2, 1077 Sunnidale Road, Barrie, Ontario, Canada L4M 4S4
On December 31, 1995 I visited Bruce Goss, an avid and well-known local engine and tractor collector, in the township of Medonte near my Barrie, Ontario, home, with the intention of interviewing him and writing an article for Canadian Antique Power. Readers of that magazine will have read the results of the interview in the September/October, 1996 issue.
My interview, however, resulted in more than an article. While I was inspecting Bruce's engines and poking about his capacious storage building, my eye was caught by a very small vertical overhead-valve engine with deep cooling fins, an automatic intake valve, an exposed exhaust valve push-rod that disappeared into the engine's cast-iron crankcase, and a strange assemblage of piping that later turned out to be an air-intake tube and an impossibly-long intake manifold. Not only that, there was a folding kick-starter sticking out from the side of the machine, with a clumsy-looking chain drive connecting it to a sprocket on the flywheel. The odd engine was bolted to a base at the other end of which was a small piston-pump with a very large spoked pulley made of cast iron. The pump and engine were tied together by a disreputable-looking V-belt that seemed in imminent danger of parting under the stress of its own weight. I was immediately intrigued by what seemed to be a very unusual piece of equipment, and almost immediately determined to have it if it was for sale, despite the fact that every square inch was covered with a decades-long accumulation of rust and dirt.
I have only recently become interested in gas engines, so I had no idea of what this thing was. I asked Bruce, who informed me that the engine was an old Briggs 6k Stratton, and that it had two claims to fame: one was that it was complete, right down to the brass name-plate on the shroud; the other was that the engine and pump had originally been sold as a unit, and had spent their lives together on a common cast-iron base in some long-forgotten pump-house from which they had been rescued.
I reached out and gave a tentative push on the pump pulley; nothing moved. Bruce shrugged and said that he didn't remember the engine's being seized. I touched the engine's intake valve and it opened easily. I poked at the exhaust valve and it moved as well. Emboldened by this, I grasped the pump pulley with both hands and applied moderate torque; the piston, which evidently had just begun the process of taking up a permanent post in the cylinder, freed itself with a slight pop!, and everything started to turn freely. I could even feel that the engine seemed to have good compression.
That did it. I struck a deal with Bruce, and soon the engine was in the back of my truck, heading home with meand, incidentally, with the material for an article which somehow was not quite in the forefront of my mind. I celebrated part of that New Year's Eve dragging a rusty heap of iron into my basement and just sitting there looking at it; I may even have drunk a wee toast to it later that night, but certain events are, alas, unclear.
A few days later I was able to devote ' myself to the engine in earnest. I began by rubbing the dirt and corrosion from the brass name plate and found that I had a Briggs & Stratton Model FH engine (I now know that it is not an early one because it does not have slanted fins, its carburetor is made of pot metal rather than bronze, and its serial number suggests a manufacturing date of February, 1929). A little reading showed me that, while the engine is not considered rare, there seems to be a lot of interest in early Briggs engines in general.
Since the engine and pump were caked with dirt and rust, I knew that complete disassembly and thorough cleaning were necessary before I could even begin to inspect most parts.
I unbolted the engine from its base and began with it. The first thing I discovered was that there was no spark, so after trying another plug I removed the kick-starter, fan shroud and flywheel and saw that the ignition points were covered with corrosion, and that there did not seem to be a point gap of any magnitude. Just as an experiment I rubbed the corrosion from the points, touched them lightly with fine sandpaper, gapped them and replaced the flywheel. I leaned over the engine and gave the wheel a trial spin; my left arm, which was somehow resting on the spark plug, informed me that I now had a spark, just like that!
Encouraged by this early success, I proceeded to disassemble the rest of the engine. Despite the dirt and corrosion, every bolt and screw came loose without hesitation, and I soon had a workbench littered with unfamiliar-looking components. Fortunately, I had had the foresight to keep a camera handy, so I felt optimistic about getting it all back together.
For the most part, the engine was in pretty good shape. The valves were clean and seated well; the cylinder bore was smooth and rust-free; there was no sign of damage to the rings; crankshaft and connecting rod bearings were tight.
