My Special Hercules

Engine in an intermediate stage of restoration

The engine in an intermediate stage of restoration.

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1425 Kristle Lane Lake Charles, Louisiana 70611

Back in September of 1995 I turned 50 years old. My wife gave me $100 for my birthday. About this time in my life I was really hurting for another engine. I knew full well that $100 wouldn't be nearly enough, but it was a start. The following weekend we visited a few flea markets; that $100 was just burning a hole in my wallet. I didn't spend a dime. On the way home, though, I decided to pay a visit to an engine friend of mine, Bo Hinch. He had an Economy engine that I just coveted. While he was finishing up some work, I wandered around his shop, paying particular attention to the Economy. About that time he came up and we started talking. I asked him point blank what it would take to talk him out of his Economy. He told me that he had a lot invested in it and really didn't want to sell it. He then pointed down to the floor right where we were standing and asked, 'What about this one?' I looked down and there sat a small engine, two flywheels, open crank, appearing to be hit and miss governed. It was so rusty that it blended right in with the floor. He told me he had bought it recently at a garage sale and that for $50 it was mine. Shocked, I misunderstood, thinking that he was telling me what he bought it for. To my delight, he was offering it to me. I thanked him, gave him the cash, loaded the engine up, and was on my way home with money to spare. At this point I really wasn't even sure what I had. I guess this is one of those instances where you might say I was in the right place at the right time.

After unloading the engine in my shop, I discovered that it was a l HP Hercules Type E. It was stuck. The governor gear was missing. The cam gear had a couple of teeth broken off. The governor control arm was broken. The rocker arm for the exhaust valve was broken. The magneto, ignitor, and trip mechanism were all missing. It was in pretty bad shape but certainly restorable. From its serial number I found it was manufactured in 1919.

I blew some of the dirt off of it and cleaned a lot of crud out of the water hopper. I sprayed all of the moving parts I could get to with penetrating oil and poured a little brake fluid down into the cylinder. A couple of hours later, I came back and started working the flywheels. The piston moved slightly. I worked it a little more and the piston moved a little more. I continued working the flywheels until the piston was completely free. It was unstuck.

Over the next few weeks I ordered all of the parts that I thought I would need to get it running. A new cam gear would have cost $75, more than I paid for the engine. Ted Brookover had done some ignitor work for me for another engine I have. In repairing the ignitor he had to weld the cast iron bracket and had to fabricate one part that was missing. So I thought, maybe he can repair the gear. I gave him a call. He said, 'Sure, send it to me.' For $15 he repaired the two teeth that were broken on the cam gear. Once I got all of the parts back and had the engine somewhat cleaned up, I reassembled it.

At this point I wasn't at all sure which ignition system the engine used. So, I ordered a Wico Type EK magneto bracket that is designed for a spark plug ignition with the intention of running the engine off a buzz-coil. I built a wiper mechanism onto the push rod to activate the buzz-coil at the right time. This mechanism, though kind of crude, worked well.

On Saturday, October 14, one month after I bought the engine, it was time to try and start it. I rigged up a gas tank with a small tin can. I hooked up the battery and buzz-coil, choked the engine and flipped the flywheel. After about three turns, the engine fired and began to run. With a number of small adjustments, I got it to where it would run fairly well.

At this point, I became really anxious to restore the engine. I knew, though, that it would mean finding and buying a magneto. This was more than I wanted to invest in the engine at this point. So I decided to simply clean up the engine and paint it. I accomplished this over the winter months of 1995-1996. I showed the engine for the first time at our annual show in March of 1996. I was really amazed at the amount of attention that this small engine attracted. There's just something special about the sight and sound of a hit and miss engine.

In the meantime, I was well entrenched in the restoration of my John Deere Model H tractor. It was consuming all of my resources of time and money. So, I left the little Hercules as it was, satisfied that that's the way it would stay.

Over the months, I discovered some interesting facts about the engine. I ordered a book on Hercules engines from Glenn Karch. I discovered from his book that there was something special about my engine. It is designed so that the cylinder/water hopper and the base are cast in two separate pieces. It was designed this way so that the engine could be broken down into pieces that weighed less than 50 pounds each. That way the engine could be disassembled and easily carried to remote locations to be reassembled. According to Karch, only 'a few of these engines were made.'

After finishing my tractor, and with this new insight into my engine, my desire to restore it was rekindled. By this time I had learned that the original had a Webster M-1 oscillating magneto. I posted a note to the Stationary Engine List on the Internet and placed a classified ad on Harry's Old Engine Homepage for the magneto. Within a few days, I got a response from Denny Puck with one for sale. The price was right and it was on its way to me. I received it in amazingly good condition, installed it and the trip mechanism onto the engine, timed it, and it fired right up. I bought a gas tank and filler tube from another Internet friend, Charlie Bryant. The Stationary Engine List on the Internet is a very valuable resource for anybody involved in the hobby of restoring old engines. There are over 300 members at the time of this writing and their expertise is incredible.

I was not completely satisfied with the color I had originally painted the engine. So, I completely disassembled the engine again and repainted it. I also ordered a new push rod for it. The old one was worn real bad and had a lot of slop in it. Not only did this compromise the timing, it also made the engine unusually noisy when it ran. I also ordered a new needle valve and muffler.

The only thing missing now was a cart for it. Again, I found a picture of a 1 HP Hercules on the Internet on an original cart owned by Keith Kinney. I sent him a note and asked if he could send me some detailed pictures so that I could build one. Instead, he posted the pictures on his web page and I printed them. I ordered a set of wheels from an ad in GEM. I built the cart with a few modifications to make it a little sturdier.

It is now complete, runs great, and is ready for this spring's show.