My First Engine

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317 Hunting Lane, Goode, Va. 24556

It was the fall of 1983, and I was attending the Ferrum Folk Festival in Ferrum, Virginia. This is an excellent show put on by Ferrum College's Folk Life Division. Much of the college grounds are filled with arts, crafts, and food cooked in the old fashioned tradition. Some of the activities that visitors can enjoy include mule jumps, horse pulls, chain-sawing contests, antique automobile displays, coon dog races, tobacco twisting, and country and folk music.

I had attended several events and was on my way to watch the coon dog races, when some strange sounds caught my attention-mechanical hissing, coughing, burping, sputting and spitting sounds. My curiosity headed me in the direction of these fascinating sounds. Nearing the area, I noticed some large, slowly turning flywheels, and saw puffs of smoke rising. I had come upon a collection of running antique gas engines and was amazed at the sight. The old engines had all kinds of levers, flywheels, cams, cogs, trippers, and other working parts that showed amazing ingenuity. The rest of my day was spent in this area. I had been bitten by the bug, and decided that I must have one of these old engines.

After I returned home I began to ask everyone if they had any idea where I could find a hit-and-miss engine, but most people had no idea what I was talking about. Then one day a friend called and said he thought he knew where there was an old engine. I called the place, and sure enough, the man who answered described exactly what I wanted. I got in my truck and drove about thirty miles to view the treasure. Upon arrival I jumped from the truck, and entered his place of business. There sitting on the floor was what was left of a 2HP hit-and-miss engine. It looked as if it had been dipped in a thick black paint at some time during it's long life, and was rusted so bad that not one part would move. I tried to bargain with the owner, but we could not agree on a price. I left empty-handed.

Some months later I attended the Grease, Steam and Rust Association meet in Pennsylvania. There I saw an engine just like the one I had tried to buy. It was a 2HP Economy, and was sitting there just 'hitting and missing'. I was elated. I talked with the owner for some time, then told him about the engine that I had found. Not realizing the actual condition of the engine, he suggested that I try to get it at any reasonable cost, for old engines were getting very hard to find. He said he would be glad to rebuild the magneto at his cost.

Immediately upon my return home I contacted the owner of the old engine. He wanted to swap something for the engine, so I ended up trading an antique maple school desk, and a mini-bike that I figured was worth about $65. I later learned that he sold the desk for $100.

When I got the engine home I started to take it apart. It was then that I found that the black coating on the engine was not paint, but some sort of tar compound. The tar had done very little to protect the engine, and had allowed moisture to collect between the tar and the metal. The engine was badly rusted and pitted. Try as I might, I could get only a few parts loose. So I decided to let the engine rest for a while. Meanwhile, I wrote to Gas Engine Magazine in hopes that I would be able to learn when my engine was manufactured.

One day I was tinkering with an old Briggs and Stratton engine in the back yard, when a man walked up and introduced himself. He had seen my letter in Gas Engine Magazine, was in the area visiting his brother, and thought he would stop by and say hello. I showed him my old engine and he suggested that we take it apart. It was an offer I couldn't refuse, so we proceeded. It was at this point that I learned how much effort it took to get these old engines apart. Although my new friend indicated that the engine was in questionable condition, he offered encouragement by reminding me that an engine in almost any shape could be restored.

As we continued to remove the parts, the true condition of the engine began to emerge. The block was cracked in an area that would be very difficult to weld. The carburetor was not original, the cylinder was badly pitted, the gas tank was completely rusted out, and the bearing surfaces on the crankshaft had deep pits. Some of the smaller parts were rusted to the point of being unusable. Scraping off the tar in one area of the block revealed a blue color, suggesting a Jaeger engine, not an Economy as I had originally thought. But the water hopper opening was identical to an Economy, so I decided that I would restore it as an Economy.

The tar substance just couldn't be removed by normal methods, so I decided to have the engine sandblasted. The estimate was $35, probably because the sandblaster thought the black color was paint, not blast-resistant tar. When I picked the engine up my bill was considerably higher than the estimate. The man apologized, told me how many hours it took to complete the job, and said that he had lowered his hourly rate because he missed his estimate. I now had an antique desk, a mini-bike, and $55 invested in the engine.

