Restoring an Oil City Boiler Works/South Penn cross-breed engine, Part 3

Labor of Love

oil city 9

The Oil City Boiler Works/South Penn cross-breed engine purchased and restored by the North Jersey Antique Engine and Machinery Club. Andrew Mackey and the rest of the club continued working on the engine throughout the New Jersey State Fair, where they introduced the hobby to fair visitors in their tent.

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Editor’s note: The following is the unedited version of Part 3 of a multi-part series about the purchase, retrieval and restoration of an Oil City Boiler Works/South Penn cross-breed engine purchased by the North Jersey Antique Engine and Machinery Club in 2006. The edited version of this article ran in the February/March 2010 issue of Gas Engine Magazine; Part 2 can be found here.

Our engine club was now fast approaching our annual exhibiting event at the Sussex County Farm and Horse Show, which also happens to be the State Fair. We had a one week window, in which we had to get everything ready for the fair. This gave me the opportunity to work on the engine on a daily basis, instead of the usual monthly meeting visit. In the next week, a lot was accomplished. The first order of business was to try and remove the stuck piston. I decided to try and free the stuck piston with some ‘friendly’ persuasion. Again, more WD-40 and liquid wrench was added to the transfer ports, and again it disappeared! I must have loaded them at least 10 times, in the space of 2 weeks. I obtained several large pry-bars, and tried to move the stuck piston. It was stuck tight! A couple of the club members gave a hand, muscling the bars, but we only succeeded in bending one of them. I then decided that a more persuasive force was needed, and put off further work on the South Penn cylinder for the night. The rest of the evening was spent cleaning up our exhibits, and installing some new additions.

The next evening, I brought a few items to our meeting place.  Amongst them was a 1 ½” by 4”long brass hexagonal rod that I have had for years.  It weighs about 45 pounds.  Some of the older readers may recognize it, I used it to restore a Kohler 4 cylinder light plant, that I wrote an article about, for GEM many years ago!  Tonight it was going to be put to the same use as it was then - bopping a piston loose, or so I thought!   The first thing to do was again soak the piston, front and rear, with the WD-40 and Liquid Wrench mixture.  At this point I finally began to see where all the liquid I put in the transfer ports was going.   A tiny spot was forming below the intake port, under the engine.  I Thoroughly soaked the piston again, and then tried to budge the piston by gently hitting the  cross head, along the sides of the ways (guides).  This only imparted about an 1/8 of an inch of movement, side to side.  NOT GOOD!  As the cross head is firmly attached to the piston by means of a 1¾” diameter threaded section of the piston rod, this was inducing a lot of stress on the piston.

I then had the idea of using the brass rod as a ram, against the cross head, directly in line with the piston.  As  I assumed that it would be hard to hit the upper con rod bearing , square, and directly.  I left the connecting rod attached, and moved it to a vertical position.  This presented a large flat surface to impact with the brass rod, and effectively protected the  small journal on the crosshead from any impact damage.  I must have spent 2 hours, soaking the piston and hitting the crosshead, and the con rod, with no effect.  I then tried to use the rod directly on the piston itself.   I hit the center of the piston rod and its retaining nut with moderate force (about 18” of swing), and then hit the deflector, which was far more beefed up, with greater force (about 3 foot of swing), all to no avail.  The piston gave no appearance of moving in the least.  Again, we gave up for the night, and went to work on other projects.

On the third night, I brought some heavy persuasion:  My plumbers Acetylene ‘B’ tank, with a #7 Turbo Torch* tip.  For those who don’t know, a Turbo Torch* tip swirls and concentrates the heat from the flame into a small, concentrated area.  The heat generated is the next best thing to an Oxy-Acetylene set up, without the cost of the Oxygen.  The #7 tip is the biggest normally aspirated tip I have seen, and boy does it use up the Acetylene!  Anyways, I again soaked the piston, at both ends, and set up the torch. 

