston makes its way back toward the cylinder head the spent fuel mixture is expelled through the exhaust pipe.

It would seem that it should now be time for another intake stroke so we could go through the whole sequence again, and that is exactly what happens in engines other than the hit & miss variety. Hit & miss engines use a governor to limit their speed by propping open the exhaust valve, thereby postponing the next intake stroke until such time as friction and load, if any, have reduced the engine's speed to some pre-determined level. Actually, hit & miss engine enthusiasts seem to take great pride in making their engines run as slowly and fire as seldom as possible.

So we stand there agape as the engine fires once and then coasts, revolution after revolution, slower and slower until it seems that it must fire now or die. Then sure enough, we may hear the exhaust valve close and the unmistakable click, slurp, whoosh, boom, just in the nick of time and off we go again for another ten, twenty or maybe thirty revolutions of coasting. Often we hear the sound of air entering and being pushed back out of the exhaust pipe; almost a hee-haw sound as the flywheels gradually lose momentum.

So what has all this to do with human personality? Well, I think some of us also operate on the four stroke principle. You see, we sometimes experience an intake stroke. It happens when our mind picks up a new bit of information, that may come as something we heard or experienced, or maybe from something we read, perhaps in GEM. You get the idea.

The compression stroke is when we think about this newfound information, often splicing it onto something we already know. Maybe it turns out to be the little bit we needed to figure out on how to whip that fuel problem we have been having with that engine that has never run the way we thought it should.

The power stroke is when we finally struggle out of that easy chair and actually go do something constructive.

The exhaust stroke, of course, is when we modestly harangue anyone who will listen, for as long as they will listen, about how we brilliantly arrived at our ingenious solution to the problem.

So our mind is on our governor and we stand there by our hit & miss engine with our exhaust valve propped wide open and hee-haw for just as long as we can hold our audience. Trouble is, as long as our exhaust valve is open, the intake can't function. Without intake there can be no power stroke, no work can be done. And of course, none of us has ever learned anything when his mouth was open.

There is something else I have noticed about engines and people. We try to make our show engines run as slowly as possible but somehow the really big ones always seem to respond better to our efforts than little ones like my 5 HP Superior. I am lucky to get it to go ten or fifteen revolutions without firing. It almost seems that the interval between the power stroke and the next intake stroke is somehow related to relative mass of the engine.

One of my favorite people, a friend of long standing, used to be real strong on intake, compression and power strokes. He was okay on exhaust strokes too, of course, but a few years ago he had a little mishap that laid him up for awhile and, during that time of inactivity, he picked up a few extra pounds.

Quite a few. And would you believe it? That increase in mass must be what caused it because he moved right out of the 5 HP class and is now up there running with the 20-25 HP bunch. Once that exhaust valve opens it seems like it is never going to close. Do you know anybody like that? It must be the same principle as adding more weight to the flywheels.

Of course there's another possibility, too. We've all torn a lot of pages off the calendar and it seems the older we get, the longer the interval between power strokes but I'm having trouble relating the age factor to the way show engines perform. I'll have to give that some thought. Perhaps you have ideas on the subject.

Maybe things are just the way nature intended them to be. Some of us are older than the antiques we show and, in some cases, that's pretty old. It could be that power strokes are mostly for the younger generation and I'm not sure I even like a lot of what has been coming through my intake valve lately.

Anyhow if you see a little 5 HP Superior at a show next summer, stop by and I'll tell you all about how I got it to run so nice, for as long as you will listen. That is, if my intake valve picks up what I need to get the job done.

See you next summer. Bring your big engine and tell me your story I'm a good listener and I need all the intake I can get.