The Half T Boat

Flywheel Engine

Courtesy of Gilbert Merry, Route 1, Box 56, Lowden, Washington 99342

Gilbert Merry

Content Tools

290 Appletree Drive, Media, Pennsylvania 19063

I was prompted to send this material in by a query on page 2 of your May-June issue, from Bernard A. Hines . regarding the Half Model T engine. You can see from the article that I had first hand contact with this motor and it may therefore be of interest to others. -H. Upshur

We have a lot of Model 'T' Ford experience and variety in antique car circles these days, but this may be one that at least some readers have not heard about. The author has had first hand experience with this antique, however, in construction, use and quantity.

Back before the last World War the Chesapeake Bay was, as it is today, a source of quantities of crabs for northern city markets such as Philadelphia. Now crabbing was carried out in every manner ranging from a small row boat tending a half dozen chicken wire traps in the creek (as did the author) to a fleet of gasoline boats tending several hundred traps. However, the most common was two men with a small gasoline boat and perhaps 25 to 50 traps.

Tending crab traps requires a boat which just chugs along at low speed, stops frequently and starts easily. The cost of a marine clutch and reverse gear was prohibitive to the small Chesapeake Bay crabber, so he had to figure on starting and stopping the motor itself. The motor had also to be a cheap one, with low maintenance and parts cost; as the crabber was then, even as now, a poor man.

The Model 'T' Ford answered the need once again, since they were plentiful, cheap, economical to operate and any local garage, farm store, or Western Auto had parts galore. But the crabber went Henry one better and used only half the 'T' engine, as that provided more than ample power and gave him spare valves, rods and pistons to boot. The front half was used because it had the needed timing gears and distributor and the propeller was coupled to a flange welded on where the fan pulley came off. A four cylinder Chevrolet flywheel, also plentiful, was bolted to a flange welded on the other end of the crankshaft, the latter being cut off to just retain the center main bearing.

Naturally, 'halving' the engine began by completely disassembling it. Block and cylinder head, intake and exhaust manifolds were then cut off at the proper place by use of many hacksaw blades and much elbow grease. This was time consuming, but as these parts were cast iron, it was possible. (I still have callouses to prove it.) Not so, however, with the crankshaft. These were burned off with a cutting torch and smoothed up on a grinder as they are too hard to deal with by hacksaw. The oil pans were also hacksawed off.

This upright, single flywheel engine is two cycle and is marked John Deere Plow Co., Portland, Oregon; Spokane, Washington, on the tag. I feel sure John Deere didn't make it and would like any information on who did and if anyone else has one like it.

Now the method of stopping off the various openings left by the cutting so that the half engine would be water tight, oil tight and gas tight, was again dependent on the economic means of the crabber. The better method of course was to make up plates of light gauge steel, and weld them on water jacket, oil pan, head and manifolds, but this was by no means necessary except for the exhaust manifold. Actually, though not previously mentioned, the half 'T' could be used as a one or two cylinder engine, and in many cases it was used as a one cylinder engine only for the smaller boats by removing the rod and piston assembly nearest the flywheel. This was particularly true if the boat installation required a fair shaft angle and tilt to the engine, as oil would not stay under the forward cylinder rod anyway. In the one cylinder Version it was quite feasible to fit blocks of hardwood, whittled by hand, and driven with a rag around them into the water passages and intake manifold. A small wooden board with a strip of felt around it was fitted in the end of the oil pan and held with screws.

The half 'T' engine started very easily by stroking over the flywheel, using 'hot shots' to the 'T' coils. It would frequently start when hot just by switching on and throwing the spark around and could be run on kerosene for long journeys. Cooling water circulation was invariably by 'kicker' pump, merely a pipe elbow under water facing the propeller slip steam and piped into the engine block. The boat bottom and bilges were always sloppy with oil and water, but no hard working crabber ever minded this.

Of course, the whole 'T' engine was occasionally found in a boat, but the large planetary transmission did not lend itself well to this use and the forward cylinders usually starved for oil. But the half 'T' was a real answer and will live a long time in my boyhood memories.