With a Little Help From my Friends

A Seager Olds restoration featuring talented allies


Far left: The engine as purchased.

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I started collecting engines in 1999, although I had admired them for some years. When I was young, my dad told me about flywheel engines and how he almost got one for free back in the early 1960s (only to miss out by just minutes when a relative of the fellow showed up and decided to take it).

By 2002, I had collected a small number of engines, mostly of the usual beginner type: Hercules, Stover, Novo (all of which I still have). Then, at the Portland, Ind., show that summer I saw an absolutely beautiful engine - a Seager Olds. I stopped and looked at it and asked a number of questions because I had never seen one before. From that moment, I decided I wanted to find one of these for my collection. That proved more difficult than I imagined, as Olds engines are fairly few and far between - and also quite pricey when found. Therefore, my problem was compounded. I needed to actually find one that was for sale, and it had to be in a state that I could afford (basket case).

After looking for some time, I put a wanted ad on Harry's Old Engines engine ads. I received a reply from a fellow named Rex Messner, whom I am now very happy to call my friend. He told me to contact him, as he thought he might have what I was looking for. I phoned him, and it turned out he had a 4 HP square-hopper Olds and a 6 HP oval-hopper Seager Olds in pieces. He lived some distance from me and we arranged that I would go to his house on New Year's Day 2003, as he has a New Year's gas-up every year. I traveled the 175 miles to his house and enjoyed the company, the food and Rex's engines - almost exclusively Olds.

Later in the afternoon, Rex showed me the two Olds engines he had for sale. The 4 HP was complete and would run; the 6 HP Seager was in pieces. They were both the same price. There was no doubt in my mind which one I wanted - the 6 HP Seager! The circa-1912 engine was mostly disassembled, as restoration had been started some years earlier. Three parts were known missing: the front water cover and nut, as well as the check valve (which is specific to Olds). We agreed on price and sealed the deal. We loaded up the engine and a plastic crate full of parts and I took it home.

I put the engine on a pallet in my pole barn and that's where it sat for about the next nine months, as other projects took priority. I finally decided that if I was going to get at the Olds I better park it in the middle of my shop where I would see it every day. I did exactly that in January of 2004. In the days that followed, I sorted through the box and bag-o-parts that I got trying to figure out where things went. When the engine was disassembled, all of the parts were taken off except for the governor. I had no idea where many of the parts went, so I figured I was in for a real jigsaw puzzle.

Assessing the engine

As I evaluated the condition of the engine, I found a number of areas in need of machine work and rebuilding. The major problem was that the crankshaft was bent quite badly on the pushrod side of the engine. The flywheel wobbled at least 3/4-inch. The guides in the valve cages were badly worn, and one of the valve cages had an ear broken off and welded back crooked. The cam rocker shaft in the bottom of the engine was rusted and pitted, and the cam roller was frozen solid. The bearing support for the outer end of that shaft was partially broken away. The piston pin was quite worn. There were a number of twisted-off bolts in various places that would need to be drilled out and the engine needed to be completely cleaned, as there was loads of rust everywhere.

Valve cages

My first endeavor was the valve cages, which had multiple problems: Both cages had worn guides, the exhaust being much worse than the intake. I started by mounting the cages on my mill table and drilling and reaming out both valve guides. On the intake cage, I drilled and reamed to 25/64-inch (the original size of both valves was 3/8-inch). On the exhaust cage, I decided to make a guide insert, as the guide was worn egg-shaped almost to 1/2-inch. I clamped the guide to the mill table and after indicating to insure it was square with the table, I milled off the top of the guide then drilled and reamed it out to 1/2-inch. While it was clamped to the table, I also surface-milled the top side, as this was the cage that had been broken and welded crooked.

On the lathe, I made a new guide insert out of tool steel in a close approximate shape of the original I had milled off, and pressed it into the cage. Both cages needed further work. The cages seal to the engine block via two separate copper crush O-rings, one on the top and one on the bottom. Both sealing surfaces on both cages were rust-pitted and needed to be cleaned up before they would seal properly. I mounted each cage in a 4-jaw chuck in the lathe, used an indicator to center them in the chuck and then used specially ground tool bits to clean up each sealing surface. I then proceeded to make valves. The stems were made of drill rod and the heads of cast iron. The stems were slightly press-fit into the heads and then brazed on the top to insure they would never come apart.

