Gilson Fever!

Gilson Engine

Content Tools

870 Burch Road Williston, Tennessee 38076

I was a hot day in September 1987, while attending an agricultural new products demonstration with my brother and my dad, that I noticed a group of people gathered under a shaded grove of oak trees. When I reached this oasis I noticed this was not new equipment, but old antique machinery with its heavy flywheels turning ever so slowly with that old rhythmic pop. That's when the feeling hit! We all know that feeling. Needless to say, this is where I spent the rest of the day.

I have worked on small engines for many years but never knew that there was such a thing as a hit & miss engine. When trying to figure out how these engines operated, the one that caught my attention was a small Gilson. It really intrigued me with its short piston travel; it was not as smooth as the others but hit very hard and seemed powerful for such a small engine.

Through the next few years of collecting Waterloo Boys, Economys, Ideals, Maytags, and other various engines, the Gilson always seemed to evade me. Then, late in 1990, a phone call to Dale Wolfe in Oklahoma, concerning the purchase of a tractor, turned to engines. He mentioned he had a basket case of a Gilson. I almost dropped the phone! We quickly settled on a price. After the engine arrived a general inspection was in order. The Gilson was a 1 HP, 60 speed, water-cooled complete with a cracked block, pitted cylinder, stuck piston, stuck valves, missing carburetor, gas tank, crank -shaft bearing caps, and a dozen of other parts.

But it was a Gilson, and I was in heaven! For the next seven years I searched swap meets, want ads, and had several parts made. Finally, on a cool March evening in 1997, with a few turns on the flywheel, the Gilson coughed, smoked and ran for the first time in over 50 years. This has to  be the most exciting part of engine restoration!! What a thrill!!

After years of looking for parts and advice, I finally came across a 1 HP hopper cooled 'Johnny on the Spot, Goes Like Sixty model'. It was not until I found the hopper cooled Johnny on the Spot that I realized where the serial number tag was located. It seems they were placed on the crank guard. Well naturally, when someone had to make adjustments or repairs, the crank guard was removed, misplaced, or thrown away! Fortunately, this engine's cover and tag was in place, so proper identification could be made. I also learned that some of the Johnny on the Spot engines were manufactured in Port Washington, Wisconsin, and were painted red. The engines manufactured in Guelph, Canada, were painted green. This engine had a few missing parts and needed a good cleanup to get in good running order.

My next restoration will be a 1 HP air cooled Model E; I hope to soon have it in restored condition. If there is one thing I learned from Gilson fever, antique engine folks are some of the most helpful and trusting people. It is very encouraging for my family and I to be part of their fellowship.

I would like to thank those who encouraged me and helped with these restorations, for without you the Gilson would have only been a dream. If anyone has a serial number list, literature, or likes to talk about Gilsons, please contact me at the above address or call 901-465-6268.