Father and Son Team Restore an Oil Well Supply Half-breed


The half-breed being shown at the 2004 Allegheny Mountain Engine and Implement Assn. Show, Port Allegheny, Pa.

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My son Will and I found this half-breed engine in late 2001, sitting next to its collapsed power house near Bradford, Pa. We were both captivated by the beautiful 60-inch curved-spoke flywheel and the component-type construction of the cast iron tray. We are fans of the half-breed engines that some times can be found in this old oil area, and we enjoy the concept of an engine with one foot in the steam era and one foot in the gas engine age.

This engine has a Knight, Sisson & Co. box-type steam tray made in Buffalo, N.Y., and was converted from steam to an Oil Well Supply piston and cylinder kit. Oil Well Supply's main office was located in Pittsburgh, Pa., but the parts were cast in Bradford. In their day, Oil Well Supply was like the J.C. Whitney of oil field supplies.

After sitting out in the elements for many years, this engine was in rough shape, but fairly complete. Since we both like this old iron, and Will is a machinist, we decided to rescue it and attempt a restoration. After asking around, we found the owner and made an offer. By spring of 2002 it was ours, and we recovered it shortly thereafter.

Getting to Work

The most obvious problem was that the bed was broken just behind the conversion gas head. It had long ago been "field repaired" with two long rods running the length of the bed into plates to pull the frame together. The fix also included plates bolted on either side over the crack in the bed. We considered welding the bed, but decided to leave this rather strong repair as a testament to the cleverness of the previous owners.

The crankshaft was deeply worn, so we sent it to Northeast Machine, a specialty shop in Buffalo, to be submerged arc welded. In this process, the crankshaft is mounted to a lathe, and as it is turning, a machine-operated MIG welder runs over the surface, leaving material that is turned down later. The advantage to doing it this way is simply better heat dissipation. After machining it back to original size, we re-poured the babbitt and began repairs on the cylinder and piston.

The cylinder was badly pitted on the bottom from water sitting in it. Friends and local oil men Tom Ross and his son, also Tom, graciously allowed us to use their machine shop, which includes a large, lineshaft-driven lathe that can handle the large cylinder. Will built a 4-inch boring bar and cut the cylinder out until we hit good material. The end result (a 1/8-inch overbore) effectively resized the cylinder to 7-5/8-inches.

We decided to sleeve the piston to fit the new bore. We had Williamsport Foundry Co., Williamsport, Pa., rough cast a sleeve, and Will turned the piston, removing the original ring lands and stepping up at the skirt. This left lots of material on the piston and he machined the sleeve with the corresponding "step," and we shrink-fitted it to the piston. Then, we cut new ring lands and fitted a custom set of rings from Niagara Piston Works. After that we built a new connecting rod from turned, ground and polished 4140HT shafting, and assembled everything. For the crosshead end of the connecting rod, we fabricated a new brass bearing and installed new packing in the gland. That completed all the power head repairs.

The original ignition was probably by hot tube, but considering the tray repair, we opted to use a buzz coil because of its predictable accuracy. The crosshead had a bolt hole in the side of it, so we machined a bolt to fit and touch a grounding spring at just the right moment to provide a good, precise spark. To get that spark, we built a custom spark plug with long-reach electrodes to place the spark at just the right spot. Our friend and fellow half-breed enthusiast Howard Weaver from Jamestown, N.Y., provided us with a beautifully reproduced brass Oil Well Supply engine plate to accent the restoration.

We mounted the oilers, a governor, propane supply and a thermo-siphon cooling loop before we made a new skid mount for the engine to put her up "high and proud." With some experimentation, we adjusted the Oil Well Supply to run along at 90 to 100 RPM with a satisfying "pop" and great smoothness helped by the large, heavy flywheel "carrying her through."

We showed this engine for the first time in 2004 at our home show, the Allegheny Mountain Engine and Implement Assn. Show and Demonstration, July 24-26, in Port Allegheny, Pa. Many folks enjoyed it and we had a great time.

Many people helped with this restoration and we would like to thank Julie, wife and mom, for great patience, our good friend Jim McKenyon for his frequent help and ideas, Mike Fuoco for his wealth of knowledge and information, and many others - thanks to all!

Contact engine enthusiasts William F. Frick and William J. Frick at: 24 Pine Trail, Westline, PA 16740; (814) 778-5789; jbfrick@pennswoods.net