Crankshaft straightening

The engine sat through the summer and fall as other warm weather projects took my time. Finally, in December I got back to it and decided the crankshaft had to come out so I could get it straightened (didn't know where or how yet). That meant the flywheels had to come off and I wasn't looking forward to that, as they seemed to be very rusted. For about a week I soaked the flywheel hubs and the keys with PB Blaster to try to loosen things. There were no gibs on the keys, but the flywheel hubs were not split and there were no flywheel bolts, so I determined the keys were tapered and would need to be pulled. I carefully marked the center and drilled and tapped the keys to 3/8-inch. Once tapped, I screwed in threaded rod and, using a slide hammer, removed them without too much trouble. To my amazement, once the keys were out, both of the flywheels moved easily on the crank and came off with only a small nudge.

The insides of the hubs were oily, which kept them free on the crankshaft all those years - thank goodness someone kept the bearings well oiled in its life! I lifted each one off with my tractor loader and nylon strap. After talking with Ed Deis at Hit & Miss Enterprises, I took the crankshaft to him and he gave it to a fellow who had done crankshaft straightening for him. He worked on it for several hours and determined that he did not have large enough equipment. So, my friend Preston Foster took the crankshaft and delivered it to a second fellow near Cleveland, Ohio, who had larger equipment and was successful in getting it straightened. So, about three months after taking it out I got a nice straight crankshaft back!

Engine disassembly

During the time the crankshaft was out, I disassembled the remainder of the engine. First, the water hopper came off (it was loose when I got the engine and had two twisted-off bolts that needed to be drilled out). Next, I removed the cylinder from the engine bed. There are eight large studs in the rear of the cylinder with nuts accessible from inside the engine bed. They were nice and oily, so they came off easily. Once the cylinder was removed, I turned it over and out fell loads of rust along with a silver spoon and a large piece of glass from a bottle! I turned the cylinder over and removed the bolts from the clean-out cover. Out of eight bolts, six twisted off and would have to be drilled out.

Following the cylinder removal, I removed the cam rocker shaft, which sits in the bottom of the engine bed. It has a roller that follows the camshaft and also connects to the pushrod for the exhaust valve. The outer end of the follower has a bearing on it, with a babbitt-poured insert in the engine bed and a cap just like a main or rod bearing. There are two bolts that hold the bearing cap. The outer bolt hole in the engine bed was broken away so that only half the threads had a place to go - another fix needed here. Lastly, I split the engine bed from the base, which is also the gas tank. All four bolts, which hold the two together, were rusted solid and twisted off - more to drill out. The inside of the gas tank was terribly rust-scaled, but nothing rusted through, as the cast is very thick. The filler plug could not be removed either and would have to be drilled out. Luckily, the drain plug was brass and came out fairly easily.

Restoration continues

The rocker shaft roller rides on the camshaft and operates the exhaust pushrod. This shaft was still in the engine and clearly water had stood in the engine for a long time. The outer bearing end was rusted beyond use, as well as the roller. Once removed from the engine, I chucked the outer good end of the shaft in the lathe, using the tailstock center for the outer end, and turned the bearing end down until it cleaned up, then made a sleeve for it that took the diameter back to the original size. I made the sleeve about 0.0010-inch smaller than the turned diameter and heat-shrunk it onto the shaft. I removed the roller and pin, and sandblasted the shaft. I made a new roller and pin and assembled it by peening the ends of the roller pin as the original one was.

Once the engine bed had been sandblasted, I addressed the outer bearing. After considering several alternatives to rebuild the missing cast iron, my final solution was to drill the original hole down into the engine bed farther, thread it and make a longer bolt to hold that end of the bearing. Since the casting was broken all the way down, I ended up drilling completely through the engine bed, which meant I was into the top of the gas tank. Some Permatex sealer on the threads of the bolt would take care of any leak problems later. The bearing itself was in fairly good condition, and with the addition of some new shims upon reassembly, the bearing went together and worked great.

