Olds Engine After Restoration

A simple trip and a chance encounter lead to the resurrection of an early Olds engine.

Lloyd Osmun's 5-7 HP Type A

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Lloyd Osmun's 5-7 HP Type A Olds after restoration. Showing serial number 9690, this is an early Olds engine, but when it was built is unclear. Early Type A Olds engines were headless, while Lloyd's engine features a separate head. The engine looks almost identical to a 1905 Olds Type A shown in C.H. Wendel's American Gas Engines Since 1872, but that engine appears to be a headless design. Olds Gasoline Engine Works, Lansing, Mich., was founded by Pling Olds, brother of Ransom E. Olds, founder of Oldsmobile. Ransom bought out his brother in 1890.

Do you love a good story? I know I do, and my favorite stories are about old gas engines found in the woods and brought back to life. This is the true story of my friend Lloyd Osmun and his remarkable restoration of an Olds engine, found in the woods of northwestern New Jersey after lying buried for over 40 years.

Finding the Olds

It all started in the summer of 2002, on June 14, 2002, to be precise. Lloyd, a master mechanic and gas engine collector for many years, went to Sparta, N.J., to pick up some engines he had purchased. With his 'new' engines safely strapped to his trailer and heading back home along Route 94 through New Jersey, Lloyd remembered that an old friend, Cappy Rydell, lived on the same route in Marksboro, N.J. Lloyd hadn't seen Cappy since the early 1950s, and as he glanced out the driver's side window he saw Cappy's white clapboard home and Cappy's abandoned farm equipment sales office. It was just as he remembered it.

Lloyd immediately noticed an elderly gentleman sitting in a lawn chair by the side of the house - it was Cappy, looking fit and probably well into his 90s. Lloyd pulled into the parking lot between the house and the abandoned shop and went over to speak with Cappy. It took a few minutes for Cappy to make a connection to Lloyd - after all, Cappy hadn't seen Lloyd in 50 years - but soon the stories were flying. Cappy noticed the old engines on Lloyd's trailer, and he asked what Lloyd was up to. Lloyd told Cappy about his engine addiction, and his particular fondness for Olds engines. To this, Cappy nonchalantly offered that he happened to have an Olds engine over in the woods behind his shop. Lloyd couldn't believe his ears.

'Yep, she's been back in the woods over by the outhouse since about 1963,' Cappy told Lloyd. 'That's the year I bought my first rollback truck. I was in the farm implement business, you know. We pulled the engine out of a cistern under a chicken coop where she was buried for 40 years or so before that. The farmer, a Mr. Budd, used the engine for farm chores. I think it must have been near his cistern. Anyhow, it was in his barn. In the early 1920's he decided to tear down the barn and build a chicken coop. I guess he decided the Olds was too heavy to move so he filled in the cistern with stone and poured a slab over the top. He built the chicken coop on top of the slab. In 1963 he tore down the chicken coop and I bought the engine from him. The stone fill and the slab saved the engine.'

Lloyd asked to have a look at the engine, so Cappy got out of his chair and walked Lloyd back into the woods through a sea of abandoned tractors and farm equipment to an old outhouse. There, next to the outhouse under a rusty sheet of old roofing, was an old Olds gas engine. It had clearly been sitting a long time, sunk as it was about a foot into the ground, with trees a foot thick surrounding the engine and some other old farm implements.

Lloyd Osmun's 5-7 HP Type A Olds as found. It's almost hard to believe this is the same engine shown on the facing page, and doubly amazing to think it went back together with most of its original parts.

Lloyd Osmun's 5-7 HP Type A Olds as found. It's almost hard to believe this is the same engine shown on the facing page, and doubly amazing to think it went back together with most of its original parts.

Looking the engine over, Lloyd saw it was rusty and frozen - remarkably, all of the parts seemed to be there, and there were no obvious cracks or breaks. Lloyd asked Cappy if he would sell the engine, but Cappy said he would have to check with his son, Cappy Rydell Jr., since they had a joint interest in the engine. A week later they struck a deal, and five days after that Lloyd and Cappy Jr. pulled the engine out of the dirt with a tractor and dragged it to Lloyd's trailer, loading it without incident.

Lloyd hauled the engine to his workshop in Jacobsburg, Pa., and looking it over he found that, 'Everything was stuck fast, the piston, governor, timing linkage ... just everything. But the original striping was still visible and there were no cracks or breaks,' Lloyd says. Amazingly, the brass nameplate was still intact. The nameplate reads:

Self Contained Gasoline Engine Type A #5 Shop # 9690 HP 5-7 Mfd. by Olds Gasoline Engine Works Lansing, Mich., U.S.A.