I now was going to thoroughly heat up the cylinder, before again trying to move the piston.  I figured that if I heat the cylinder thru the water jacket to head ports, the expansion may just be enough  to free the piston.  I opened the gas valve on the ‘B’ tank, and then after purging the gas hose, yelled “Fire in the hole!“,  and lit the Turbo Torch*.  There was a loud BOOM, as the highly reactive Acetylene lit, and then a steady roar, as it burned.  I think everyone in the building jumped when it lit off!  I first placed the tip in the cylinder drain hole, in the bottom of the water jacket.  After a few minutes, I then placed the torch in the lowest right hand head passage in the cylinder face.  The torch was kept there until I could not keep my hand on the outer water jacket for more than a few seconds, and then it was transferred to the left hand side.  There are 8 head supply passages, and the torch spent about 5 minutes in all of them, sometimes as far into the jacket as I could reach, other times, with the turbo end barely into the jacket at all.  The last 5 minutes, I placed the torch in the water outflow fitting, at the top of the cylinder. 

When the entire outer jacket was barely too hot to touch, I shut off the torch, and noted the silence that followed.  Everybody in the building was quiet!  (I later found out that the people could not hear themselves talk over the noise from the Turbo Torch*, so they gave up until I was finished using it!)  With some help from Dick Haskins, and Joe Cook, I set up to try and hit the connecting rod/cross head bearing with the brass rod.  After 3 or 4 good whacks, I then moved to the head end, and then hit the piston crown, again on the deflector.  After 2 heavy knocks, Joe Cook said “It moved!”.  I again went to the con rod end and gave it a few hard raps, and Joe said “it moved again, about 1/8th of an inch!”  Back and forth I went with that heavy brass bar, until I had about a ¼ inch of movement.  I really did not want to drive the piston further into the bore, as I did not want to shove it into what I thought was inside, but it did seem to be easier to move in that direction.  I again loaded the transfer port, with the WD-40/Liquid Wrench mixture, and the liquid vanished, leaving only vapor.  A second application, likewise vanished as well.  I then bopped the piston head, several times, and Joe exclaimed “It moved a whole Inch!”  I then had the guys apply the bars, as I was hitting the cross head bearing, and then suddenly the piston slid about 2 inches!  Back to the top of the piston I went, and hit it one shot, right in the center.  It slid about 5 inches down the bore, nearly causing poor Dick to topple over, as the heavy con rod went off center of being upright, nearly taking him with it!  We stopped working for a minute, and took a breather.  The cylinder was still almost too hot to touch, but the piston was still cool.  I guess the temperature differential worked to our advantage this time.

I sprayed  WD-40 into the bore, and mopped out the residue.  The exposed cylinder surface still looked good, even the part that was hidden by the piston still looked good.  I sprayed the WD-40 one more time, around the entire circumference of the piston, and again loaded the transfer ports, and then went to the connecting rod end of the engine.  I took a 2’ pipe wrench, and then proceeded to loosen the lock nut on the piston shaft, that locked the shaft to the cross head.  I then asked Dick to pass the con rod down to me, as I was directly behind the cylinder..  As I lowered the con rod, I shoved it toward the top of the cylinder, and the piston moved smoothly up the bore. It was really free now.  In order to remove the piston, now I had to rotate the piston shaft, in order to back it out of the cross head.  I ended up putting the 2’ pipe wrench directly on the piston shaft, spinning the entire piston assembly, as it turned. 

After about 30 turns,  it was finally free.  We then removed the con rod/cross head assembly off of the ways, and had a direct shot at the piston rod itself.  The double wide back up nut came off the shaft by hand, a real surprise, considering what it looked like!  Using a piece of 5/8” threaded rod, we then drove the piston nearly out of the cylinder bore, and then stopped.  By now the piston was quite warm, but was manageable.  From the way it moved, we figured it was pretty heavy,  so we were thinking of how to handle this hot, heavy piece of iron.  Joe finally came up with the idea of using a piece of flat belting to support the piston head, sliding the piston out of the bore, and using 2 people to actually hold the weight, a third person had to take the piston rod, and guide the assembly to the floor.  This was accomplished in no time, and the piston was finally out! 

Upon inspection, the rear of the cylinder was quite clean, although there was a huge mouse nest within! The base of the piston was loaded too!   There was enough mouse debris to fill a 5 gallon bucket, ¼  of the way! There was one good thing I found as well - there was no sign of mud or water to be found within the cylinder.  The only explanation for the mud found on top of the transfer port, would be that for many years, the oiler had been removed from the engine, and mud dauber wasps had built their nests within the transfer passage.  As water and age took their toll on the nests, they dropped into the ports, filling the area with mud from the nests.  As the pipe was only ½” in diameter, very little water found its way into the engine, and the old nests probably absorbed what did get in.  There is very little mouse damage in the cylinder, I planned to just abrade it slightly with a flapper wheel, in order to clean it up, and break the glaze on the cylinder walls. Note the deflector cast into the face of the cylinder cap (the horizontal line just below the piston rod hole). 