Engine cylinder, bed and gas tank work

All of the major engine pieces needed work. I started with the cylinder. It had many bolts twisted off that needed to be removed, as well as badly pitted surfaces that would need attention. The only way to accurately remove the twisted-off bolts and restore the threads was on the mill. Virtually all of the bolts holding the major pieces together are 1/2-12 pitch, not 1/2-13, as is standard today. After some looking I finally found a 1/2-12 tap and die at a supply house.

To start the process I used a 3/8-inch end mill and, after determining as close as possible the center of each hole, went down with the mill and made an initial hole. Then I would move the table 0.0010 or 0.0015-inch at a time, and going down with the mill each time I moved the table, I would keep moving the table until I could just see the threads coming through. Then I would go the opposite direction and find the edge of the threads. Since I have a digital read-out on my mill, I could then determine the center of the hole. Once that was known, I could go back to the center and then move toward the two edges in the opposite direction. There was very little old bolt material left in the hole. Using a hardened prick punch, I would start to break out the material from the old bolt until I had enough removed so the tap would start - this was maybe 1 to 1-1/2 threads.

The next step was to start the tap into the hole and carefully work it down until it cleaned the threads out fully. This was a slow process and patience was required! The tap would make some progress then would have to be backed out to clean the pieces, then down in again many times. I used this process on the cylinder as well as the base of the engine, as all four connecting bolts between it and the engine bed twisted off. Aside from broken bolts, the cylinder surfaces required milling, as they were badly pitted. The two valve cage mounting surfaces, the water hopper surface and the cleanout hole surface were all flycut on the mill to clean them up. The water hopper surface was so badly pitted that I removed about 0.0060-inch and left it there. Most of the pits were gone, but to fully remove them all would have required significantly more material to be removed. Therefore, I planned on using non-hardening Permatex to insure it didn't leak when it was assembled.

Once the cylinder work was complete, using my engine hoist, I placed the base/gas tank on the mill table and removed the four twisted off bolts, as well as the 1-1/4-inch NPT pipe plug that was the gas tank filler.

Piston pin, bolts, muffler and mixer

Two items that needed to be made for the engine were bolts to replace the twisted off ones, and a piston pin, as the original was quite worn. The piston pin was made by my good friend Ron Weber at his shop. He made the pin, had it hardened and then ground it to size. I then took the pin and piston to my local NAPA machine shop and had them fit the pin to the piston, as the piston had not originally been bored accurately. They did a great job and the pin fit snug in the piston. As for the bolts, Olds, like most of the engine manufacturers of the time, used "high crown" bolts - bolts with hex heads that are much higher than a normal bolt today and rounded on the top of the head.

Using my lathe, I turned hex stock down to the correct size then threaded it on the lathe as well, using the 1/2-12 die to do a final cleanup and sizing. Once the threads were done I used a cutoff tool to cut the bolt off at the correct length. Then, turning the bolt around in the chuck, I used a specially ground tool to make the crown. I made about 14 replacement bolts, all of which were 1/2-12. I then sandblasted the heads of the bolts so they would take primer better.

I had received a reproduction muffler with the engine and it needed to be machined. The Olds muffler consists of three pieces: the outer enclosure, the inner baffle and the end cap where the exhaust exits. The outer enclosure needed to have the end machined and a hole bored and tapped for the 2-inch exhaust pipe inlet. It also needed three holes drilled for the three rods that go through the muffler to hold the end to the outer enclosure as well as holding the baffle in the correct place inside.

Tapping the hole proved to be quite difficult, and in the end I counter-bored the inside of the inlet hole so the threads were only about 1/2-inch, plenty to hold the muffler. The end needed to have the outlet hole bored as well as the three holes for the threaded rods. This machining went well and the muffler was completed in a relatively short time.

The unique mixer the Olds has is in two pieces. The two halves mate with flat surfaces, both of which were quite rusted and pitted. One of the halves was easily chucked in the lathe and the surface was machined smooth again. The other piece was put on the mill table and flycut, as it could not be put in the lathe. New bolts were made to hold the two halves together - again, high crown bolts. A new choke rod was made from 1/4-inch rod and a new brass hex packing nut was made for the mixer needle valve as the original was missing.


