Gas Engine

Completed light plant mounted on hand truck. Battery tray suspends on rod in front of small caster wheels.

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312 Gillett Avenue Waukegan, Illinois 60085

My interest in gas engines goes back to my boyhood days on the farm in Western New York State. My dad was a mechanic for an IH dealer for many years and had successfully made the transition from horse drawn equipment to become the resident expert on milk coolers (remember the smell of sulphur dioxide when those old coolers sprang a leak?) and diesel engines. It was my privilege to work with him for two years following my graduation from high school in 1948.

He started collecting old gas engines during the late 1960's, long after I had moved to Illinois. Every year when we went home to visit, he would eagerly show me his latest find and soon the air would be full of the special music of old one-lungers.

On one trip home, I noticed he had acquired an old 32 volt, 750 watt, Delco generating plant. It sat outside the garage with the flywheel removed and all the electrical parts pulled off and lying in a box. The engine was very rusty and stuck tight. Dad apparently never had any interest in restoring this engine as it sat out there for several years before finally being moved into a corner of the old garage.

In 1983, following Dad's death, the old Delco went on the auction block as part of the estate sale. Not a single bid was made, so as the auctioneer turned to sell the next engine, I offered five dollars, to which he promptly responded, 'Sold'. Thus began my collection of 'rusty iron'.

Shortly after returning to Illinois with my 'prize', I began the restoration. Careful examination revealed that the parts were all there. Someone had even thoughtfully taped the flywheel key to the crankshaft after removing the flywheel. What followed was a four week process of disassembly, cleaning, painting, and repair to get the engine restored, and another several weeks to figure out and wire the generator portion.

The mechanical restoration was fairly simple once the stuck piston was finally removed. This turned out to be a major project. That piston, stuck near TDC, resisted all efforts including soaking in water, and boiling in oil (literally)! Even with the cylinder removed from the crankcase so that gentle tapping could be applied to both top and bottom of the piston, it would not budge. I finally fabricated an adapter for the spark plug hole and used the power grease gun. It worked beautifully. Fortunately, the intake valve, which was stuck, had been freed up enough to hold the grease in the cylinder. The only part I had to replace was the breaker point spring which had rusted through. I made a replacement from a piece of an old clock mainspring.

With an old ignition coil wired up and with an electric fuel pump supplying gas in place of the original gravity feed, the Delco was ready for 'the big moment'. To my delight, it started the second time I 'twisted its' tail'' and it purred like a kitten. So far, so good, but now remained the problem of sorting out the generator wiring. What followed was several weeks of correspondence, initiated by a request to GEM readers for help. Several replies were received and by combining all sources of information including some gleaned from the series of Delco reprint books available, a seemingly workable schematic was created. My Navy training in basic electronics helped out here!

All the original wires from the generator to the control panel had been removed but were still there. By checking wire lengths and the size of the terminal eyes against the possible connection spots on the brush holder and control panel, wire routing and connections which seemed to match the schematic were determined. New brushes were filed to shape and installed. Contactor points were carefully cleaned, two 12 volt automotive batteries connected in series were hooked to the control panel, and we were ready for action.

The first time I manually closed the contactor, there was some good news, and some bad news. The good news was that the generator, now acting as a starter, began to turn the engine over. The bad news was, it was turning the wrong direction! A quick reversal of the field winding connections corrected that problem. On the next attempt, everything worked to perfection. Engaging the contactor after the engine came up to speed resulted in a constant twenty five amp output as indicated by the ammeter. Success at last!

The power plant has since been mounted on a heavy duty hand truck equipped with a battery rack containing three twelve volt batteries. The loading platform on the truck was removed and inverted. This provides room for the crank, if needed, and also serves as a guard to keep people from bumping into the flywheel.

It is difficult to describe the feeling of accomplishment that comes when turning a five dollar basket case of old iron into a smoothly operating piece of equipment, but those of you who have been there know what I mean. My only regret is that I did not undertake this project while Dad was still alive, so that he could have shared in the joy of seeing another pile of rusty iron come back to life again.