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Gunk or Gasoline as a Degreaser?

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As I write this, preparations for the big annual, international gathering at the Tri-State Gas Engine & Tractor Show in Portland, Ind., are reaching a fever pitch. I just have to try not to think about the fact that by the time this column is in print, it will all be over for another year! The five days of the show are an intense experience as we develop friendships begun on the Stationary Engine Mailing List by email, and the personalities come to life. It's also a chance to see engines at close quarters that have been discussed during the year by email, and possibly viewed by photographs on web pages.

The atmosphere of Portland is now being recreated at engine shows around the world, with multi-national gatherings in England, Holland and Australia - as well as America -with engines being shipped around the world giving even more variety to the displays.

The idea of shipping engines across oceans is one that creates much discussion everywhere, except on our mailing list, where we all celebrate international variety. Earlier this year, my husband and I lost out on an engine we wanted to buy because someone else was prepared to pay $100 over the asking price - which was already high - to 'keep the engine from going overseas.' More recently, while collecting an engine here in the U.K. to ship to a friend in the U.S., 1 heard a similar comment: 'Shame to see our heritage going to America.' Even more ridiculous, in my opinion, was a remark about an engine just imported from the Czech Republic to be rallied here in England before going to the States to be seen at shows there: 'Pity that's leaving the country.' That remark seems to conveniently forget that this engine just left its home country!

None of the engines for which someone has gone to the considerable trouble and expense of shipping are destined for the scrap yard or a dark and dusty corner of a shed. They are a confirmation of the international flavour of our hobby, and an educating insight to engine men and show goers alike into how similar problems were tackled in different parts of the world.

I'll get down off my personal soapbox now and pass on some words of wisdom shared on the ATIS forum that will be of interest to anyone whose collection does not consist solely of pristine, perfectly restored engines: 'Gunk or gasoline as a degreaser?'

As ever, the following comments reflect a variety of opinions that surfaced during this discussion.

In my 1926 Jaeger concrete mixer is a fairly virgin 6 HP Jaeger engine covered in thick, black oil and grease. I pressure-washed some of it off and found nice pretty blue underneath with the outlines around the castings in yellow, perhaps. What would you guys use to finish taking this thick stuff off?

Hand cleaner without pumice worked well for me when we wanted to save the original paint under years of build-up.

Gunk has emulsifiers that mix with oil and then in turn, both mix with water. Nothing replaces scraping, however, or at least rubbing it with a cloth or toothbrush.

I can remember when I was a child, my dad had a gadget that connected to his air hose that sprayed gasoline. It was similar to a power washer. When it sprayed, grease, dirt and gravel would fly all over the place.

Was that after the massive explosion? Sounds like that has the potential for creating a do-it-yourself fuel-air bomb.

I have one of those. It is a venturi pump. Regular shop air causes a vacuum to pull a liquid into the nozzle and creates a very fine mist. I used it with kero. Once. Decided that I didn't like the fuel-air bomb condition that rapidly developed.

That kero, or diesel, mist is kinda bad for the lungs, too!

Don't spray gasoline through a power washer - bad news, you may get a bang you're not looking for! Thunder Blast degreaser comes in a spray bottle and it has worked very well for me. My wife buys it for $1.50 a quart. Spray it on, let it set for a few minutes, rinse it off with a hose. It also gets grease out of clothing. We used to use Fantastic to clean gas and oil stains from the carburetor on parade motorcycles to keep them clean and bright; it also just washed off with a hose.

Get some 'Tide' laundry detergent in a bowl and add water little by little until you get a paste. Make it so it's thinner than toothpaste and thicker than water. You want it to 'hang' on the engine. Wet down the engine and start putting the paste on the engine. Let it set for a while, maybe 10-15 minutes. Use a fairly soft bristle brush to scrub a little while you hose it off. I had to repeat this a few times on some of the thicker build-up areas. I've used it a few times now and it works pretty well. It doesn't hurt the paint at all. WARNING!! I don't know why, but, if 'The idea of shipping engines across oceans is one that creates much discussion everywhere ...' you have an aluminum tag, like on an 1H LB, Briggs, or Clinton, the paint WILL come off. My wife used the Tide on her Clinton a couple of years ago and removed all the paint from the tag but not the engine.

Not only that, but it'll dissolve the aluminum if you leave it long. It has strong, basic ingredients, probably mainly washing soda. Soda, lye, TSP and sodium silicate can all dissolve aluminum.

I've had good luck with K-1 kerosene and an old toothbrush. The kero will dissolve the grease but won't hurt the old paint under it. W-D 40 also works well, but is too expensive for a whole engine. After I get it clean I mix kero or turpentine 50/50 with boiled linseed oil and give it a light coating. It really brings out old paint, and I really like to see old paint and striping if there is any left on an engine after all these years. Unfortunately, most are rust colored.

I often use oven cleaner for the tough stuff. It will also eat away at the paint if you leave it too long, but it will sure cut the grease and grime off. It's cheap, also. You can buy a couple of cans of it for about $1/can. Just spray it on, let it set for a couple of minutes (depending on how thick the grease is) and hose it off.

Use Gunk - it IS a degreaser!

Gunk is not a 'degreaser' at all - it's an expensively packaged, over-the-counter can of diesel. Do yourself a favor and go buy one of those little red gas cans for $3 and put $2 worth of diesel in it - it works for everything.

So, there should soon be lots of clean engines out there! To finish off with the signature line from one of our list members, 'work and play safely!'

Engine enthusias Helen French lives in Leicester, England. Contact her via email at: Join the ATIS mailing list at:

'The idea of shipping engines across oceans is one that creates much discussion everywhere...'