As I have mentioned, this engine was very rusted and had absolutely no paint left on it anywhere. Engines I own that have even some original paint I leave as is, as I prefer them in their original state if they look reasonable. However, the Olds had been sitting with no paint for a long time, so I decided early on that I was going to paint it. I have two sandblasters, one a cabinet-type for small parts, the other a 40-pound pressure blaster for larger parts. However, even with the pressure blaster it takes a long time to blast and you go through 40 pounds of material very quickly.

I have a friend, Brent Granger, whose family owns a large trash company in the area. They have a sandblast building where they blast their large trash containers when they need repainting and I asked him if he could blast my engine parts. I met him there with all the large pieces: water hopper, cylinder, engine bed, base/gas tank and flywheels. We sat all the parts on pallets and he went at it. Wow, what a sandblaster - I'm convinced that it could sandblast a battleship in 20 minutes! At any rate, he made short work of the parts with me turning them as needed.

I needed to get them painted as soon as possible, as fresh, sandblasted cast iron rusts almost immediately. In fact a few snow flurries landed on the parts on the way home and there were tiny rust spots where they landed. (At this point I took gas tank sealer acquired from Lee Pedersen and coated the entire inside of the gas tank, using a brush, to keep it from rusting and to capture any loose material that may have escaped the blasting). The trouble was I had no place to paint, so some quick invention was necessary.

I ended up making a booth inside my shop where I usually park the truck. I got some large plastic sheets and furring strips from Lowes. I screwed one set of furring strips to the ceiling and then sandwiched the edge of the plastic sheeting between the furring strips and a second set of furring strips. I now had walls for my paint booth. Another large plastic sheet was placed on the floor and 4-by-4s were placed on the bottom edges of the walls to hold them down.

For ventilation, I cut some rectangular holes in the top of the walls for inlet air, and to suck the fumes out I used a small window fan with a plastic tube (made from a sheet of plastic, cut and taped into a tube shape) duct-taped to it and run out under the shop door, which I left up about 10 inches. I taped a furnace filter to the fan to keep most of the paint from getting into the fan. This arrangement proved to work great. Saw horses were brought in, plywood on top and the large pieces placed on the plywood. For the flywheels, I temporarily put them on the crankshaft and mounted the crankshaft in a cradle so I could turn them around for easier access.

I was planning on using DuPont Centuri paint, but I had heart failure when I was told that the recommended primer was $60 a quart. I ended up using Rustoleum "Rusty Metal Primer," which has worked just fine. I had also purchased an HVLP (high volume, low pressure) paint gun to minimize the amount of overspray. I primed the pieces, and two days later I mixed the DuPont paint and painted the parts the final color. I used the hardener/accelerator in the paint to make it more chip resistant, and to make it gas and oil resistant. After letting the parts age for about a week, I moved them out of the paint booth and hung a long pipe from the ceiling. I put all the small parts for the engine on wire hangers and primed and painted them. I then had everything ready for the final step: Assembly!

Final assembly

Now that all parts were machined, painted and ready, reassembly started. The cylinder was bolted to the engine bed and the bed to the gas tank. I made a gasket for the engine-bed-to-gas-tank joint and I used Permatex no. 2 just to make sure, as both surfaces were pretty pitted. The cam rocker shaft was installed along with the cam gear in the engine bed. The crankshaft was installed, then the flywheels. I left the main bearing caps off at this point as I would need to figure out the camshaft timing once the valves were installed. The valve cages were next and they were a challenge. Because I had machined the two sealing surfaces on each cage to clean up the pitting, the dimensions between the cage and the block were no longer the same. If I assembled it as is, one of the seals would seal and the other would not, therefore I needed to make the appropriate spacers for them.

Using double copper gaskets under the lower seal, I inserted the cage and measured the distance between the mounting flange and the block. I then did the same with copper gaskets under the top seal. The difference between the two dimensions was the difference between the cage and the block that would need to be compensated for. Using a piece of tool steel I had, I made spacer rings for each cage that compensated for the difference. Upon installation I used two copper O-rings on each surface, coating each surface with high temperature sealer to insure a 100-percent seal. Only upon first run would I know if I did it right!