As for the piston itself; It is 10 ½” in diameter,  It weighs approximately 80 pounds, with the piston rod attached.  The piston itself is 15 inches long, and the attached rod is another 24” beyond that.  Two of the 4 3/8” wide compression rings were completely free, and the third ring was also ½ loose.  The fourth ring was completely stuck, and I had to free them both up.  Some gentle heating, and a lot of patient tapping with a small plastic mallet, soon had the two lower rings freed.  The body of the piston was in fine shape, and the only pain in the butt was removing the mouse nest inside it!  In a final look over of the piston, I found another surprise.  The bottom of the piston appeared to be made of two different metals.  There was  definitely a shiny and a dull surface in the metal near the rear skirt.  Closer inspection, revealed another piston ring!  It was compressed nearly dead even with the body of the piston, and the end gap was nearly invisible. (See Picture 25)  It took nearly 3 hours of soaking with Gibbs solvent, and nearly constant tapping with a plastic hammer, to free up the newly found ring.  The piston rod is threaded thru the piston crown, as well as thru an X shaped casting that is part of, and is at the rear of the piston.  There are lock nuts at both sides, to lock the shaft to the piston.  It must have been a real bear to align the threads, so far apart on the piston!  The piston rod itself looks like it will only need a slight clean up, in order to be serviceable., as most of it was under cover, within the cylinder, out of the elements.   After the rings were freed, P.J and Larry O’ Neill spent a lot of time cleaning the piston body, the piston rod, and the 5 ring grooves.  The areas behind the rings were heavily carbonized, and it took some dirty work getting the crud out.  Between them and Howard Squire and his son, Clay, a lot of the dirty work was finished quickly!  While the piston was out, the packing gland was removed, and the bore was wire brushed clean.   Two new 5/8” diameter mounting rods were installed as well.  I found some old graphite packing on my job, that should work fine in the packing gland head space, at the charging end of the cylinder, when it comes time to install the piston.

The time for the farm show/fair was now at hand - ten days of frenetic activity, followed by 354 days of relative calm!  Carl Sylvester’s antique peanut roaster never stopped, and we made countless bags of peanuts.  Carl’s wife Jan made exhibit explanation cards with her computer, which made some of the displays more interesting.  Joe Cook gave his well spoken speech about the washing machines we have on display, that date from the 1890s (a Maytag, we think), to several different types made in the 1920s, including the first spin dry type ever made!  To see the many different approaches to the duty of washing clothes (including an old scrubbing board), is amazing.  There is a little history here too. 

A local Zinc Mine, The Stirling Hill Mine, has been turned into a mining museum, of which I am one of the founding members.  The mine was run by a succession of owners, from the 1700s, until New Jersey Zinc took over operations in 1848.  N.J. Zinc operated the mine, until it closed in 1986, and then the mine was abandoned for years.  The present owners George and Dick Hauck (no relation to the torch makers of NYC), bought the mine property in 1989, and have done a lot of research on the mining  company, and it’s operations in the Franklin/Odgensburg area,  In 1990, they then opened the Stirling Hill Mining Museum in Odgensburg, NJ, located at 30 Plant Street.  It is, the only hard rock mine touring facility in New Jersey.  The Franklin/Odgensburg area is also the fluorescent mineral capital of the world, and the displays at the museum prove it - they are truly world class!  When the Stirling Hill  Mining Museum owners were looking over old mining paperwork found at the site, they happened to run over a curious document.  It stated that women working at the mine were not to start work until 12 PM, so as they could do laundry!

