Good Intentions

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3325 N. 65th St. Wausau, Wisconsin 54403

There seems to be some controversy or difference of opinion on quality of finish of antique gas engines. This writing is not intended to end the controversy, but to expose some fact mixed with the writer's opinion.

It is my opinion that the quality of finish varied greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer and from time period to time period. For example, in the 'Teens, engines had a high quality finish, compared to the 1920s' poorer quality finish. The reason for this is the price competitiveness of the '20s and greatly increased labor costs. The manufacturer could not justify the expense of labor and material, and the consumer would not pay for it.

If one were to read some of the literature of the various manufacturers, it would show great care was put into the finish of some engines and some were just the opposite. The following are excerpts from manufacturers' sales literature.

Sandwich Excess Power Engine Catalogue, page 4: 'The finish of the Sandwich Engines is remarkable for its beauty and durability. On a smooth and well cleaned surface we place five coats of iron filler, paint and varnish.'

Witte Catalogue, 'How to Judge Engines,' dated 1917, page 24: 'Every Witte engine carries a fine finish. All parts are carefully cleaned, dressed, and smoothed down, after which the highest-grade metal filler is put on by our expert finishers. The filler is allowed to dry thoroughly, when it becomes as hard as iron, it is then smoothed and rubbed down by sandpaper and emery cloth to a glass smoothness, when the various paints, enamels and varnishes are applied, each to its own place, and for its special purpose of insuring a lasting high standard finish.'

The Lauson Frost King Catalog dated 1916, page 41: 'The finish of all 'Lauson' and 'Frost King' engines is in accordance with the high grade workmanship and material used throughout. Five separate coats of special heat iron filler are applied by hand to make a smooth surface. This is followed by one coat of Flat Brewster Green Enamel over which a coat of the best heat-resisting varnish is used. The result is a satin-like luster with great durability. All exposed steel and brass parts are highly polished which is in harmony with the high grade material and workmanship throughout.'

IHC Mogul Oil Engines Catalog, page 27: 'Special attention is given to the finish on Mogul engines. They are primed and rubbed so that when the special coats of paint and varnish are applied, they present a perfectly smooth bright finish, and are engines that you can be proud of in every detail.'

IHC Titan Oil Engines Catalog, page 35: 'The neat design and finish give Titan engines a very handsome appearance, though we do not believe in making our customers pay for unnecessary labor in this respect, as no amount of finish can increase the efficiency of an engine. They are attractively enameled in the standard ox blood red and Brewster green with gold striping.'

From reading the above quotes it is clear the intent of the manufacturer. Note the terms 'perfectly smooth' and 'glass smoothness' used in the manufacturers' literature. Unfortunately, I could not find literature saying they only prime and paint the engines. I suppose that would not be a selling feature to include in the literature even though it is entirely likely that some, if not most, manufacturers did just that. It is interesting to note the last two quotes particularly because a different philosophy was used for each engine line. The quotes are from the same manufacturer, same time period, but different product lines. Mogul engines were made in Chicago, Illinois. Titan engines were made in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is obvious the quality of the finish was not as high on Titan engines as Moguls.

To be historically correct, a restorer must use the techniques and materials of the time and include the mistakes or defects made in manufacturing. These defects include foundry sand in paint, runs or poorly applied lettering. These, of course, were not the intentions of the manufacturer. But nonetheless they were a common occurrence in mass production.

My point is when looking at the engines at a show and one comes across an engine with polished brass, smoothed castings and the flywheel rims polished and lacquered, the engine may not be as over restored as one might think. The restorer is trying to duplicate the intent of the manufacturer.

My hope is to enlighten the reader and maybe to induce others to do more research on the subject. I welcome readers' comments.