My Old Witte Engine

2 HP Portable Engine

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301 Meridian Avenue Taylors, South Carolina 29687

I am a person who likes to obtain items that are alike, or at least similar to ones that I have owned or had contact with in earlier years.

As a boy on a farm in the foothills of North Carolina, I remember an old engine in a shed we called the Mill House. In younger years, I remember being afraid of it while it housed a corn mill. I spent a lot of time in this building because there was a workbench with wood working tools, all hand operated, that I loved to putter around withmaking such things as wooden toy airplanes.

As I grew older, the mill was disposed of, but the engine remained. It was now used to pull a tilt table saw, cutting tree trunks which were hauled in from the woods and cut into firewood.

Sometime ago I began to remember this engine and the fascination it held for me. Not knowing much about the engine collecting hobby, I saw a listing of the book American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, by C. H. Wendel, which I acquired in July, 1988. Having remembered someone calling the engine 'The Witte,' I eagerly looked through the book for maybe a picture or description of one. Sure enough, I found a picture that looked just like what I remembered from my boyhood about the Witte engine. Since then I've learned that that engine, in all likelihood, was a 4 HP Witte headless on skids.

I started going to shows, answering ads, and inquiring everywhere I thought there might be a chance of locating one of these jewels. Finally, on July 6, 1991, at the Old Threshers Reunion at Den-ton Farm Park, Denton, North Carolina, I found a 2 HP Witte headless engine for sale. Though this one was smaller, it at least looked like the one I remembered.

I had no truck, but a two door sedan with a fairly large trunk. I tried it on for size. Somehow I was lucky enough for it to fit, so home with me it went!

This July 3, two years later, a friend and neighbor of mine (who has a truck), and I went back to the show at Denton Farm Park, taking the engine with us as an exhibit. The two years in between were spent restoring the engine, as close as practical, to its original appearance when it came off the assembly line in Kansas City, Missouri, on June 22, 1920. I chose to make it a hand portable model, since this would make it easier to move around.

Before doing any restoration work, however, I purchased a buzz coil and, using an old battery eliminator, wired up the engine and got it running. Boy, was it fun to start this thing and watch it run!

A 1914 catalog illustration resembles 2 HP portable engine s/n 48376 manufactured June 22, 1920 and restored by Charlie Dellinger between July 1991 and June 1993.

The engine had been sprayed with Caterpillar yellow paint by the previous owner. After totally disassembling the engine, I scraped, used paint remover, wire brushed, and sandblasted individual parts down to bare metal. I found some parts had a couple different shades of green paint under the yellow and over remnants of the original dark green. After reading in GEM that one part Rustoleum Black and two parts Rustoleum Forest Green would produce the correct color, I set out to buy the paint. It took considerable phoning, and chasing all over town to find that Rustoleum Forest Green is an industrial paint and not available in retail stores. I found a distributor who had the paint, and I was amazed at the beautiful dark green color! The engine I remembered just appeared black to me probably covered with many coats of dirt and oil!

The connecting rod Babbitt bearing had been removed, and a makeshift bronze one inserted. I located a man who could still pour Babbitt bearings and let him have the rod. It was ten months and four days before I saw it again, but he did an excellent job!

I started inquiring about oak 4x4's for the beams. All the local lumber yards said in effect that there was no such thing. I finally went to a sawmill in a nearby county and asked them to saw me some. They sawed out a twelve footer, then cut it in half for me. Of course it was green, and I tried to let it air dry slowly, so it wouldn't crack or warp. It did a little, but the beams turned out fine after a local cabinet shop planed them for me and I put the imperfections on the bottom and back side.

The battery box was also a challenge. Knowing the dimensions of the four single cell batteries and the buzz coil, and using a drawing from a copy of an old Witte catalog, I scaled the dimensions, using the known dimensions of some parts as a reference. I used the same method to obtain the gas tank dimensions, then had it custom made from galvanized sheet metal. I wanted the battery box to have interlocking corners, and after having tried and failed to find someone to build it for me, I set out to do it myself. I bought inch oak boards, had them planed down to inch, and after building myself a jig, proceeded to build my box, using my trusty table saw.

I used some scrap brass sheet and some black Bakelite material to build a replica of the ignition switch, circuit breaker, and timer contact assembly. I purchased the cast iron cart parts and wheels from a GEM advertiser. I had to hand craft a few small parts and the tongue. The original wheels were six spokes ones, but I couldn't find any that I liked; hence the five spoked ones on my cart. I found the original type muffler, a cast reproduction, at Denton.

Needless to say, I'm really proud of the 'Old Witte Engine' and like to show it off at home, and hope to take it to more engine shows.