My First Engine

1968 Volkswagen Beetle Engine

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1425 Kristle Lane Lake Charles, Louisiana 70611

I started visiting the antique power shows in our area a couple of years ago. I enjoyed looking at the old engines and tractors, but wasn't really ready to get serious about buying an engine. I was midway through a two-year restoration of 1968 Volkswagen Beetle and all my resources were tied up in it. But got talk lot people met few key individuals at the shows.

After finishing my VW, I decided to get serious about an engine. Little did I know how difficult it would be to find one. I talked with a number of different people, visited with other enthusiasts, and put feelers out every chance I got. After six months I still hadn't located an engine. Then in April of 1994 I went to a show in Longville, Louisiana, about twenty miles north of where I live. While there I met Nicholas Battery. He lives in Marksville, Louisiana, about a three-hour drive from my home. He told me he had an old engine that was real rough that he would sell for $75. He also mentioned that he had a pair of much older 6 HP Fairbanks-Morse engines, one he was restoring, a 1925 model, and one he was using for parts, a 1917 model. Both engines were complete, but the 1917 model was busted up pretty bad. Water had been left in it one winter and it froze, busting out most of the water jackets around the cylinder. He was using the best parts from both engines to make one good engine. He told me that if someone was really interested, they could probably weld up the broken cast iron and restore the engine. I didn't think I would be interested in such an aggressive restoration project, especially for my first engine.

The next weekend was a three-day weekend, Good Friday. My wife and I decided to take a trip to Marksville. My primary interest was the engine that he wanted to sell for $75, simply because the price was right. Well, I was real excited, but when we got there, my excitement quickly faded. The engine was in real bad shape. I knew right away that it was not the kind of engine I really wanted. I also knew that I would not want to put a lot of resources into restoring it, since it really wasn't what I wanted. So I asked about the two 6 HP Fairbanks-Morse engines that he had told me about.

We went into an outside shed and there they were. We looked over them briefly. The newer one, the 1925, was complete. He started it up. Now this was the kind of engine I was looking for. Although it was bigger than what I thought my first engine would be, it was the right style, two large flywheels, open crank, etc.

We then shifted our attention to the other engine, the 1917 model. Although it was pretty rough, it wasn't stuck. The water jacket under the cylinder was broken out into three large pieces. He had all of the pieces and showed me how they fit. The water jacket was also broken in two other places and had flared away from the crankcase about a quarter inch. There was crusted rust inside the water hopper and around the remaining water jackets literally inches thick. We removed the head to see if there were any cracks in the cylinder. There didn't appear to be any. After a short period of negotiating, he agreed to sell me the engine. An interesting irony is that he had bought both of the engines from another enthusiast right here in Lake Charles. I missed out on buying them myself by just one week. When I called the original owner inquiring about an engine, he told me he'd sold two engines just the previous week. These were those engines! Well, it was several months later now and one of those engines was returning to Lake Charles.

The next problem was getting the engine back home as I hadn't come prepared to haul anything that large. Turns out there was a power show the very next weekend in Lake Charles that Nicholas was planning to attend. He agreed to deliver the engine to me. We headed back home anticipating the next weekend.

The next Saturday, about 10:00 in the morning, Nicholas delivered the engine to my house. I could hardly believe it. He had installed the carburetor and magneto, and actually had the engine in running condition. He started it up for me. Of course, we couldn't let it run very long since it wouldn't hold water, but at least I knew it would run.

So began four months of tender loving care restoring the old engine. I brought the crankcase to a local automotive machine shop to have part of the water jackets rewelded. The rest I cold-welded in place with JB weld. I discovered a small crack in the cylinder. It was in the combustion chamber above the travel of the piston, though, so I just had it welded up. I had a valve guide installed for the exhaust valve and the valves ground and reseated. There was a large piece of the water jacket broken out of the head. The piece was missing. I molded and built up the missing piece with JB weld. The rest was mostly cleanup and painting. I bought an old cart from a local junk yard, an incredible find, and restored it to match the engine. I ended up with a beautiful engine that starts up every time, usually on the first turn, and runs really fine.

I decided right away to retire the engine. No more work for it. I just like to start it up every once in a while and watch it run.