Although I thought that the WICO PR magneto was beyond repair, I sent it to the man in Pennsylvania to have it put in working condition. After a while, the magneto was returned, completely rebuilt. The repairs were done at very fair rates, but I was still surprised to learn that I now had an antique desk, a mini-bike, and $133.50 invested in the engine.

A major problem that had not been solved was the repair of the cracked block. But luck was with me, for I had a friend who was an excellent welder, and he was experienced in welding cast iron. I took most of the engine to him, hoping that he could weld the block and remove the flywheels from the crankshaft. When he took a look at the engine, he couldn't believe that I was going to restore it. He pointed out how badly the block was cracked, and noted that someone had used stovebolts on the crankshaft bushing caps. But still, he thought he could weld the crack and repair the bushing cap threads, but he offered no guarantee. He suggested that I use an epoxy paint to really do a nice restoration, and that he would paint the engine for me. I left with my spirits lifted.

The epoxy paint was purchased-a gallon of primer at $27, a quart of red for $10, and a quart of agent for $12. The paint supplies were delivered to my friend, and I now had an antique desk, a mini-bike, and $182.50 invested in the engine.

Meanwhile, I had decided that I would have the cylinder rebored to eliminate the deep pits, and that I would install an oversize piston. So I placed an ad in Gas Engine Magazine for some of the parts that I needed, including the piston and carburetor. Also, I wrote many of the advertisers in the magazine and told them of my needs.

The first response was from Bill Starkey of Starbolt. He suggested that I replace the bad block with a good used one, at a cost of only $45. This sounded like a very reasonable solution, so I called my welder friend and told him not to repair the block, and I let him know that I had found another block in good shape.

At the Catoctin show in Maryland I met Bill Starkey, and picked up my new block. I was tickled to death, it was in excellent condition and even included the push rod and crankshaft bearings and caps that I needed. At the time I did not realize that the hopper opening was different from my original block. As it turned out, my 'new' block was an ARCO. So, I decided that I would restore the engine as a Hercules. I later learned that the hopper opening on an ARCO is not quite the same as the Hercules. My investment in the engine now consisted of the antique desk, the mini-bike, and $227.50.

To continue the restoration of my engine I needed to get the cracked block and flywheels from the welder. So, I gave him a call to let him know that I would like to pick up my engine parts. He noted that this would be a good time, for he had completed the welding, and had repaired the threads. He had forgotten that I had asked him not to do the repairs! When I picked the block up I noticed that he had painted the block red, but had painted the area below the connecting rod white. He also had painted the rod white, and pointed out that someone apparently had hit the rod with a sledge hammer, because it was badly bent. The bill for his work came to $40. I now had the antique desk, the mini-bike, and $267.50 invested in the engine.

Another ad went to Gas Engine Magazine for parts-a connecting rod, a carburetor, and a crankshaft. The rod was located quickly from Berkshire Flywheel Farm for $10, and a crankshaft from Michigan for $18.50, a replacement gas filler cap from Starbolt at $18.50, and an engine oiler for $15. But the quoted prices for the carburetor were just too high, so I continued to advertise and to search. My records showed that I now had an antique desk, a mini-bike, and $329.50 invested in the engine.

My Economy-Jaeger-ARCO-Hercules was purchased in 1983 and is still undergoing restoration. For completion I still need an original carburetor, a gas tank, and some of the smaller parts. But my first old engine has been fun, and has taught me a lot. Because of it I have met and corresponded with a lot of nice people, and attended many enjoyable shows. During the restoration I have added eight other engines to my collection-an Ideal Lawn Mower engine, a 1? HP Little Jumbo, a 1? HP John Deere, a 2HP Fairbanks-Morse, a 2HP Stover KE, an 8 Cycle Aermotor, and a 6HP McCormick-Deering Type M. And only the eight cycle Aermotor has cost me more than my first engine!