Restoring an Oil City Boiler Works/South Penn cross-breed engine, Part 4

Labor of love

oil city 1

Club member Bob Twiebel’s ball hone and antique 1 HP drill used to clean up the cylinder.

Photo by Andrew Mackey

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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 3 can be found here . 

The North Jersey Antique Engine and Machinery Club (NJAEMC) display building is not heated, and the fairgrounds itself have the power shut off for the winter. The last club meeting of 2006 was spent getting everything ready for the cold winter.

All the engines and pumps had to be drained to prevent freeze ups, and all supplies that could be chewed on by furry visitors had to be secured.

I readied the Oil City Boiler Works/South Penn engine by thoroughly soaking all exposed machined parts with SAE 50 oil, including the piston and the cylinder bore. Also, a list was made of things we needed to complete the engine and parts were ordered.

Tom Schoolcraft explained what was needed on the ignition end and these parts were ordered from Bob Burns’ company, Oil Well Supply LLC. This included the hot tube, hot tube chimney, burner assembly and a gas flow control valve for the hot tube itself. I found many needed nuts and bolts on my current job site. We received the hot tube parts by Christmas, but with the building closed, no action was taken until the power was turned back on in May.

New members join the cause
In the interim, the NJAEMC held meetings through the winter and we had quite a few new members sign up. Among them were Rich Magera, and his two sons, Kyle and Luke. Howard Squire and his son Clay also signed up. Along with other club members, these guys were instrumental in getting the engine back together. Club member Bob Twiebel works for a company that services the New York Waterway ferry boats, specifically engine rebuilding and maintenance. At our first meeting of 2007, we discussed how to clean up the slight rust and mouse damage to the cylinder walls. Bob suggested that we use a ball hone to clean up the cylinder bore instead of the flapper wheel. He brought it in at the next meeting along with an antique 1 HP electric drill which was used to turn it down the bore. What a neat, but heavy tool.

The cylinder was wiped down with a liberal coating of WD-40, and then we were ready to use the hone. Jeff Brooks, Bob and I ended up making a cradle to support the weight of the drill while the hone was run and spun up and down the bore. Several passes cleaned up the cylinder walls considerably. After another spraying down with the WD and a good wipe out job, we were ready to reinstall the heavy piston and ring assembly.

Refitting the piston
The piston was given a liberal hosing down with the WD-40 and was then thoroughly dried off to make sure there was no debris on either the piston nor the five piston rings. That being done, the piston was again coated with the spray and the rings were settled into position. There are no keeper pins for the rings on this piston!

As I did not want the ring ends to run over an open port, the rings were staggered 170 degrees apart with the ends facing the sides of the cylinder walls. Why 170 degrees, you ask? If the rings had been set at 180 degrees, there was a risk that in time, they might rotate and align with the end gap with another ring or two, causing a groove to be formed in the cylinder wall where the gaps were, depending on which side of the piston you were on. With the 170-degree spacing it was virtually guaranteed that the ring ends would not align, thus eliminating that condition.

The next task concerned installing the 80-pound piston assembly into the cylinder. The South Penn cylinder has a working bore of 10-1/2 inches. At the head of the bore, for a distance of about 2-1/2 inches, there is a secondary boring, approximately 5/8 inch oversize, with a 45-degree taper machined to match the working bore surface. It took Bob, Jeff and me to carry the piston from the work bench to the engine cylinder.

Installation of the piston went as follows: First, the piston crosshead shaft had to be aligned with the packing port in the rear of the cylinder. Next, as the piston was fed into the bore, it had to be centered in the working bore. As the bottom most ring in the piston was 3/4 inch from the base of the piston, getting the piston body to start in the bore was no problem, but getting the rings in was.

Although the piston itself was centered, the rings fell to the bottom of the ring lands but left enough of the ring exposed to cause it to jam against the cylinder bore countersink and the piston body. We had to support the rings with two large screw drivers until the entire ring was started in the 45-degree countersink bore.

Getting the first one in was a real bear of a job as the entire piston weight had to be held until the ring finally was coaxed into position. Once started though, when the piston was advanced, the ring compressed down to the working bore diameter easily. It took some time to get all four of the compression rings started, and once they were all in the working bore, we took a break. This took us over an hour to accomplish.