Then I encountered my first setback. On these engines, the crankcase is a thin stamped-steel dish containing the oil pump and sitting on the engine's cast iron rectangular base. This dish protrudes downward into the hollow of the base that serves as the fuel tank. The ' engine block is bolted to the top of the base with the crankcase sandwiched in between. There are two filler plugs in each end of this base, one at each end capping the crankcase, the others, again one at each end, used in the gasoline filler holes. Over the years of disuse, the gas tank/base had collected a considerable amount of moisture; this moisture had attacked the thin metal of the crankcase, and all of the crankcase oil had eventually drained through numerous pinholes into the gas tank, finally congealing into a thick, dark sludge that was very difficult to remove.
At first I thought that I could close the pinholes in the crankcase with some judiciously-applied solder, but I soon found that the holes were so numerous and so small that it would be very difficult to solder them all; I also discovered that heating the crankcase tended to melt the solder holding the oil pump in place in its base. I finally opted for a heat-free solution to the problem. I sealed all of the holes with JB Weld, then applied a coat of fiberglass resin to the underside of the crankcase to provide some protection against gasoline fumes and moisture. When this had hardened, I was ready to make new gaskets and reassemble the engine onto its base.
Of course, the entire engine needed to be cleaned thoroughly before reassembly. Because the Briggs is such a small engine, it was relatively simple to use a small homemade parts washer for the job. My parts washer is a stainless steel bar sink set into my workbench top and fitted with a wooden lid to prevent evaporation. The drainpipe is capped and periodically I drain the degreasing solution into a can which I can take to the nearest hazardous waste depot for disposal. Instead of an electric circulating pump, I use a manual pump from the sink of a motor home to rinse parts, and the wire basket from a small deepfryer to hold the parts above the level of the degreaser.
The piston pump was next. It was held to the base by four countersunk machine screws whose removal I dreaded, as the entire assembly was covered with heavy corrosion and dirt. However, to my immense surprise the four slot screws came out easily, and the entire pump lay disassembled on my bench in about fifteen minutes. Cleaning the valve body required a lot of work and patience, as it was pretty well plugged with dirt and mineral deposits.
The valves themselves, though, were rubber discs backed with brass washers and springs; the brass was unharmed, and even the rubber discs were still supple and required only cleaning. The valve seats were brass inserts, and had not suffered any deterioration.
When all the dirt was removed, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of brass and bronze used in the pump. The connecting rod was bronze, and the piston was made of brass.
The piston sleeve and pump cylinder were brass lined, the pump rod and gland nut were brass, the small drain cock at the end was brass, and even the acorn nut holding the air chamber in place was made of solid brass. A lot of polishing made the brass shine, a light honing was all that was necessary for the cylinder, and new pump leathers were obtained from a local plumber with just one telephone call.
At about this stage I began to consider how the finished pump would look. It seemed that the pump and base had originally been painted with aluminum or very light blue paint, and the engine bore traces of black paint. Black and silver, however, seemed unappealing, and black and blue was ridiculous, so I called in my aesthetic consultant. She took one glance at the scattered parts and all the brass, surveyed my stock of paint, and the result was a royal blue engine and matching pump mounted on a cream colored base. The intake manifold piping and the offside flywheel were painted cream to relieve the monotony of the dark blue on the engine, and I am now convinced that Briggs & Stratton themselves would have adopted this color scheme if only they had thought of it.
After only a moment's hesitation, I painted the 'stop' switch red, after rewiring it to make sure it worked.
Reassembly was an easy chore, as I had taken numerous photographs at all stages of the work. For the engine, I cut new gaskets for the base/fuel tank and the oil pan, reused the head gasket (whose original position I had carefully noted), and made a new gasket for the newly-cleaned carburetor. I then bolted the engine to the base/fuel tank, reinstalled the head, carburetor, governor assembly and flywheels, and put on the freshly lubricated chain starter mechanism.
The newly-painted pump parts went together as easily as they had come apart, the soft leather pump leathers fit snugly into the cylinder bore, and the pulley shaft moved soundlessly on repacked bearings as the brass piston slid smoothly back and forth in its sleeve.
Although I completed work on the engine in February of 1996,I have been somewhat remiss. Seduced by the immediacy of other projects and activities, I repeatedly promised myself that I would start the engine 'soon.'
As I write this in February of 1997 I still have not started it, and now I find myself waiting eagerly for the spring.
I have yet to obtain a new V-belt for the pump, and I plan to make a reservoir and small fountain so I can give the pump something to do. By summer, I hope to be able to sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labor as I continue the search for my next project engine, a Barrie engine made right here in my town by the Canada Producer and Gas Company.