Goes Like Sixty

1 HP Gilson Engine

1 HP Gilson as we bought it, July 1986.

Content Tools

II 884 West Jackson Street Marshall, MO 65340

It all started at Oak Grove, Missouri, the same as any other local show. Several friends and collectors were sitting under a portable shade tree socializing (shoot in the bull). It was just after the noon indigestion- two chili dogs with onions-and everyone was cursing the July heat and begging for a breeze when, as happens at lots of shows, a stranger walks up and says, 'Anyone want to buy an engine?'

My first reaction was 'Oh boy!', not in the sense of excitement, but more in the sense of 'Here we go again, another yard ornament.' He said, 'It's a Gilson.' Then someone in our group asked me a question. I turned to answer, and when I turned back the stranger was gone.

I spotted him about three trailers down. My father and I chased him down; he was already talking to another collector who was ready to buy. I pulled him away to tell him I wanted to see it, and we followed him to a tin barn about seven miles south of Oak Grove.

We walked in and, sure enough, there on a large wire spool sat a 1 HP Gilson style E air-cooled. It was dirty but no rust. He said it belonged to a friend who lived in Kansas City. So off to a pay phone to call.

We squabbled over the price for a while, then settled. With the engine in the truck, we headed back to the show. As we arrived all the conversation turned towards the Gilson.

Later that same afternoon, back home, we sat the engine under the shade tree in the back yard. We oiled it and found another gas tank, then wired it up and started it.

'It runs!' But that's all you could say. The piston flopped, the wristpin knocked, rod bearing sloped, mains jumped and everything else rattled, banged and clattered. To say the least it was wore out. If all else fails it had three broken air fins.

And so restoration began. It was completely disassembled and cleaned and sandblasted. The crank throw was turned, new valves made, new bearing poured, all new pins made, and then to the cylinder repairing.

The air fin was fun. At the show I received 1001 ways to do it, none of which I liked. My father and I tag-teamed this one and we got it done. The fins were tapered, from ?' at the bottom next to the cylinder to ?' at the top edge. Our idea was to take a ?' plate the same diameter as the outside of the fins and place it in the lathe and turn it round and taper it as the fins are, then cut the center out as the base of the fins are. Then hand fit to the broken edge and braze the new one in place.

The cylinder was then hone bored and the piston was turned down about .020 and built up with braze and fitted. I have done this on about six engines and it works great.

After all this, everything was washed clean and two coats of primer and two coats of polyurethane auto enamel were applied to get the finished product.

This engine was my first air-cooled to restore, but we have restored lots of engines, some rare, some not, ranging in size from ? to 16 HP. Of all the engines I have restored, none were as delicate as the Gilson. This cast iron was extremely soft and brittle. It machined and drilled easy and honed perfectly.

Several parts on the engine had previously been broken and repaired, but not very well. The cam roller and push rod had to be rebroken and repaired, even the governor weight bracket was broken.

I also want to mention the homemade muffler which we cast from aluminum, thanks to a kit we bought from Metal-Max. It was an experience to pour for the first time. Fun but a good way to burn your fingers!

My father is the carpenter in the family and the machinist. He built the truck under the Gilson. I'm the wrench turner, welder, and the paint slopper. My sister is the artist. She has striped and lettered several engines. We all try to do our best. I thought it turned out alright, thanks to Lee W. Pedersen, who supplied small parts and miscellanea.

Thanks to everyone who helped on it, I have won two trophies in the 1987 season.