Editor’s note: Awhile back, I came across photos we took in 2009 at the Portland Tri-State Gas Engine Show of Tommy Turner’s amazing 5 HP Miami engine. Built by Middletown Machine Co., Middletown, Ohio, around the turn of the century, it’s a beautiful engine, and I couldn’t believe we hadn’t shared it with GEM readers. I contacted Tommy to get the back story on the Miami. What follows is his amazing tale of its restoration, shared with me over a series of letters. – Richard Backus
When I bought the engine, about 4 inches of the cylinder had been chopped off to allow the piston to extend out the end of the cylinder. A wedge had been brazed to the end of the piston for splitting wood! I assume there was some sort of setup where a block of wood would be dropped in front of the cylinder and the piston (with wedge) would come up and hit the wood, splitting it. Wouldn’t you love to be holding a piece of wood in front of that thing with it belted to a tractor?
What was so sad about this engine was that, minus the butcher job, it was in pristine condition. The bearings were perfect, the crankshaft looked as if it had been polished it was so shiny, and the rod bearing looked like new. I doubt the engine ran much at all. The “butchers” had trashed much of the engine.
I was lucky in that a number of years ago, I spotted some Miami parts in a friend’s parts stash. I told him to never part with them unless he let me have first shot. I already knew of the “Butcher Block Miami” (hey, I thought that sounded like a good name for it, the Miami block had been butchered!) and thought if I ever got it, I’d have a good start on putting it together.
I acquired the Butcher Block Miami from Jerry Toews of Kansas for a very fair price. Jerry also had a complete Miami engine that was exactly the same size. “Take my engine with you and it will give you a guide how to fix it,” Jerry said. What a deal!
At first I thought I would try to have a pattern made for the few inches that had been cut off the end of the cylinder, have it welded to the original block and then have the cylinder bored and sleeved. The more I looked at it though, the wearier I got of this idea. I was left with the idea of a new cylinder. I really didn’t have much of a choice. I had most of the engine now, but without the cylinder, I really had nothing.
So, it was off to the patternmakers I went. I first tried a company in Louisville. They had been in the pattern business for years and were good, but after taking it to them I decided they weren’t the right ones for the job. I began talking to different folks to find a patternmaker and I was led to one who lived near the Minnesota-Iowa line. The company he worked for had recently closed, and he had started his own shop. So it was off to Minnesota, to chat with the patternmaker.
Entering his shop, I knew he was the right fit. I didn’t see a lot of fancy machinery, but did see quite a few hand tools. He told me his father had been a patternmaker his entire life and he more or less picked up the trade from his dad. He said most of the tools and equipment he used were hand operated, with some being handed down a couple of generations.
He looked at the drawings, measurements and especially the photos. He commented, “Of course, we’ll want this to be exactly like the original.” I’d found my patternmaker! He gave me an estimate of costs, which hit the wallet pretty hard, but perfection doesn’t come cheap. We made a deal, and he was to begin work on the cylinder. He called and emailed me off and on over the next month as work progressed. The photos he would email kept me excited. When he called and said “It’s done,” I couldn’t wait to jump in the van. The pattern was all that I expected it to be, exact in every detail. There were multiple parts to the pattern, with the core work being quite complex, requiring pieces to be set in, slid out, etc. He said an accomplished mold maker would have no trouble knowing how to use it. A less experienced one might not, and he would be glad to explain it to any that inquired.
Wow, I had this thing whipped! Or, so I thought. I had used a foundry in Louisville to make several of my castings. I took it to them and the senior foundryman said, “I don’t know how we’ll keep the core together, but we’ll try.” Try they did, five times in all, with no luck. The way the pattern had to be made the core was thin in some areas. It would break, shift or come apart with each pour. They tried inserting rods. They tried using various types of sand with different types of bonding agents, to no avail. They just couldn’t do it. I got a call from the plant manager. He had been there over 30 years and could only remember one other time they couldn’t make a pour. Mine was the second.
I was heartbroken. I had most of a Miami engine sitting in my shop, minus a good cylinder. I called a couple of foundries, and after explaining to them how the patterns were made and the trouble we had encountered they all gave me the same story. “Sorry, I don’t think we can help you.”
I called the patternmaker and told him of the problems. “The pattern is made exactly like the original and if they could do it 100 years ago, they can do it now,” He said. “You just haven’t found the right foundry. Keep searching and you’ll find it.”
