Old Engine Intervention

Saving a Forgotten Bovaird & Seyfang from a Broken Home

4 HP 1911 Bovaird & Seyfang.

The restored 4 HP 1911 Bovaird & Seyfang.

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Hearing stories about old oil field engines hiding back in the woods is exciting, but actually finding one is even better - it's an adrenalin rush. These days, locating these relics isn't as easy as it once was five or even 10 years ago. I've been lucky, though - I've done it twice, and the second time was especially fun.

When I discovered that my sister, Marilyn, worked for East Resources Inc., an oil and gas exploration and development company headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pa., I immediately started bugging her. 'Hey Marilyn,' I said, 'do you know of any old engines on the leases?' 'Mo, Sam, but I will ask,' she replied. In fact, she did ask, and to my surprise I got an e-mail from her giving me the name and phone number of a company employee who was willing to show me a couple of old engines in the Bradford, Pa., area (which, incidentally, was home to the oil field engine manufacturer Bovaird & Seyfang Manufacturing Co.).

The Hunt is On

On Sept. 24, 2003, 1 met Charlie Sherrick, a field supervisor for East Resources Inc., and the adventure began. First, we traveled to Wilcox, Pa., and unlocked a gate at a lease where an engine was located. Driving in, we followed a barely passable old lease road for about a mile around the side of a hill. It was hard just trying to get to the site, which was probably why the engine was still there.

The engine was easy to spot sitting out in the open, housed in a small wooden shelter that was barely standing. The tin roof was bent into a 'V' shape, and inside the small structure the engine had tipped sideways. Taking a closer look, I realized the little engine was a hot tube, vertical 4 HP, water-cooled Bovaird & Seyfang gas or gasoline engine. It had worked pumping an individual well, but the pump jack had been hauled away at some point, and the well now produced only natural gas.

Looking at the engine and its surroundings, we estimated the engine hadn't run in 50 years. After checking with the man who used to run the oil lease, we found out we were close: He said the engine probably hadn't run since the early 1940s. Yet, even after all that time, it was still complete and loose. The little shed and the upright design of the engine had allowed oil to stay on all the important pieces - only the external exhaust pushrod was rusted tight.

After checking out the Bovaird, Charlie and I traveled to Foster Brook, Pa., to check on another lead. Sitting right next to the road we found a 3-5 HP International LB engine direct-belted to a pump jack. This poor little engine, which ad been sitting uncovered for years, was the worse for wear. But that's another story and a future project.

I wasn't too excited about the LB, as it's not what I think of as an oil field engine. And yet, since they were both available - I really wanted the Boviard & Seyfang - we made a deal and I bought the pair.

19911 Bovaird & Seyfang

Manufactured in Bradford, Pa., 4 HP, 4-cycle, 5-inch bore by 8-inch stroke, Hot-tube ignition, atmospheric intake, Mechanical exhaust, water cooled, Serial no. 202.

Getting it Out

Within two days my friend Bruce Lawson, a fellow oil field engine lover from Falconer, N.Y., and I were back in Wilcox to bring the engines home. The Bovaird loaded easily. Its wooden base had rotted away, and the shelter that had protected it for so many years tipped over with only a nudge. We pulled the engine up on ramps and into the trailer, rolling it on the flywheels. The bent pushrod was already out of the way.

Except for one mounting bolt that was stuck tight, retrieving the LB was pretty easy. After a few grunts and one skinned knuckle, the stuck bolt gave way. Charlie came by while we were sliding it onto the back of the trailer, I paid him for the engines, and we were back in Jamestown within a few hours.

With the engines home and unloaded in the garage, I started dismantling the Bovaird. I was pleasantly surprised to find most of it was still in good condition. For as many years as it had sat idle, there were relatively few parts needing repair or replacement. Pulling the engine apart, I found the number '202' stamped on the head and cylinder, and I am confident this is the engine's serial number. I knew that production of these engines started in 1910, and with a little digging I was able to access some old shipping records. I found out that this particular engine, serial no. 202, was shipped on April 17, 1911. Bovaid & Seyfang only made about 1,011 uprights altogether, and I found out that serial no. 343, the last 4 HP, shipped in 1913.

The wrist pin was bad, so I turned down a new one from cold-rolled steel and turned the bushing to tighten things up. The top piston ring was broken, and I sourced a new one from Starbolt. I removed one shim from the rod bearing to take up the endplay, and I made a new pushrod for the exhaust valve from cold rolled steel to replace the bent and badly rusted one. All I had to do was cut a piece to length and mill two flat spots in it where the set screws seat.

The biggest repair job was fixing the many spider web-like freeze cracks in the water jacket. I repaired them by first grinding a 'V' in each crack with a small angle grinder and then, after a thorough cleaning with paint thinner, filling the cracks with Devcon steel putty. After the Devcon dried, 1 ground and sanded it smooth with an angle grinder and sandpaper.

With that done, I made some oak skids, and the reassembly began. I cleaned every part of the engine and painted it all a dark green. I had to make some minor adjustments on the exhaust valve timing, as the cam gear that actuates the pushrod was one tooth out of time.

After doing a little experimenting with the hot tube burner, I decided to use the original burner. Even though it was designed for natural gas, it has a needle valve so it works okay with propane. Finally, after only a month of preparation, I was ready to start the engine.

First Fire

I hooked a propane line to the gas cock and heated the hot tube, and with only three turns of the flywheel the little engine fired, taking off and coming back to life for the first time in decades. That first running was short-lived, however. The engine was firing too early, and I knew immediately that the hot tube had to be shortened to make it fire later. Not only that, but the head gasket blew out after only 30 seconds of running!

I pulled the head back off, and as I set about making a new head gasket I noticed some pitting on the sealing surface of the head. So, I chucked the head on a lathe and faced it off - another problem solved.

To find the best length for the hot tube, I started with a 6-inch tube and worked from there. I kept cutting it down, 1-inch at a time, and running the engine. I ended up with a hot tube only 2 inches long, and the engine runs nicely.

I am looking forward to displaying my Bovaird & Seyfang at several shows in the upcoming season, starting in April at the Maple Festival in Franklinville, N.Y. I owe my sister a big thank you for her part in helping me bring the Bovaird & Seyfang back to life.

Contact engine enthusiast Howard Weaver at: 170 Lakeside Blvd., Jamestown, NY 14701; (716) 484-2028; e-mail: weave@madbbs.com