On to the crosshead
Once the piston was in the bore, we prepared to install the crosshead and connecting rod. At this time, we decided to take apart the crosshead bearing in order to inspect it and the wrist pin bearing at the other end of the connecting rod. Larry O’Neill was a great help, cleaning the parts and helping with reassembly. This gave us access to the bronze bearings as well as some time to clean up the crosshead slides and guides. The guides were in fair shape, just needing a slight wire brushing to clean up the surfaces. The main slides were a mess, though. After removing the crosshead and the connecting rod assembly, a belt sander with a fine abrasive grit was used to clean up the slides. For the most part, the slides were in fair condition with only a little pitting near the back of piston travel. 

I wanted to invert the crosshead itself, but upon placing it in the slides, it was noted that the babbitt poured onto the bearing surfaces was of different thicknesses. There was a 1/4-inch difference, in fact! That difference would not allow me to invert the crosshead assembly, as it raised the assembly too high to mate up with the piston rod.

The crosshead was then installed into the slides, and then the guides were installed with the spacing checked to make sure the crosshead would not bind up. We did have to make two 0.080-inch shims for the rear guide supports in order to get enough clearance for the crosshead to move smoothly. The big end bearing brass was now cleaned and polished, and was then re-installed on the crank pin.

The bearing assembly
The bearing assembly is constructed as follows: The two bearing shells are mounted on the 3-inch crank pin and are held in place with a liberal coating of grease. The bearing surface was in excellent condition and only needed cleaning to make it ready.

Next a large “U” shaped piece of steel, 1/2 inch thick and about 2-1/2 inches wide, is slid around these shells and onto the connecting rod end. This cap is then secured in place by means of two tapered steel pins that wedge the bearing shells tight onto the bearing surface. A lot of trial and error is required to align and adjust the steel cap so as to not bind the bearing. Once satisfied with the adjustment, the tapered pins are secured with a set bolt. Re-attachment of the crosshead to the con rod follows along similar lines, only the crosshead bearing is 2 inches in diameter.

Another crisis averted
Up to that point, reassembly was going fast and furious but we were about to hit a snag. As I was going to start the piston rod into the crosshead yoke, I took a close look at the double-wide lock nut. At some time in the past, a pipe wrench or a chisel was used to remove this nut, and whatever tool was used had actually split the nut, like a nut breaker! We had not seen this before as the nut was encrusted with grease and grime. It was noted that it was an old break, being filled with grease and dirt, and the surface where the crack started was heavily rusted. We now had to find a replacement. 

Several nuts were quickly found, but it became apparent that this one was special. It turned out that this nut was manufactured at 8 threads per inch – a fine thread for this size rod. We located a replacement, but the outfit wanted $30 each and you had to buy a box of 12 pieces! They did not want to sell just one nut. Since we only needed one nut, we could not justify buying 12 as there is no other place on the engine to use a nut that size. Nick Feenstra, one of our club members, finally came through and got us a nut with the provision that we not ask where it came from. We didn’t!

The piston rod packing gland was placed on the rod, and after installing new 5/8-inch clamp down nuts, the new old stock graphite packing was installed and the gland nuts were tightened lightly. The new piston rod lock nut was also installed and run up the piston rod, as far as it could go. Then came the hardest part of the restoration.

The piston rod was started into the crosshead and the crank was turned to nearly top dead center. The 3/4-inch socket set again came in handy. A 2-3/4-inch socket and extension was fitted onto the nut at the top of the piston and the whole piston was turned so as to tighten up the rod into the crosshead. The piston was turned in until the piston rod was halfway threaded into the crosshead, and then the crankshaft was advanced until it was at TDC.

I then had to set the piston timing. The crank was turned to bottom dead center and the piston location was noted in relation to the transfer port. In this case, the piston had to be turned farther into the bore in order to completely clear the port opening. The crank was again advanced to TDC, and using the 3/4-inch drive breaker bar, the piston was turned several turns clockwise from the head end. It was a hard job turning that weight! This activity was repeated several times with Joe Cook and Rich turning the crank while I worked on the piston. Finally, the piston location was correct, and then the lock nut was tightened.

It was hard to believe that we had been working on this engine for over a year as it was almost time for the New Jersey State Fair again!

Painting and detailing
Larry and his son, P.J., began to clean up all the head studs and nuts as well as the ones for the crankshaft bearing caps and the crosshead guides. This took the better part of two days as three studs came out of the block with the nuts attached! I had to heat several of the nuts with the TurboTorch in order to get them free. 

