Restoration of an 1898 Hercules Gas Engine

Unusual Old Engine

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43 Cardigan Bay Road Mataura, R. D. 2 New Zealand

Made in San Francisco, California Serial #5558 HP 5 Bore 5 inches Stroke 8 inches Fuel: Producer gas (L.P.G.) Style: Vertical open crank

The year was 1993, location Edendale Crank Up. I was setting up my engines for the show when a fellow pulled in towing a trailer with what looked like an old pump lying on its side. On closer inspection it turned out to be a very unusual old engine.

On first sight I could tell there were a lot of parts missing and the owner was hoping to locate some information at the show. Very early on in the day, I let him know I was interested in purchasing his engine if he was interested to sell. He told me he'd think it over. After another very good day at the crank-up and the engines behaved all day, I decided to call him into the tent and have a beer. It was hot! The owner happened to be there too, so we got to talking about the engine again. After a while he told me he would be interested in swapping it for a more complete engine. A deal was made that I think we were both happy about.

After getting the engine in the workshop, I had a good look at what I had just acquired. I found it was in worse condition than I first thought. The governors were missing, as was the big end bearing block, and the crankshaft had been hack-sawed off flush with the main bearing housing, so it was missing a flywheel, as well. But worse yet, was when I took the head off, I found the engine must have been lying upside down for many years because, halfway up the bore, rust had eaten ? inch into the bore! All the moving parts were badly worn, the white metal mains were paper thin, the crank was out of round, the ring were about 1/8 inch thin at the gap. The piston pin you could ride a horse and cart through the gap! The past owners sure got their money's worth out of the old girl!

A year had passed and it was time to attack the bore problem after discussing it with my engine mates. It was decided to bore the cylinder and fit a dry sleeve. The cylinder and frame are one casting that stands about 4 feet so the whole thing had to be set up on a lathe. Then I got a length of 5 inch hydraulic tubing and got it machined to fit. I lock-tightened the sleeve in place. Next was the piston pin and bearing. The bearing was made round again and a new pin made on my good engine-buddy's lathe.

Another year passed, and it was the crank's turn. After many months of trying to remove the flywheel, I gave up. In steps, another engine buddy who just happened to have access to a press, the wheel was off in about two seconds. Then the crank was sent to an engine reconditioner in Gore, where they lengthened the shaft and ground it true again.

Now the main bearings; they had to be re-poured. My father-in-law is very good with wood so he got a job making a mold the size of the crank. I took out the remaining bearing metal which didn't take much and fitted the mold and filled the gaps with pastercine. Then we melted the metal and poured it through the oil hole. Oh, no, there's hot metal running all over the floor! Cleaned everything up and added a bit more Plasticine and started again. Success this time! A few months passed scraping the bearings off and on, being very careful to make sure the crank would run true with the bore, and that the timing gears meshed properly. With that done, I turned to my father-in-law again to make a pattern of the big end bearing block and the local foundry cast one from bronze. Then another friend machined it at work for me. The parts I managed to make myself with my lathe were: inlet valve, cam follower, governors and the usual bits and pieces. The governors were made of scrap metal lying around. I think they suit the style of the engine.

In the summer of 1998, while cutting new gaskets and fitting each part as I went, it just dawned on me. There's no reason I can't get a shot out of her. I tipped some petrol down the inlet, hooked up a battery and coil, one pull on the flywheel and she fired three shots! Man, what a rush! I went and dragged everyone out to the workshop to witness the momentous occasion. After I settled back to earth, I rigged up a temporary cooling tank and hooked the L.P.G. up and ran her for 1 ? hours with no problems.

Then I stripped the engine down again, got parts sandblasted, polished the brass. My father-in-law made the skids. I painted the parts, had a cooling tank made, had a go at the sign-writing on it and she's finished!

Her first outing is going to be the 2000 Edendale Crank Up.

I have to thank my engine buddies for all the help they provided to get the old girl going again and all the friendly advice I received from the Stationary Engine List.