United Restoration

Waterloo-made United: from ordinary to extraordinary


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I remember the first time I saw my 1-3/4 HP United; I thought it was majestic. A fellow Southeast Michigan Antique Tractor and Engine Club member, Olan Dagner, owned it previously, and I had known about it for a long time. The engine is associated-built and was made by the Waterloo Engine Co. I didn't know Waterloo made United engines. One day Olan decided to sell the engine to me, as it was getting too heavy for him to move around. I had never seen this engine run, so I gave it a quick look over. I checked the igniter with an ohm meter and it did appear to be working.

Over the summer, I repaired the mixer. At the time, the engine had a Hercules-type mixer, but Olan had given me the one that was on the engine when he got it. The mixer is a gravity type with a priming button, but there was no name on it. When installed, it worked well and the priming system made the engine easy to start. I have never seen a mixer like this one. All other Waterloo-built engines I've seen have a Lunkenheimer, and in a Waterloo parts book it stated that if the mixer was marked with an L, to use the Lunkenheimer parts list. But if not, then to request the part needed.

The next item I repaired was the cylinder head. It had been repaired at least three different times, with one repair on top of the other. The only way I could think to fix the damage was to remove all of the old repairs, working my way down to the original crack and starting over. Because of all the welding work done on the head over the years, the repair job was very difficult. With the welding and grinding work done, it was necessary to re-machine the gasket surface to make it flat and true again.

While the head was off, I installed new piston rings and a new connecting rod bearing, which was poured and fitted. The cylinder head also received new guides, valves and springs.

When it was time to reinstall the cylinder head, there was a serious problem. For some reason, the head would not bolt up flat to the cylinder. I first suspected it was the machining work I did. Something may have moved and I didn't catch it. With the cylinder head off, it looked OK. I thought it must have been the face of the cylinder. To check the cylinder face, I had to remove the four head bolt studs. All I needed was a large pipe wrench and a couple of good hits with a hammer. When I put them back in, they were given a good coat of anti-seize compound.

To be able to get the engine on the milling machine, it had to be completely taken back apart. The crankshaft and flywheels had to be removed, along with the piston and most small parts. After I put it back together, I wanted to run the engine and get it good and hot to see if all the repairs were OK and whether there were any leaks.

To work the engine, I belted it up to a large exhaust fan; it pulled the fan with power to spare. To help bring the water in the hopper up to a boil (which I do not recommend), I put on a thick pair of welding gloves and loaded down the flywheels to where it was hitting every time. That brought the water temperature up. I let the engine run under the load of the fan all afternoon.

After a good test run, all the repair work was holding up. I could now start thinking about painting and building a new cart for the United. While taking everything apart, I noticed the work-side flywheel had a wobble. I planned on sending the crankshaft out for repair while I painted. The crankshaft had enough bend and the flywheel hub was so thick that it would not slide off. I knew I had to do something, it could not be sent out with the flywheel still attached.

With the crankshaft and flywheel held up with an engine hoist and placed on an anvil, I used two pieces of oak and a steel V-block with a copper plate to shield and protect the crank. A couple of well-placed taps with a 12-pound sledgehammer was all I needed to straighten it enough to remove the flywheel. With the setup I had, I decided to go ahead and try to finish the job. I was not able to get it perfect, but goodl enough to be used and not have to send it out.

As for the start of paintwork, there was still some original paint on the engine. Under the red paint was what I thought to be some type of brown primer. Underneath everything was a coat of green. It would appear that when first built, it was painted green. Why the engine was repainted red and sold to United is anyone's guess. One thing that came to mind is that the people at Waterloo could have been in a hurry to fill an order with United, so the engine was sent back to the paint shop and repainted. The brown material I thought was primer turned out to be some type of filler. It would seem that United wanted their engines to be a little more pleasing to the eye.

When all the large parts were sandblasted clean, the castings were quite rough: not bad castings, just not very smooth. While doing the paintwork, I did not want to over-restore it. I did put body filler back on the flywheels and engine base, much the same way it was. In the photos of the engine, the paint looks glass smooth, but in real life, it is not.

This United did remind me of one thing: an engine does not have to be expensive or rare to be fun to repair and restore.

Contact engine enthusiast Paul Frasier at: 12234 Harris, Carleton, MI 48117; (734) 654-8163.