The $26 Engine

1HP Giant Rocker Arm

Content Tools

801 Eastridge Dr., Lincoln, Nebraska 68510

The morning was cold, very cold. When I think about it, I really can't remember being so cold in all my life. What in the world possessed us to go to that sale in Central Nebraska in this winter weather was beyond me. All the same we had scraped a couple of holes through the ice on the windshield, and left at 4:30 a.m., half asleep, and headed west. Sale time was 9:00, so we had plenty of time to look things over when we arrived at the site.

A quart of hot coffee and three hours later we pulled in, parked the truck in a corn field and bundled up.

It looked right away like a good sale. Except for the northwest wind at 20 mph and a little snow falling, it might not be too bad. We donned insulated coveralls, parkas and five buckles and ventured out. Father-in-law and good friend, Morris Currie, who was with me (and at whose insistence I had come) mentioned how it was 'cold enough out here to freeze the bells off a brass monkey,' or something similar. I wholeheartedly agreed.

The engines at the sale ran the gamut from IHC LA, LB, all sizes of M's to John Deere Model E's. Fairbanks Morse, a Sattley, Monitor and Economy units were offered also in various sizes. Being relatively new to this hobby, I was very excited at the variety available and quietly lusted for the three horse JD E over on the end of the north row.

Lots of parts were on a flat bed near by and a few 'basket case, boat anchor' engines. Well, we looked at all the good stuff, had some more coffee to warm the insides, and thought we'd better check the trailer for that elusive 1 HP Giant rocker arm and governor latch I've been hunting for the past 15 years. We discovered a couple sets of trucks and a considerable pile of LB parts.

That done, we walked stiffly (from the cold) over to the parts engines. Of the two there, the Fairbanks headless interested me most. At that time I had none of these units in my collection, and generally like a smaller engine to lug around at show time in the summer. It was pretty bad off. 'Morris,' I said, 'look here, three spokes are broken out of this flywheel.' 'Well now,' he said, 'you have to understand that these engines are old and do have a little wear on them.' 'But Morris,' I said. 'Can't even turn the flywheels over, the piston must be stuck real bad.' Morris had always been a fan of Fairbanks Morse and continued to pitch the engine. 'Well now it might be stuck a little bit, but maybe the rings are in real good shape, and the compression is keeping the flywheels from moving.' I noticed he turned and winked at another spectator. Doubting this, I said nothing and allowed this was his way of needling a son-in-law whenever possible.

The auctioneer barked over the PA to get your numbers and the sale would begin. The trailer was sold off first, and as luck was running my way, we proceeded to the parts engines. When the headless came up for bids no one seemed interested. Finally the auctioneer asked for a $ 15 bid and got it. Well, I figured it might be worth that because of the darn good compression I told you about earlier, and jumped in. A few bids later I had it for $26. Heads shaking, the crowd moved on to the next unit, and I got a good look at my prize. This time it didn't look so hot. The rod was completely rusted away below the crank throw, which was turned down below where the water level must have stood for the last thirty years. A couple of styrofoam coffee cups had appeared inside the water hopper, and the one bent oiler with broken glass it did have had disappeared. Undaunted, I consoled myself by the fact that it had such excellent compression. As the snowfall continued to increase, we loaded the truck and I swear I heard Father-In-Law snicker a few times on the way back to Lincoln. After a couple of weeks of cylinder soaking, those 'real good rings and compression' still maintained their enormous grip on my piston, and this being the headless version I gave up the cause and began to quietly plan my revenge on a father-in-law who got me into this unfortunate situation.

My son, Aaron, who was away in service, had come home for a few days on leave. After spending some time visiting his friends around town, he had time for the old man. 'Pop,' he said, 'whatcha been working on lately in the shop?' Immediately, my agile brain sprang into action. Here was a young man, well fed, fresh out of boot camp who just might substitute for a piston puller. 'Well, that old headless out there has me beat,' I replied. 'The piston is stuck tight and has to be pulled out because it has no head. I doubt anybody can get that thing apart.' Shaking my head, I stood back and waited. Unable to resist a chance of one-upmanship on the old man, he jumped at the bait.

To make a long story short, with a heavy bar, log chain, much determination and muscle, he got the darn thing to budge an eighth of an inch. You know the rest. A little more Liquid Wrench, more heat inside the hopper and alternating movements on the piston finally did the trick.

I've put a few dollars more into the project. The rings weren't so hot after all, the connecting rod was ruined as mentioned earlier. Tom Aukland of Grafton, Nebraska had a flywheel set, and Ed Deis supplied the replacement rod. With a new fuel tank in place, she started almost immediately, and although not a 'rare' class engine, I've derived more satisfaction from this restoration than any other. You can see from the photo how it turned out. Of course, the hand crank did fly off once and hit my shin, sort of like the time I tumbled over a little I HP power engine in a fence line I was cleaning out for a friend. I got up, looked closer, and it sure looked like a little Giant; but that's a whole 'nother story...