The rest of the members greeted fair visitors, explained the exhibits, and did various jobs at our building.  I too demonstrated how a hit and miss engine worked,, and showed several examples of what these engines did.  I also did a lot of explaining of how the oilfield engine worked, and what we were doing to it.   On the 4th day of the fair, I noticed a curious thing - a TV set had been placed on the cylinder of the old oilfield engine.   On the screen there was a video running that seemed to depict the engine actually running!  The flywheels turned, the taped on sign on the engine flywheel went round and round, and every revolution depicted a big puff of smoke near the exhaust port!  All this, with no head on the engine!  It was a real crowd pleaser though.  Blace later told me that it took over 20 hours to set it up on a computer, and the tape ran for 3 minutes before repeating!   One of the descriptive signs stated that people coming to the fair should drop by and see the engine running next year.  I had many people inquire ‘Why can’t you run it now?’  It was hard not to laugh, when the piston was right on the floor, in front of them!  During the time I was not explaining what was going on, I was cleaning and taking apart the oiler for the Oil City/South Penn that I had bought at the Coolspring show.  The oiler was built by POWELL Boson, and is entirely made of bronze, although you couldn’t tell thru the patina, it was so dark.  It was a deep dark brown, and at first I thought some parts were iron.  It is mounted on top of the transfer port cover, directly on top of one of the open transfer ports, and the piston below.  It has a one pint capacity. 

The first thing I did was to flush out the interior with some gasoline and carburetor cleaner, after removing the oil fill plug.  The oiler was about 1/8 full of foul smelling rancid oil, and the oiler sight glasses were completely occluded with gunk.  After several rinses, most of the bad smelling stuff was gone, but I knew more had to be done.  I then proceeded to completely disassemble the oiler.  I removed the packing glands from both ends of the gauge glasses, and took out all the rotten packing.  Next off was the gauge retaining plugs, which held the glass in place in it’s mounts.  The glasses were carefully removed and set aside for cleaning.  Lastly, the metering valve assemblies were removed, and taken apart.  There are 2 metering valves, and both serve different purposes.  There is also a complicated check valve assembly, within the oiler base, but as the entire base is made of  bronze, and the check assembly is staked in place, I decided to leave it in situ, and hope that it seats OK.  I cleaned it out as best I could with Berkbile 2+2 * carb cleaner.  The gas/carb cleaner mix cleaned most of the loose junk off of the outside of the oiler, and now I had to get down to brass tacks as it were.

I took the oiler body and placed it into a plastic pail that I knew was gasoline resistant.  It was then immersed in gas, and cleaning begun in earnest.  First, I put several handfuls of ¼” road gravel in the oiler, thru the oiler fill hole.  This was swirled around, and then drained repeatedly, until no more loose debris came out.  There was a lot of debris!  Next, I cleaned all the accumulated, hardened gunk off the oiler body exterior, with a fine brass bristled brush, that was obtained from my buddies at the Rockaway Hardware.  When all the scale was removed, the entire oiler body was again rinsed off, this time with carb cleaner, and it was then set aside to dry.  I then went to work on the gauge glasses.

There are 2 gauge glasses, of different diameters and lengths.  The longest of the two is also the skinniest.  It sits in the upper supports and measures the actual oil level within the oiler body.  The shorter glass sits in the lower mounts.  The uppermost lower mount is also the mount for one of the metering valves.   Both glass tubes were nearly blocked with debris.  I soaked them in the gasoline that was used to clean the oiler body, and then they were washed in the carb cleaner.  It took a bit of elbow grease to finally remove all the crud.  When I was done, I noted two things.  One, the upper glass looked like it had been replaced.  The glass was dead clear, and it was thin in wall thickness.  Two, the lower fatter glass was etched all the way around, on the exposed surface, except where it was protected from the elements, below the point where the seal under the ferrules made contact with the glass.  I can only surmise that this glass was etched by 100 years of exposure to the weather - acid rain had eaten the glass!  As the glass was still intact, and still could be seen thru, I decided to retain it, and re-install it for further use.

The upper metering valve stem was cleaned, and the metering tapir was sanded lightly to remove corrosion.  A brass bristle brush, some 2+2, and some high pressure air soon had the swing top free of debris, although it would take some time and a lot of rags to polish.  This metering valve controls the oil drip rate.

The oil reservoir fill plug was a pain to clean as well.  The round bronze stem handle was removed and brushed off with the brass bristle brush.  I did not want to use solvents on the Bakelite handle, so WD-40 was applied to a shop cloth, the handle was cleaned, and then was dried thoroughly. 

