Troubleshooting the Gas Engine With Stan Read

Stan Read tells readers about troubleshooting the gas engine and the tips he's picked up working on his collection of sixty engines.


Photo courtesy of William Bragg, Atwood, Illinois.


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Learn about troubleshooting the gas engine with engine expert Stan Read. 

To me, there is something fascinating about old things, especially mechanical things. Having been a general mechanic and machinist for many years, this interest usually turned toward old automobiles until one day a friend gave me an old 12 HP Fairbanks-Morse hoisting engine built about 1899. While looking for a magneto for it (which the engine didn't use, I found out later) another friend gave me a small Dempster engine and a search of a local wrecking yard turned up a 6 HP Fairbanks built in 1920. Suddenly I was "hooked" on a wonderful hobby of collecting and restoring old gas engines. I was amazed at how little I really knew about them.

Every question answered introduced a dozen more unanswered. Hence the purpose of this article. Over the years I have gathered considerable information as well as over sixty engines.

If anyone has questions or problems about their engines that I can answer, I would be glad to share any information I have in a regular column in this magazine. And if I can't answer your problems. I'll run the question in the column and maybe someone else can. I'll try to keep the answers as non-technical as possible so that everyone may benefit whether he is a casual collector or the completely overboard engine-nut such as myself.

Future articles will probably deal chiefly with the mechanics and operation of the gas engine, but to start the ball rolling perhaps a short outline of how it all started:

Man had long dreamed of freeing himself and his work animals from the backbreaking toil of his fields, mines, and the sea. As with most great inventions, relief in the form of the internal combustion engine did not arrive in any one single burst of inventive genius. Rather, it was the work of many eventually brought the engine into being.

As early as 1678 Christian Huyghens, a Dutch scientist, suggested using gunpowder in a closed vessel, the resulting pressure being used to do useful work. However, it never progressed beyond a laboratory toy. John Barber in England in 1791 used coal gas to propel a paddle wheel or turbine.

By 1794, another Englishman, Robert Street, developed a gas-burning hand-operated pumping engine.

Lebon, a Frenchman, about 1800 made use of the idea of compressing the fuel and air charge before ignition, a truly remarkable advance that unfortunately was ignored for many years.

1823 saw Samuel Brown of England working with possibly the first successful combustion engine used commercially. The burning gas merely lifted the pistons and their weight and the vacuum created by the cooling gasses supplied the power.

Many of the features of present day engines were first used by Lene Etiene Lenoir of Luxemburg about 1860 in building the first practical internal combustion engine. It utilized the crankshaft, flywheel, slide valves, connecting rod, and had electric ignition. While these items were not necessarily unique to this engine, it brought them all together on one engine. It was double acting, that is, fired in both directions of the piston stroke, but it did not compress the fuel and air charges, ran excessively hot, and ran quite inefficiently, but it was a beginning.

A most important step took place when Beau de Rochas of France outlined the requirements for a successful internal combustion engine about 1858.

Dr. Nikolaus August Otto (1832-1891) along with Eugen Langen made up the firm of Gas-Motoren Fabrik Deutz, and about 1866-67 began building the Otto free-piston engine, a heavy, noisy affair that ran more efficiently than the Lenoir engine and sold by the thousands. Possibly its crude design may have been the result of avoiding patent infringements. At any rate, working with Beau de Rochas' theories, Otto finally developed the "four-stroke cycle" or "Otto -cycle" engine and exhibited it at the 1872 Paris Exposition. Thus the gas engine, practically as we know it today was finally a reality.

Gottlieb Daimler, who directed Otto's engine plant near Cologne, about 1878 introduced a crude form of carburetor which allowed the use of liquid fuels. Many more made their contributions. It is remarkable how rapidly the gas engine then developed. Economical fuels and practical lubricants became great obstacles and a new industry was born to overcome these problems.

My address is: Stan Read, Gunnison, Colorado. I have been troubleshooting the gas engine for years. Let me hear what you'd like to know about your gas engines and I'll see what I can do. (Please send all questions to Stan Read — he can then send questions with answers to us to print. If you send them here, we'll just have to forward them. — Anna Mae.) 

This tractor is a 1917 Heider made by the Rock Island Plow Co., 12-20 hp. It has a friction drive, also water injector and a mounted three 14 foot bottom plow. It was bought out of a junk yard near Peoria, Illinois. I restored it in 1962.