1425 Kristle Lane Lake Charles, Louisiana 70611
For several years I had been looking for a 5 HP Hercules or Economy hit and miss engine. Though I had located several over the years, they were either too far away, too expensive, or just not for sale. Then one evening I got a call from Robert Mayeux, another engine collector. Somewhere along in the conversation I asked him if he knew of one for sale anywhere. In fact, he did. It was a 5 HP Economy E that he had owned previously and had sold to a friend of his in Patterson, Louisiana. I got his name and phone number and gave the man a call. The next Saturday my wife and I were on our way to Patterson to look at the engine. It was about a 150 mile trip.
Arriving at his house I looked the engine over carefully. The price was firm but at least one I could afford. The engine was in reasonably good condition. It had been stored under a porch and was last run several years earlier. The serial number indicated that it was manufactured in 1920. I agreed to purchase it. Unfortunately the engine and cart were too big to go in the back of my small pickup, so I left him a deposit and we were on our way back home empty handed.
When we got back home, I called a friend who had a larger pickup and trailer and asked him if he would like to take a trip to Patterson to pick up the engine. He asked, 'When do you want to go?' I said, 'How about tomorrow?' Sunday morning he and I were on our way back to Patterson to retrieve the engine. So with two trips, approximately 600 miles total, I had my 5 HP Economy home safe and sound. With a little bit of cleaning up, a little bit of adjusting, and a little bit of starter fluid, I had the engine running before nightfall.
I called Robert Mayeux to tell him I bought his old engine and to get a little history. Turns out he found the engine along one of the bayous of southeast Louisiana. It had originally been used to power a sugar cane press at a community mill, and worked well into the depression years, giving many people access to fresh cane syrup when it might not have been available otherwise. One can't help but visualize people from a bygone era with bundles or wagonloads of sugar cane bartering with the owner of the engine and mill for its use and then cooking the freshly squeezed juice into cane syrup.
When Robert found the engine it was partially buried in the ground dangerously close to a burn pile. He recovered the engine and restored it to running condition. He had a unique 'magneto substitute' built for the engine that operated exactly like the original magneto but worked with a battery and coil. The engine was mounted on an old lawn tractor frame and turned a hydrostatic transmission via a v-belt arrangement. Along with several other bells and whistles, a Robert Mayeux trademark, it was dubbed the 'Bayou Buggy.'
I tinkered with the engine for several months. Since the 'Bayou Buggy' was pretty much beyond repair and since that arrangement would be difficult for me to carry to shows, I built a cart for it using four steel wheels I had bought several years earlier. Being involved in another project at the time, restoration of the engine would have to wait.
A year or so passed. I ran the engine frequently. It ran great and had that familiar hit and miss sound that often attracted the attention of the neighbors. Though the engine had good compression, there was a significant amount of blow-by out the back of the cylinder. So, one Saturday I decided to remove the piston to check the condition of the cylinder and rings. I discovered one ring broken and about a two inch piece of another ring missing. I also discovered that the wrist pin and bushing were significantly worn. I decided that I did not want to put the engine back together as it was. Realizing that I would have very little time to work on it, I completely disassembled the engine and tucked the pieces away in my shop.
Over the months I cleaned, sandblasted, and primed many of the parts. The castings were really rough and there were many deep pock marks in one flywheel and the base where it had been buried in the ground. I used body filler to smooth out the castings and to fill the pock marks. I painted the individual pieces as I had time. I bought a Webster magneto for it which also set up for many months before I needed it.
Having finished my other project, having a little time off over Thanksgiving and Christmas, and having ordered all of the replacement parts I needed, I finally got the engine back together over the Christmas holiday. The only significant problem I had was with the new rings. Turns out the ring grooves in the piston were not deep enough for the rings to seat properly. So, I brought the piston to a friend and he machined the grooves a little deeper to accommodate the new rings. Other than that it went back together nicely and started on the third flip of the flywheels.
It is now complete and running and will be shown for the first time at our show in the spring. The engine will never work again, having earned a leisurely retirement. I can't help but marvel, though, at how many lives that old engine must have touched during its productive years in the early 1900s, and I am proud to have had a part in its preservation.