Lloyd believes this is an early Olds built some time around 1903, and it looks very much like the Olds attached to a centrifugal pump as shown on page 358 in C.H. Wendel's American Gasoline Engines Since 1872. 'I think she was built somewhere between 1897 and 1905' Lloyd says, 'the engine has Olds Gasoline Engine Works cast right on it. This means the engine dates from before Ransom E. Olds sold his company to new management in 1905 or so. It was built before 1905, that's for sure, but how much before, I can't tell.'

In addition to the low serial number the engine had some other unusual characteristics, such as a removable head (instead of the headless design of some Type A Olds engines) and a spark plug in the end of the head instead of an igniter. He knew he had an unusual Olds engine, and he started work on it the next day.

Getting to Work

Inspecting the engine further, Lloyd confirmed his initial assessment- absolutely everything on the engine was stuck. He sprayed the engine with penetrating solvent, and using a combination of his expertise gained over the years, a lot of patience -and heat and oil - the engine came apart. The only bolt that broke was one on the crank guard, and Lloyd had a new high-head bolt made to match.

There were a few major challenges, and removing the stuck piston was the biggest. After removing the head, Lloyd filled the cylinder with two to three inches of fuel oil and set it on fire. He did this several times, but the piston still wouldn't budge. In desperation, Lloyd contacted a friend who runs a gas station that has a 60-ton press. They arranged a time to meet, and after filling the cylinder with oil one more time and burning it off, he drove the hot cylinder to the gas station. With the cylinder hot, Lloyd and his friend got to work coaxing the piston free. They started at 11 a.m., pressing, heating and carefully hammering the outside of the cylinder, and after numerous tries the piston finally broke free with a load 'bang.' Repeating the process, they got the piston to move a quarter of an inch at a time. By 3 p.m. the piston was free. The cylinder bore, except for a small part exposed to the elements, was almost perfect. Through all of this only one piston ring broke, and he got a replacement from Starbolt.

First attempt at heating the cylinder to remove the stuck piston. A 60-ton press provided the final pushing power to free the piston.

The Olds during cleaning and priming. All told, Lloyd spent around 170 hours transforming the Olds from its as-found condition to a running restoration.

The only other broken piece was the lock-out rod for the intake valve (which had simply rusted away), so Lloyd fabricated a new lock-out rod. He replaced all the springs on the engine except for the intake and exhaust springs, which were still okay. Remarkable.

After cleaning and reassembling all the various parts the engine was painted in its original colors and mounted on new trucks with wheels from a cement mixer. Lloyd improvised a cooling tank from an old funnel and mounted it on top of the cylinder, and another friend, Bob Herder, made a brass fuel level bowl cap. The muffler had rusted away, so Lloyd had a new muffler cast from an original.

Running and Showing

On July 6, 2002, less than a month after Lloyd had first seen the engine and after some 170 hours of disassembling, cleaning, repairing and painting on the engine, Bob and I went over to Lloyd's to help with the easy work of getting the engine started. One turn after priming and the Olds puffed back to life for the first time in over 78 years -and the longer it ran, the smoother it was.

Lloyd exhibited the Olds at the Blue Mountain Antique Gas and Steam 2002 summer show (also known as the Jacktown show) in Bangor, Pa. Veteran engine fans know how unique this Olds engine is, and everyone was amazed that an engine buried for 40 years and then left in the woods for 38 more years could come back to life so quickly and run so well. The engine drew a lot of attention and lively conversation as old times and interested youngsters alike passed by and asked Lloyd about the engine.

Lloyd tells me he was lucky to have stumbled upon the Olds, noting how time and time again he thinks of all the nice people who helped him in his search for the engine's history. ' Each person I spoke to had a great story to tell,' Lloyd says, 'and each story brought back fond memories. Every storyteller relived his or her glory days and smiled and laughed at the memory. Isn't that why we all enjoy the old engine collection adventure? I enjoyed this adventure. I hope everyone who sees this engine will too. And one more thing, coincidences - don't discount them. It was a coincidence that I stopped in to see Cappy Rydell after nearly 50 years. Don't forget your friends, they help you remember who you are.'

Contact engine enthusiast Ivan Raupp at: 6 Pine Ct, Bloomsbury, NJ 08804.

Contact engine enthusiast Lloyd Osmun at: 466 Jacobsburg Road, Nazareth, PA 18064