Oil Field Masterpiece

New York Collector's Determination Brings Rare 25 HP 1901 Swan Back to Life

25 HP Swan

Craig Prucha and the 25 HP Swan at the Coolspring (Pa.) Power Museum on the day he bought it in 1998.

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Editor's note: This article is the first of a two-part series chronicling the restoration of a 1901 Swan oil field engine.

In mid-October 1998 I drove from my home in Pavilion, N.Y., to the Coolspring (Pa.) Power Museum to lend a hand on a volunteer work detail at the museum. In the middle of things, I was talking to Paul Harvey, the museum's co-founder, about a Swan engine behind one of the museum's buildings. Paul told me he owned the 25 HP Swan, and that he had purchased it about 30 years earlier. I needed a winter project, so 1 asked him if he would be interested in selling the Swan. My heart stopped for a few short seconds when, to my surprise, he said 'yes.'

We walked over and looked at the Swan. Paul knew a little of her history, telling me she had pumped oil for a living in eastern Indiana. She was taken out of service 24 years before Paul purchased her, and at some point she had been in a fire. I could see Paul had a great affection for this engine and that he had a great appreciation for its design and style. With his decision, we made arrangements for me to pick the engine up during the museum's fall swap meet two weeks away.

Bringing it Home

For the next two weeks all I could think about was the Swan, and as show time approached I readied my truck and trailer to bring the Swan home. I arrived at the museum on Thursday - the day before the show started - so I would have a full day to get her loaded without a lot of people around. With Mike Murphy operating the museum's Army crane, we got the Swan loaded and secured. I spent the next few days at the swap meet talking to friends and enjoying the engines at the museum.

When people at the swap meet saw the Swan strapped to my truck, they asked if I was nuts. The engine looked in pretty sad shape, and it was. It had been sitting outside for 54 years, it had been in a fire, and all the babbitt (except for the mains) was gone. It really needed some tender loving care. I couldn't wait to get home and start working on her.

After returning to Pavilion from the swap meet, I spent a few days getting my shop ready for my new restoration project. Once the Swan was in my shop, I just stood there and savored the moment. I couldn't believe what I was getting to restore.

The first thing I did was spray all the nuts and bolts with penetrating oil to help loosen them up. It was mostly rusted, and I knew I'd probably have to use a 'heat wrench' to get things apart. My first objective was to remove the head and answer some basic questions: How badly is the piston stuck? What does the cylinder bore look like? These were all unknowns I couldn't answer until I removed the head.

I started by removing the intake and exhaust valve chests. The Swan is a 'T' head, with intake and exhaust valve chests located 180 degrees apart on each side of the head. The intake valve chest came apart pretty easily, but the exhaust valve chest didn't, probably a result of the heat it suffered in its working life.

The cylinder sleeve, combustion chamber, head and cover plate are mounted to the engine bedplate and held together by six, 38-inch-long tie rods. I removed the tie rods first, and then the cylinder head cover plate came off. The cover plate, which has the engine's manufacture information, horsepower and serial number cast into it, is a thing of beauty. The head, unfortunately, was badly stuck to the combustion chamber. By applying heat and driving thin chisels between the head and the combustion chamber the head finally let loose, followed by the combustion chamber - complete with piston.

Looking at the exposed piston, I discovered why the engine quit running: The threaded end of the connecting rod (the rod shoulders up to the bottom of the piston and a large nut at the top locks the piston and rod together) was broken off even with the top of the piston. That meant nothing was holding the two parts together. I found signs of welding on both the piston and the connecting rod, probably a field-fix to keep the engine running after the rod end broke. Who knows how long that fix lasted.

When the weld eventually broke, the connecting rod came out of the piston, and on the next forward stroke the connecting rod pushed the piston up into the combustion chamber 3 inches farther than normal. This explained why the piston was stuck so close to the head. Thank God for a large combustion chamber, or who knows what other parts would have broken.

I set the combustion chamber with the stuck piston on my press, heated it all up and pressed the piston out. After cleaning the piston, I found it had three rings, and once I got the rings freed up I removed them from the piston. They were shot.

Now I had to decide whether to try and save the cylinder bore or have it bored and then build up the piston. It really was a no-brainer. The removable cylinder sleeve had to be bored and the piston built back up to the proper clearance with the new bore. At that point in the restoration I didn't have the capability in my shop for cylinder boring, so I sent the cylinder sleeve and piston out to another shop.

