The Reo Runs Again

Reo engine

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2507 S.W. Rockhouse Road Madison, Alabama 35758-4415

My story begins years ago, in 1986, when I was attending a local car show. I was exhibiting old engines at the show and as usual talking to spectators and answering questions. The car show had a good attendance with people from all over the area and even other states. During one conversation with a young fellow, probably in his twenties, he mentioned a Reo engine in his hometown. When the Reo name is mentioned, most people normally think of a lawn mower engine such as a Briggs & Stratton. Well, that is exactly what I was thinking until this fellow told me the engine was disassembled and scattered all over the empty corn crib, but he remembered it had a big flywheel just like the ones on my hit and miss engines. By now, my ears were wide open to what he was saying and then I was the one asking questions and getting directions to his home in Tennessee about a hundred miles away. Knowing that I needed to follow up on this, my wife and I decided to make the trip in the next few days. The young man had given us good directions as we made it without mishap, although his place was out in the hills and off the main road. Of course we had contacted him and arranged a time before leaving home. After greeting him and his family, we were taken to a small barn out back. The crib part was empty except for scattered iron and various old engine parts. The flywheel and main engine casting were the biggest parts I could see. After getting together on the price, he told us to load all the parts which we felt were part of the engine. We could not locate the carburetor, clutch parts, water pump, and a few other things that seemed to be missing. After loading, we headed home but had to make one stop. My wife had noticed a shoe store in the small town and we just had to stop for a few minutes. A few minutes turned into about an hour and two pairs of shoes for her. Well, I guess I needed to pacify her since I had spent money for the old pile of scrap iron. Well fellows, that's the way it is sometimes, every hobby has unexpected costs!

We made it home and unloaded the scrap iron. I tried to piece it together in my mind but without any pictures, sketches, diagrams or information of any kind, I turned to Gas Engine Magazine and as you know, it takes some time to get information.

In the meantime my wife was diagnosed with an incurable type of cancer. This really put a damper on my engine hobby. She loved a hobby we both enjoyed and could share together, Indian artifact hunting. When she felt like it, we walked the river banks and fields picking up arrowheads. After about a year and a half, sharing every moment together that we could, she passed away. For a good while after the greatest loss in my life, I put engines on the back burner. This is partly why the Reo sat so long without being restored. Also, other engines needing restoration were put ahead of the Reo until a good friend saw the Reo and encouraged me to fix it up. I still didn't have much information on the one cylinder Reo but had a sketch or drawing of the two cylinder opposed Reo engine.

I mounted the Reo on a frame to hold the engine and make it easier to work on. My friend and I closely checked to see what the direction of rotation was. We determined it to be counterclockwise. We had trouble finding out which opening was the intake and which was the exhaust since the carb was missing and no pipe was attached for a muffler. The engine seemed to be timed for the spark to occur at or just ahead of dead center. I used a car battery (6 volt) coil. The spark seemed to be weak. After cleaning all contact points in the firing system, sparks still seemed weak but we decided to put fuel in the intake and crank the engine to see what would happen. We only got one small explosion and decided to wait for another day as we were tired of cranking. A day or two later, another friend came by and we were looking at the Reo when he remarked that the rotation may be wrong. The timing and valve action seemed to be okay even with the rotation changed. We also noticed a bigger spark, so we decided to try it. After locating a crank to turn the flywheel in this direction, we sprayed fuel in the opposite side since we now determined this to be the intake. By now you are probably thinking these seasoned old iron lovers are nuts. Well, I can tell you this engine is complicated and different. Also, we had no operating instructions, just a sketch of the two cylinder.

With fuel sprayed in the intake, firing system in order, and not knowing what to expect, we gave it a crank. What do you know! It started and ran a few revolutions before running out of fuel. We cranked again and sprayed fuel in the intake to keep it running for a couple of minutes. My friend looked at me and smiled, and that's when I remarked, 'The Reo runs again.'

Now, I have adapted an 'A' model Ford carb (Zenith) and have it running very well. I mounted a temporary fuel tank and plan to install a cooling system soon.

In checking serial numbers, my Reo is a 1908 model. The single cylinder Reo was used in the small Reo Runabout car and would go about 30 m.p.h. The two cylinder opposed Reo engine was put in a four passenger Gentleman's Roadster and would go about 45 m.p.h.

From my request in Gas Engine Magazine, I received some sketchy information from several people, but one person, Mr. Walter Sanborn of Chichester, New Hampshire, was very helpful. The following are his exact words to me:

'R.E.O. built single and twin engine cars from about 1905 through 1910 and then went to four cylinder cars. Ransom E. Olds started building cars in 1900 with the famous car called the 'curved dash Olds' as it was a carriage with a curved dash. He built several thousand of them until 1904 when he sold his company. He, however, stayed in the automobile business but, of course, had to change the name of the Olds car so he adopted his initials of Ransom E. Olds and named his car the R.E.O.

'My car is a single cylinder 1907. I would guess your engine to be about 1909-1910 but I do not have serial numbers available. There is a Reo Club and I expect they might have a list available. I have an instruction book on a two cylinder Reo which isn't much different than a one cylinder except a two cylinder has one opposite the other so if you disregard the rear cylinder, the rest of the engine is the same. You may have some problem getting it to run not being mounted in a car chassis. There should be a small brass water pump on the end of the crankshaft, on the end opposite the flywheel. This water pump circulates water to a tubular radiator at the front of the car and back to the engine for cooling so you will need a radiator. The timer is on the end of the camshaft and is a brass timer similar to a one cylinder marine engine. I expect this is on your engine. It works with a buzzer coil. The problem with the spark timing is that on the car it is connected by linkage with rods to the steering column next to the steering wheel so you will have to adapt some type bracket for spark control. There is also a pedal on the floorboard that works a compression release on the engine in order to allow easier cranking for starting. It is almost impossible to crank over without the compression release when the valves and rings are good. The spark control on the steering column cannot be fully retarded until the foot compression release is set. The gas tank is up front under the hood and is gravity fed to the carburetor. I doubt if you can find an original carburetor, as I have never seen one except the one I have. They are a very crude carburetor, and I am told they never did work well. My car has been adapted to run on a Model 'A' Zenith and it works okay. The original has a screen with a black cloth over it and I don't use it.

'From your picture, I can't see what is beyond your flywheel, but the shaft extends to hold the planetary transmission and sprocket for the chain drive to the rear end. Beyond this is another babbitt bearing bolted to the frame to support this shaft.

'Many of the engines have been frozen and welded as they did not drain water very well from the cylinder head. I guess this wouldn't be a problem in the south.'

My Reo engine has been frozen and welded as Mr. Sanborn said.