While the studs were being cleaned, Rich and his two sons, Luke and Kyle, helped me sand and wire brush the entire surface of the engine. His sons did an excellent job of cleaning off all the accumulated gunk that was near the main bearing mounts, and we all had the block cleaned and relatively rust free in two days. I bought a case of 12 cans of Krylon semi-flat black spray paint and began to paint the entire engine. I gave the base two coats of paint and had to buy six more cans to finish the job! 

At this time, I used gold leaf paint to paint the cast raised lettering of the builder name on the side of the block. This gave the engine a sharp look and really stood out. I also brought in several old brass Lunkenheimer grease cups, for lubricating the connecting rod bearings, and Rich’s two sons set about cleaning and polishing them for us.

In the meantime, I had to clean up the mounting threads on the bearing mounts. I used a compressor to blow air into the gaps in the bronze bearings to remove chips generated by the re-tapping of the bore. I also made two copper caps to fit over the two crosshead guides’ oil reservoirs in order to try to keep out dust and critters. The reservoirs were stuffed with the same cotton waste material as the main bearing reservoirs, and these too were filled with the SAE 50 oil. With these mounted, the engine was really looking better and better!

Larry had, by now, cleaned up all the studs, and, after loading the studs and threaded holes with Never-Seez, he installed the head studs in the cylinder.

We also tried installing the studs for the main bearings as well but ran into another problem. In the 1880s, most nuts and bolts were hand cut, leading to a problem that was resolved with standardization found in modern assembly lines. As with the engine oiler, not all the threads were interchangeable. It took several tries to find what stud went where, and as several were cut on a bias to match the tapping in the engine block, even that was a hassle trying to get the bearing caps to mount up.

The original bearing spacers were made of wood and a fibrous material similar to cardboard. I suppose this was done to help keep oil within the bearing assembly. This material had disintegrated and had to be replaced. I used the cardboard from cereal boxes to make the new spacers. The bearings themselves are babbitt and were in relatively good condition although the off-load side cap bearing surface had a chunk broken out of it. I do not think this is a problem though, as it is at the top of the cap where there is no load. The caps were set so that there was no drag on the crank and they were tightened down and the lock nuts tightened up.

Cutting new gaskets
At this time, Carl Sylvester brought in several large sheets of gasket material and we proceeded to cut a head gasket. This was done in the following manner: The head was placed on a bench, cylinder face up. The gasket sheet was placed on top of the head and a small hammer was used to cut the gasket around the outer perimeter of the head.

Next, a close fitting bolt was used to punch through the nine head bolt holes. A bolt was placed in each hole, as it was cut, in order to hold the gasket in position. It should be noted here that the holes are drilled in an offset pattern with different spacing between them. This means that the head can only be mounted on the cylinder in one orientation. The gasket has to be mounted in the same way.

After all the bolt holes were cut, a small ball peen hammer was then used to make all the water cooling passage openings. There are eight in all.

Lastly, the cylinder bore diameter opening was cut, using a larger ball peen hammer against the interior of the head surface. The head was now ready to install.

Installing the cylinder head
Before installing the head, I decided to blow out the water passages in the cylinder one more time. It’s a good thing I did! Mice had begun to build another nest within the water jacket, filling one side with what appeared to be white cotton. We don't know where they got it, but there was a lot of it!

Once we were sure that all the new debris was out of the water jacket, we proceeded with the head installation. First, we installed the newly made head gasket. It fit perfectly after several attempts to align all the studs. Next, all the head mount studs were given a liberal coating of Never-Seez as well as the threaded bores of the head nuts.

The head was then carried from the work bench by two men and it was set on the floor in front of the engine. We turned it until we had it right side up and then it was lifted by the two guys who brought it over to the engine in the first place. As it got near the height required, I guided it onto the studs and we then pushed it home against the gasket. I ran the nuts up by hand and Larry tightened them with my 3/4-inch drive socket and breaker bar. Using a crossing pattern, it took about four rotations to draw the nuts up tight.

Mounting the hot tube assembly
The next night was spent mounting the new hot tube assembly and the mounting ell it sits upon. I had to make up a new gasket for the ell and, in fact, made two gaskets. They were both used in the mounting hole to fill in the course casting surfaces. Originally, there was an asbestos gasket, about 1/4 inch thick, but it was destroyed when the ell had to be removed and re-threaded.

Next, the hot tube was installed in a 1/2-inch by 1/2-inch bushing, mounted vertically in the ell. The chimney was then installed with two new 3/8-inch studs with nuts at both ends. The engine was almost ready to run!