The lower metering valve took a little more work.  There was what appeared to be a layer of carbonization on the tapered section, and there was a lot of congealed oil there as well.  It took a while to clean it all off the valve stem, and upon checking the oiler passage body, I saw that that needed a clean out too.  It took a while, but I finally got all the gunk out of both assemblies.  The Bakelite handle on this valve was cleaned in the same manner of the first.  After all the working parts were cleaned, I had to decide on how to clean up the bronze.  This second valve controls air flow thru the oiler itself.  I will describe operations later.

The bronze was heavily patinaed and I asked Blace if we should leave it that way, or should we give the oiler a bright polish.  We decided that since we were going to restore the engine to near original, we should polish the oiler.  I soon found that this was to be no easy chore.  At first I decided to use Never Dull* polish.  After using half a can, and only cleaning a small area, I decided that something else was needed.  I then tried Copper-Glo* powdered copper cleaner.  You wet the object to be cleaned, sprinkle on the cleaner, and polish with a damp clean cloth.  This cleaned up the bronze real well, but did not make it shine.  It took 3 days to completely clean off all the corrosion off all the parts.  I then obtained a can of New England Metal Polish*, again from my buddies at the hardware store.  I use this cleaner for polishing brass fixtures and tools for the Rockaway Fire Department, of which I have been a member for 17 years, so I know it does a good job.  It took another 2 days to shine all the bronze items, and the last day was also the last day of the fair!

I used the last few hours of the day to reassemble the oiler.  First to go back on was the gauge glasses and the packing ferrules.  The glass tube is slipped part way into the mount, and then the ferrules are slipped onto the glass.  Then the gauge bore plug was installed in order to keep the glass from falling out.  Some 1/8” packing string was then applied to the glass, and then the packing nut was snugged up.  Voila - a sealed tube was now in place.  This worked fine on the lower glass, and it centered perfectly, as I could see by the etching on the surface.  As easy as putting in the lower glass was, the upper seemed to be twice as un-cooperative!  First, When I tried to install the packing around the glass, it would spin, and the packing would unravel.  Next, I finally got the packing around one end of the glass, and now could not get the packing nut to thread onto the glass support to save my life.  I finally removed the end plug, took out the glass, removed the packing, and tried the packing nut on the mount.  Surprise!  It appears that all of the threads on the oiler are hand cut, and each nut has to be installed where it was removed from!  I just got lucky with the lower glass mounts (after all, I had a 50-50 shot didn’t I?).  I again reinstalled everything, this time making sure I had the packing nuts in their proper orientation.  Installing the metering valves was the easiest part, as there was no way to mess up on where they belonged.  Keeping fingerprints off the all bronze oiler body will be a chore though!

The oiler functions as follows:  As the engine operates, a pressure differential is set up within the charging (rear) section of the cylinder.  This goes from pressure (about 60 PSI) down to about 5 pounds of vacuum, and back up again.  The lower metering valve on the oiler regulates how much of this differential actually works on the oil.  The pressure generated within the charging cylinder, when the piston travels down the bore, enters the oiler body, passing the first metering valve, and the first check valve, thru a passage to the top of the oiler body.  As the pressure falls, as when the transfer port opens, the air pressure on top of the oil forces the oil out of the bottom of the reservoir, past the second metering valve (that regulates the drip rate), and another check valve (which prevents pressurization of the oil from the bottom of the oiler), the now pressurized oil is thus forced into the transfer port, thence into the cylinder.  Now, as the piston travels back up the bore, a slight vacuum is produced, drawing the next fuel/air charge into the charging end of the cylinder.  As there is resistance to air flow due to the intake valve spring., this low vacuum (negative pressure to the new school folks), pulls additional oil into the transfer port area.  As the piston is now occluding the ports, this extra oil is now falling on top of the piston, and into the rings, thus oiling the piston from top and below the centerline!  I re-used the original gasket for the transfer port cover, and reinstalled it using a few nuts found on my jobsite at work.  This was left loose as I was going to have to access the ports when timing the piston later on.  I had to re-tap the end of the ½ pipe that is in the transfer port cover, and a new 1”x½” reducer was then installed below the now polished oiler.  The assembly was then installed onto the pipe nipple, thus  completing this part of the project.