Once the valve cages were in, I proceeded with the rest of the small parts of the engine. Once everything was together, I checked the valve timing and adjusted the mesh between the cam and pinion gear as necessary to get the valve timing right. The last part to be added was the mixer. When I bolted it up, I discovered the mounting surface on the cylinder was terribly uneven, apparently from the factory, as there were original machining marks on the surface. So I spent the next couple hours with a die grinder, file, straight edge and bluing getting the surface flat. Once done, I installed the mixer and made fuel lines. The engine was now ready to fire up!

Fire it up!

I have a good friend who is disabled (but that doesn't stop him from running his own engines!), Joe Appelget, who wanted to be there when I fired it up. On that day, I put fuel in the tank, connected a battery and buzz box and got the camera. I wasn't sure if I needed to prime the mixer or not so I took the small plug out of the top and poured some gas in to fill the bowl. After checking the timer connections one last time I pulled the choke, turned the needle valve one turn and grabbed the starting handle, which is built into the flywheel. I spun the flywheel around and on the second time around the exhaust puffed and the engine took off! I quickly pushed the choke down and the engine was off and running! It ran about 200 RPM and never missed a beat. We let it run about five minutes, but by that time the shop was filled with smoke so we shut it down. There is just no feeling like getting an engine running for the first time, but even more so when you have had an engine torn apart as I did this one. I was one happy camper that day! Once I knew it would run and needed seemingly no further mechanical attention, I installed the crankguard and the water hopper, finishing the assembly.

The cart

The last part of this project was to build a cart for the engine. I wanted to build a cart that was as close a replica to an original Olds cart as I could. Again I turned to my friend Rex Messner for help. I went to his New Year's Day fire up 2006 and took many pictures and got dimensions from an original cart that was under one of Rex's 6 HP Olds engines. Along the way I would call or e-mail Rex for some dimensions I missed. I obtained two 6-by-6-by-8-foot red oak, rough-cut timbers from a local sawmill. After determining the length the main beams of the cart needed to be, I cut the timbers and used the cut off pieces for the axles.

For the axles I made a cardboard pattern of each axle based on Rex's cart, marked each one and cut them out on my table saw. I discovered very quickly that cutting green wood on a table saw is difficult and wood warps! After cutting the basic shape, I used a heavy rasp to shape the ends of each axle as close as possible to the photos of Rex's. I then took each axle and put it on my mill table, as I needed to put a 1-1/8-by-3/4-inch groove in the bottom of each for the steel axle. Using a large mill cutter, I cut each groove. I again discovered something new: wood dulls mill cutters real fast! Once the axles were done I proceeded with assembling the steel axles to the wood using long threaded rods to hold the steel and wood axles to the main beams of the cart. At this point I put the cart on blocks and primed and painted it. I used oil-based paint from O'Leary that was color matched to the engine. The paint was chosen for its resistance to oil and gas.

While the paint was in process, I worked on the wheels. I had to bore two of the hubs to fit the axle, and for the other two wheels I made bushings, as the hubs were larger than the axle. Once the paint was done, I put the wheels on and the cart was basically assembled. I proceeded to make all the steel hardware to finish the cart: Axle braces, the turning mechanism and the tongue all fell into place.

Making all the various hardware took longer than I originally anticipated, as each piece needed to be made from scratch, angles determined, metal bent, holes drilled, etc. But eventually it all came together in a beautiful cart. I mounted the engine in May and the only thing needed was a battery box/seat.

For that I turned to my friend Richard Hanley. Richard is a skilled cabinet maker as well as an accomplished machinist and has worked in both fields during his lifetime. I gave Richard the basic dimensions of the box I needed and he told me that he had made similar items before so would make it in the appropriate style. Three days later he called and said it was done. I went and picked it up and it was beautiful! I mounted it a couple days later, installed a battery and buzz coil, wired it all and it went to its first show the next day - 2-1/2 years after I got the engine!

I would like to thank all my friends for their help and special skills along the way, without them this project would not have been possible.

Contact engine enthusiast Norm Stobert at: (517) 627-5596; nstobert@earthlink.net