Bedplate and Babbitting

Next, I worked on getting the rest of the engine dismantled. The crosshead top rails and the crosshead came off without a problem. After removing the crankshaft and flywheels, I decided to re-pour the main bearings. They might have been useable, but I went ahead and melted out the original babbitt, forcing me to pour new ones. This way I didn't have to think about it. In the time I spent thinking it over I could have had them poured. I cleaned up the crankshaft bearing surfaces and prepped everything for pouring new babbitt bearings.

To line up the crankshaft, I took measurements off the crosshead, and it was actually a lot easier to line up than an engine where you have to line up with the cylinder bore. To adjust the crankshaft position I used a little trick I learned years ago from two engine friends from Michigan: Tom and John McCubbin.

They taught me to drill and tap two, 1/4-20 holes in each bearing saddle and then install brass flathead screws located approximately 90 degrees apart forming an upside down 'V' to locate the crankshaft. This allowed me to remove and re-set the crankshaft out as many times as I wanted and always get back to the same position. The screws stay right where they are during the babbitt pour, and because they are brass they won't hurt the crankshaft when the engine's running. This is really a great trick because it seems like I'm always pulling everything apart and putting it back together again, especially just before the actual pour to cook out all the moisture.

I poured the bearing caps and then put in some hard work cleaning up the bedplate to ready it for primer. I cleaned and sanded the crosshead slide surfaces, removing most of the pits, and I cleaned out or chased all the threaded holes in the bedplate with a tap. I also made new studs for mounting the crosshead top rails. Then I applied a couple of primer coats to the bedplate.

With the bedplate mostly completed, I wanted to get it mounted on the skid. The skid is made out of 8-inch by 8-inch lumber 11 feet long. The cross bunks were also made from 8-inch by 8-inch lumber, but the top rails were made from 6-inch by 6-inch lumber. Making the skid was a lot of work, but when I was all done and saw the engine mounted on it, it was worth the effort. It is very handy to have the bedplate mounted on the skid because it raises the engine up to where I can work on it.

Cracking Issues

The cast iron cylinder water jacket had a crack on the bottom side running the entire length of the jacket. I cleaned the water jacket up, and using an angle grinder I cut a 'V' into the crack on both the inside and outside. With the water jacket ready to weld, I brought the crack together by strapping it tight and then tacked it with Ni-rod using a DC welder. I left the straps on during most of the welding process just to help keep some of the pressure off the new weld. I welded about a half-inch at a time skipping around from the inside to the outside, stopping when I couldn't put my hand on the welded area. Then I peened the weld for a few minutes to help relieve the stress in the weld. This process took about four days to complete. The weld came out really nice and very strong. Next, I ran a pipe tap through the inlet and outlet holes to clean the threads up, followed by a couple of primer coats.

With some of the major jobs completed I started work on the valve chests. Both were in pretty bad shape, with the exhaust-valve chest the worst of the two. The valves were stuck in both valve chests, so I soaked them in penetrating oil while I did the other restoration work. On the intake-valve chest I cut the valve stem off flush with the valve guide and housing. Then, I put it in my press and started to press the valve out. Not wanting to break things I applied heat with the torch, and after repeatedly heating and cooling the valve stem it finally started to move. I pushed the intake valve out the rest of the way and then got my first look at the intake valve seat: What a mess! The exhaust valve was a little tougher to remove, and I used the same process of heating, letting it cool and trying to press it out. I even let it sit for days with pressure on it, but I just couldn't get the exhaust valve stem to move. I didn't want to break the exhaust valve-chest housing, so I wound up drilling the valve stem out. Needless to say, the exhaust-valve seat was in bad shape.

I made new valves and guides, plus I had the seats in both valve chests re-cut. I didn't have tooling and a mill big enough to re-cut the seat, so I took the valve chests over to my friend Dave Johnson's shop. With his vertical Bridgeport mill this was an easy task for Dave.

25 HP Swan Manufactured 1901, Lima, Ohio, by The John W. Swan Co. Engine Specs: 25 HP, 12-1/4-inch bore by 18-inch stroke, 69-inch flywheels. 4-cycle 'T' head, crosshead, sideshaft, vertical flyball governor.  Mechanically actuated intake and exhaust valves.

Next issue: The restoration continues, and the Swan runs again for the first time in over 50 years. Contact engine enthusiast Craig Prucha at: 6810 Ellicott St. Road, Pavilion, NY 14525; e-mail: cprucha@antique-engine.com