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The avowed mission of this column is the passing of information discussed by members of the Stationary Engine Mailing List to the readers of GEM.

But a personal side benefit it gives me is updating readers on the state of Tillie, GEM's cover girl for the December 2001 issue. Tillie, in case you've forgotten, is the 15 HP half-breed oil field engine my husband, Jim, and I displayed at Portland, Ind., in 2001 and then shipped to England.

Tillie ran a couple of times that winter, then flatly refused to run again. All last summer, whenever he had time to spare, Jim got a good workout on the flywheels trying to get her running again, but with no result. In the course of Tillie's restoration, a crack around the inside of the head had been welded - and welded again -before Tillie made her Portland run. Jim suspected the crack was the source of the problems, so he had a go at welding it himself, but with no result. He then turned to a professional welding company, and finally tried a specialist cast iron welding company. We collected the head from them last week, put it back on Tillie, fired up the hot tube, and one flip of the flywheels and she was off. Believe me, it felt good!

Even if you haven't taken an engine to a show yet this season, you likely will soon. With that thought in mind, I've culled a few threads from the List that should help you get your engines into tip-top cosmetic condition and ready for public viewing.

The first question was on the cleaning of oilers, when the standard cleaners are unavailable:

Are there any chemists in the house? What's a good concoction for cleaning old, tarnished brass? It's too late to go buy Brasso or Noxon - I need something that's already in my kitchen.

I'm pretty sure Brasso is nothing but a little abrasive mixed with ammonia.

I have heard of using Tabasco sauce to clean brass.

I have heard ketchup works, although I've never tried it.

Try a solution of salt and vinegar. Immerse the part in it, let it sit for a while and then go after it with a soft cloth. It's not fast, but it works.

I wash my oilers in a mixture of one part ammonia to three parts hot water with a good dose of dishwashing detergent thrown in. I follow this with polishing on a muslin wheel using jewelers rouge. The ammonia pickles the brass and will attack it if you leave it on too long. A five or ten minute soak is usually enough, followed by a good rinse and a thorough drying before polishing. This is the method I was taught for cleaning brass clock plates when I studied horology as a teenager.

The next problem - how to preserve an original finish?

I just brought home a 1-1/2 HP Hercules that still has its original paint and decals. I cleaned it with kerosene and it looked really nice when it was wet. Is there any way to restore the shiny finish and keep it that way?

If it was my engine I would clean it really well with three to four applications of Gunk applied with a soft scrubbing brush. Following that I would give it two coats of Krylon clear.

Tire cleaner does a good job of sprucing up an engine if you don't want to varnish it.

But what if the original finish is hidden under something more than simply years of grease and dirt?

We have two engines that have horrible paint jobs. Sadly, both have very nice, aged, dark original finishes underneath this mess. The previous owner gave them a quick paint job - without any prep work - with random rattle cans of paint, 'to keep them from rusting.' I was wondering if I could use paint remover to take off the paint to get the original dark iron to show through. Aside from paint remover being nasty stuff to work with, are there any drawbacks to this approach?

My limited experience is that high-pressure washing works well to remove paint that has been poorly applied to an original finish.

I'd be afraid to use paint remover for fear it would take off the original paint, if there is any. But if there isn't any original under there, have at it.

If there's still original paint underneath, you could try something gentle like denatured alcohol or waterless hand cleaner. Our all-original 2 HP Jaeger had a large portion of the base covered with aluminum paint over spray, which I successfully removed using hand cleaner and alcohol. The original blue paint and striping remained undamaged.

If he did use rattle can paint, acetone will cut it and shouldn't attack the original finish. I'd try a small, inconspicuous area first to be sure.

The final section of this 'cosmetic' discussion dealt with flywheels.

How do you finish flywheel rims? Do you paint them the same color as the rest of the flywheel, or do you paint the rims a different color? Leave the rim as bare metal? Polish the rim?

I prefer bare metal, although that usually means I have to clean some surface rust off from the rim before I show an engine. I like the look of bare metal, especially when the flywheel face has machine tool marks left from when the engine was made.

On a tour of European engine collections, we visited a collection in Belgium whose owner kept everything clean and polished. He had a Czech sideshaft engine with flywheel rims that, from a distance, looked liked they were chrome plated. When you got closer to the engine it became obvious they were just highly polished. He had a couple of kids who buffed the flywheels with what I assume was an electric, handheld buffer. The flywheels were sure polished and looked like chrome, but they way they were doing it made the flywheel faces so wavy I thought it ruined them.

I prefer my flywheel rims unpainted and bright. This might not work in a damp climate, but we're blessed with near-zero humidity here. And even when we do get a heavy dew or rain shower during a show, the flash rust isn't a disaster. As soon as I start the engine I'll polish the flywheel with a bit of motor oil and a Scotchbrite pad. It only takes a few seconds and there's no sign there was any rust. The more you do this, the nicer the flywheel looks.

My preferred finish depends on the condition of the flywheel face. If the faces are pitted I paint them a different color, as I like to use two or three colors on my engines. If the faces are nice I clean them with emery and coat them with oil, but it takes constant attention to make sure they don't rust.

I file any high spots on the flywheel, sand them with industrial paper and then give them three layers of paint. I apply the first coat, let it dry for a few weeks, then sand it with 100-grit paper. I then spray on a thick layer of primer and sand it lightly with 240-grit paper. When the surface is right, I give it a final coat in the color I want, usually two layers. The rims get the same color. At first I left them unpainted and polished, but here in Holland it's too damp and it rusts too fast.

In days of yore, we used to shine up the flywheel rims in the power houses holding a brick against the running wheel. Then we had to clean up all the brick-dust! The machining marks did look nice, though - not highly polished, just a lovely, soft gleam.

Living within spitting distance of the Indian Ocean, I tend to paint everything, including flywheel rims.

The gentleman I got my 25 HP Superior from told me the face of the rim was never painted. It was the job of the apprentice to keep them clean and rust free.

I turned the surfaces of some small, 22-inch flywheels on a brake drum lathe. With a little fudging, I used the cutting tool you use to turn automotive flywheels. It did a real nice job.

I'm currently working on a 3HP IHC Famous vertical. The flywheels rims were quite rusty and appeared to have never been painted. The rust was thick, but it didn't have deep pits.

They are too big for the drum lathe, so I ran them in the hot tank we use for cleaning cast iron engine blocks and heads. That removed all the grease, old paint and some of the rust on the rims. I then sanded the outside face and the inner and outer sides with a hand-held sander.

My sander can be set for non-directional or straight-line sanding, and to avoid swirl marks I selected straight line sanding and held the sander in line with the direction the wheel turns. Using progressively finer paper - and after about two hours of elbow grease - the surfaces were bright and shiny.

As to painting, I think masking the rims is a big waste of time. I just paint them, keeping the over spray to a minimum. When the paint has set a little I wash off the over spray with thinner.

After cleaning up the rims with fine emery I put on a mix of turpentine and boiled linseed oil. It takes a few days to dry, but mine still look good after about 12 months.

Has anyone ever tried a good clear coat on the rims? I may give this a try someday.

I haven't tried it on flywheels, but I once refinished a saxophone and cleared it with Krylon. It still tarnished underneath the clear.

Whether your engines are perfect, high-gloss restorations or still wearing their original 'working clothes,' some of these suggestions should give you some ideas for keeping them in tiptop condition.

Engine enthusiast Helen French lives in Leicester, England. Contact her via e-mail at: You can join the Stationary Engine List on the Internet at: