Iron and Brass Honeymoon

Right view of the Petter engine

Right view of the Petter engine.

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13813 Travois Trail, Parker, Colorado 80134

My love for antique engines really got started when my wife of two days, Tammy, and I were on our honeymoon in Victoria, British Columbia, in April of 1985. While there, we went through the Museum of Natural History and I noticed a small engine in the mining display. I immediately made my interest in this device known, and suggested to Tammy that we start looking around for an old engine to purchase.

A day later, we entered an antique shop south of Duncan, B.C. and inquired of the proprietor if he had any old engines. He led me outside and showed me a behemoth which I could see was a little impractical from a transportation aspect. Then he led me into one of his sheds and showed me a nice British made Petter 'S' type, 5 HP, oil engine. It was stuck but with minimal pressure on the flywheels, I was able to get it to turn. As we left, I was thinking furiously about it but Tammy and I had kind of agreed that it wouldn't do having a 400 pound engine in the back of our Datsun B-210 for the remainder of our honeymoon on Vancouver Island.

As our honeymoon wound down, we made a stop by my folks on the way home. Naturally, I had not forgotten about the Petter engine so I told my dad about it. His reaction was basically, if we weren't going to go pick it up, he was! After discussing the issue with Tammy, we found ourselves on the ferry back to Vancouver Island to go pick the Petter up.

We finally arrived back at Duncan and after a little negotiating with the store proprietor (which he won), we backed the B-210 back up to the shed. The proprietor and I lifted the engine into the back after I removed the hatchback. I was having a hard time even lifting my end of the engine off the ground, while he had hold of the other flywheel and was almost lifting the whole thing himself with one arm! I obviously didn't eat as much Wheaties as this guy did.

We then started for the border in our Datsun which looked like we had removed the rear wheels and which issued a few sparks from the rear end as we went down the road. After being grilled by the border police for about a half hour, and a bit more of a drive, we made it home to our brand new house in North Bend, Washington, with my new treasure (and bride).

Upon disassembly, I noticed that the crankpin and bearing was shot along with one of the mains. One of the air intake valves (it's a two-cycle diesel) was also destroyed. There was a section of the water jacket which had broken out. The rings, naturally, needed replacing. The glow plug was rusted out. After spending a while to see if there were any parts available, which I came up dry on, I contacted a shop in Seattle to resurface the crank and remanufacture the bearings. The cost on that was greater than the purchase price of the engine!

Then I had another shop custom build the new set of rings. I fixed the section of the water jacket that had been broken out. I obtained a piece of sheet titanium to replace the air valve which had rusted out. The fuel pump took about two weeks by itself to free up and get in operational condition.

Then there was the governor. I soaked it for a month before I was able to disassemble it. After disassembly, I cleaned it all up, repaired the parts I had to break to disassemble it and got it working as designed. A very interesting double eccentric/flyweight design dynamically alters the outer eccentric shape which in turn determines the amount of throw on the fuel injector pump. The fuel injector was a challenge too. The nozzle was clogged and eroded and the injector leaked at every joint. There wasn't much I could do with it, except clean it up a bit and make some new seals for it. Never got it to atomize at all.

I then got to the oil line and fuel plumbing. This was perhaps the most disappointing of all, because I had no idea how all the original lines ran. My rendition of how the lines went didn't work so well, along with the external oil pumps which I jury-rigged. Disappointment and disillusionment followed, and the engine was mothballed for a while.

About a year later, I attended the Puget Sound Antique Tractor and Machinery Association show in Lynden, Washington. There was one exhibitor from Canada who actually had an operating 8 HP sister to my 5 HP Petter! 1 spent a long time talking with him and taking slides and videos of his engine, because all of a sudden, I realized this new information of how the engine should be finished off and made to run, gave me enough information to get mine running too! At the show, I was also able to also purchase a single-feed Madison-Kipp lubricator.

When I got home, a vast percentage of my available waking hours were dedicated to finishing off the Petter project. I was able to complete the fuel and oil plumbing. The original lubricator for this engine had been a two feed, and I had bought a one feed, so I connected the one feed to the crankpin and put drip oilers on where the other feed should have gone, the piston. I went to the local Caterpillar dealer and obtained what I asked for, 'the largest, hottest glow plug'. It was a 150 watts, 24 volts, which I was able to set within the original glow plug.

I then built the carriage and assembled all the other supporting equipment for the engine onto the carriage. The cooling tank I used was the core from an old water heater of approximately the same vintage as the engine. The pulley I turned on my brother's lathe, after laminating 10 8'x8'xl' pieces of oak. Since the original cast iron muffler was missing, I made one the best I could, using pictures I had of the 8 HP as a guide. It came out pretty well. I was even able to find a paraffin torch similar to the one that had originally been supplied to heat the head prior to start. This was for the folks who didn't buy the optional incendiary glow plug.

Finally, after over three years, I was finished and the day came to start it. I believe that this was Thanksgiving 1988; my dad and brother were visiting. We connected a 24 volt source to the glow plug, and waited for it to warm up. When it did, I placed the piston at BDC, manually worked the injector pump and got a flame out the exhaust port. Then we cranked it up and it started1. We were all smiles. What an inexpressible feeling to get the engine going and watch it running so smoothly. I ran it for about a half hour and shut it down. During the run, the glow plug core separated from the glow plug body, which electrically opened it.

The family has moved to Colorado and it's been about four years since I last fired the Petter engine. Mainly because I haven't yet replaced the glow plug. Also, I'd like to find an original Petter mechanical lubricator, or at least a Madison-Kipp dual feed lubricator so I can make sure the engine is being lubed properly. The original lubricator operated from the rise and fall of crankcase pressure, rather than with an external arm. The drip oilers on the piston don't work so well due to the varying pressures in the piston lube feed holes.

It would also be nice to be able to find an original glow plug setup. The original glow plug screws into the upper combustion chamber right opposite the fuel injector nozzle. Upon removing the glow plug from the head, one would place a small incendiary cylinder on the end of the plug and light it with a match. It would burn, I suppose, like a sparkler. Then one would place the plug into the head and there would be about 30 seconds to start the engine before the tip burned down.

I've tackled a few other projects since I last worked on my Petter engine. I've restored a 1929 John Deere 'GP' tractor, an International 'LB' engine and am now working on a 1.5 HP John Deere engine.

I would like to correspond with folks who have these vertical Petter oil engines, information, and/or parts for them. Of all the many engine shows I have gone to, I have never seen another like my 'S' type Petter, with the exception of the 8 HP I mentioned before, that gave me the inspiration and vision to complete the project. This leads me to believe that they are among the most rare types of engines in the United States. I don't even have an accurate idea in which year it was manufactured. Its serial number is 201793. The only paperwork I have for the engine is a copy of Illustrated Catalogue of S Type Petter Oil Engines, I received when I bought the engine. The catalogue has the following handwriting on the front: Canadian Petters, 551 Howe Street, Ask for Mr. H. B. Petter, 1925.

Perhaps someone will be able to help me get this great old engine running in fine shape.