A new steel frame
Club members Josh Lill and Blace Flatt then proceeded to make a steel frame to mount the engine on, along with several other club members. Josh and Blace had most of the steel, and Josh also had the welding machine to put it together. There was a lot of wire brushing and grinding, I’ll tell you! Kyle and Luke, along with their dad, Rich, must have spent a dozen hours grinding on the new mounting frame, and Joe’s hands must have been nearly worn out from drilling holes in it.

The frame turned out to be almost 13 feet long by about 30 inches wide, and was made up of 6-inch channel iron and two 6-inch I-beams. The I-beams were used on the vertical and engine supports. While the steel frame was being made, the area where the engine was to be displayed had to be readied.

The engine’s new home
The existing fence had to be disassembled, an existing railroad tie wall had to be lengthened and the end wall replaced, as well as a new concrete pad poured to support the engine. As it turned out, this pad was 15 feet long, 6 feet wide, and over 8 inches thick. Blace, Tom, Bruce Mitchell and a few other club members helped with leveling and pouring the pad.

The engine was taken off its wooden platform, and was pulled out to its new location by a large front-end loader. Once in place, it was jacked up with a house jack, and the now-finished and painted steel frame was placed under it. The engine was then lowered and centered onto the frame. The interior of the mounting holes were spray painted to mark their location on the frame so the engine mounting bolts could be welded to the steel framework. Darkness called a halt to the outside work for the evening, so the completion of the engine mounting had to wait for the next day.

The following afternoon was a busy one. The first order of business was to weld the mounting bolts to the engine mount frame. It was decided to mount the engine on a wooden platform to try and take up some of the shock from the engine’s firing. To this end, Blace brought in two oak 3x6s about 11 feet long. The engine was jacked up in place and set up on blocking about 3 inches higher than the frame. The frame was then carefully pulled out from under the engine, and six 3/4-inch by 8-inch bolts were welded at their needed locations.

I took measurements of the welded bolt locations and then set up to drill the oak beams. A 1/4-inch diameter pilot bit was used to drill a hole clean through the wood beam. A 7/8-inch diameter hole was then drilled using a hole saw for as deep as the saw mandrel would allow. The center plug was then chiseled out. This was repeated three times on each beam on one side only.

The beams were then turned over and a 1-1/4-inch hole was drilled 1 inch deep. This large core was broken out for its entire depth, and the 7/8-inch saw was used to complete the 7/8-inch passage through the wood, mating up with the previously drilled holes. The larger holes were needed to clear the welded heads of the six bolts in order to allow the beams to sit directly on the steel frame. Both beams dropped onto the frame without a problem and were square within 1/8 inch over their 11-foot length!

We then went to reinstall the framework under the engine but ran into another snag. The man who originally hoisted the engine had gone home and took with him all the dunnage and the jack originally used to set the engine on the platform. We then had to scrounge around at 8 p.m. for 2x4s, 4x4s and a large jack. Luckily, Josh’s father had a 5-ton hydraulic jack from his truck and was gracious enough to lend it to us. We also found just enough wood lying around the fairgrounds to support the engine.

The engine was lifted in stages, 4 inches at a time, until it was high enough to clear the tops of the bolts sticking up through the wooden beams. Then came the hard part of this operation: dropping the engine down onto the frame evenly without binding on the mounting bolts.

We ended up setting the flywheel end of the engine first. The hydraulic jack was pumped nearly all the way up and wood was placed under it so as to make the lift at maximum height of the jack. The jack was placed about 4 inches off-center of the crankshaft in order to try to offset the weight of the gas engine flywheel (it is almost twice as heavy as the steam side wheel).

A 4x6 piece of oak, about 14 inches long, was placed against the engine base and the jack was raised under the oak. This was done to distribute the weight of the engine over a large area instead of a 1-inch fine point at the edge of the cast iron engine frame.

The engine was then lifted off the dunnage and lowered onto the wooden beams. As it was lifted and lowered, Rich and Josh had to stand on the steam side flywheel in order to balance the engine! After this end was lowered, the front of the engine was dropped. This end of the operation was more tricky as the original lifting point was now covered by the engine mount framework.

We ended up jacking the engine with a 4x6 wooden block under the engine cylinder itself. It took two stages to drop this end down onto the beams. Only one slight alteration had to be made to the studs in order to set the engine, but it wasn’t anything a nut and a sledge hammer couldn’t cure! After the engine was on the beams and the frame, it was time to quit for the night.

Contact Andrew Mackey at 26 Mott Pl., Rockaway, NJ 07866 • (973) 627-2392 • .