After contacting five or six foundries and getting the same response, “Can’t do it … too big for us,” etc., it was feeling like a lost cause. At Coolspring, a friend showed me a casting he had made. The work was excellent. He said the foundry used a process where they made molds and then dipped them in a ceramic solution. It was then baked and an extremely tough and durable mold was made. Could this possibly work for the Miami? He gave me the name of the foundry and the person I needed to chat with.
When I got home, I called the number, asked for the gent, and explained what I needed. “Yeah, I’m sure we can do it,” he said. The next week I headed to West Virginia. The foundry was a large commercial union shop, and I thought to myself that they wouldn’t want to take on this small job, or if they did, I could probably add a zero to the end of what I had already invested.
The foundry foreman was a very pleasant guy, and seemed really interested in what I had. He called one of his shop employees over to review everything I brought. “Sure, we can do it,” he said. They explained that the cores would be made using the patterns and core boxes I had. Then the cores would be dipped in a ceramic solution, baked and then placed in the molds. I told him other foundries had tried to make the casting, but had problems with shifting of the cores. He point blank said, “There won’t be any shifting of our cores.”
I rolled back into Kentucky one happy old iron collector. The only question was how much this would cost. I never asked, and they never brought up the subject.
About three weeks later my phone rang and it was the shop foreman. The casting was done and I could pick it up whenever I desired. A few days later, I went to West Virginia to retrieve it. The casting was beautiful. It was perfect in all respects. Now the big question; what would it cost? The foreman told me that jobs like this were done by his employees on their slack time, and the money from them was put into the employee recreation fund for their annual picnic. “I wouldn’t have to charge you this much, but it took almost two days for one of my employees to chisel the cores out of it,” he said. Evidently, that ceramic-coated core sand didn’t want to come out. The price? A little over $600! I couldn’t get my hand in my pocket fast enough to pay.
Heading for success
I was headed toward home plate now, for the most part. The cylinder had been my biggest issue. It was a rough casting, but once I had it machined I could start an engine. I talked with Cornett Machine Company of Somerset, Kentucky, about boring the cylinder. Cornett is a large machine shop that’s been in operation since the ‘50s. They have experienced machinists and are known to take on difficult tasks. Yup, they could do it they told me, but I would need to have the flanges on the cylinder machined and the mounting holes bored first.
I decided I’d do this myself. I have a rather large Kearney Trecker vertical mill, and it surely would be big enough to handle the task. With the cylinder mounted on the table, I had about a 1/2-inch to spare on each side. It barely fit, but I could get the job done! I machined the flats on the flanges. Then I made a template from the base to locate the mounting bolts and transferred these dimensions to the cylinder flanges and bored mounting holes. I took it slow, as I knew I was maxing out the mill’s capacity, but everything went smoothly.
Cornett’s was the next stop. I knew they were a top-notch machine shop, but they had a reputation of being slow. I took the piston with me as I wanted the cylinder bored to match the piston diameter. When I arrived, I got lucky and found that the person I was chatting with had some connections to my home area. I asked how long it would take, and he said he would try to have it next week. Wow, I couldn’t believe this. To put a bit of added pressure on the situation, I told him, “I’m off next Friday; I’ll just come down and pick it up.”
When I arrived the following week I was met at the door. “I’m sorry,” he said “we haven’t gotten to the cylinder yet”. He then grinned big and said it was done and ready to pick up! They did fantastic work. The cylinder was perfect and he even had a new set of rings on the piston. It cost almost the same to have the cylinder bored as I paid to have it cast, but it was a bargain in my view.
I finally had this project whipped. All that was left was the assembly. I began to wonder: The cylinder had been made from the dimensions of the old cylinder, but there are numerous parts of the engine mounted to it, and the big question was, would it all fit? A Miami engine has some intricate mechanisms on it, and if a flange, a mounting surface, a bored and tapped mounting hole or a similar item were off only 1/16-inch, I could have problems. I brought the cylinder home and the first thing I did was put the piston on the rod. Then I mounted the cylinder on the base. So far, so good. Each bolt went directly in without binding or forcing. At least those dimensions were on target. The piston was then mounted in the cylinder and the connecting rod hooked to the crank journal and tightened. Everything fit well, no binding or misalignment.
Now it was time to mount the head, I had already bored and tapped the holes for the studs. I used the head as the template for the hole locations, so I knew the head would fit on the cylinder. Now the test was if the head and the mounting flanges, the machined flat areas on the cylinder and all the bracketing were in alignment. A sideshaft support bracket is mounted on a flange at the front of the cylinder. The sideshaft then runs through a bracket mounted at the back of the cylinder, and then a third bracket mounted at the crankshaft. Many engine builders of the time would have rather large openings at the brackets and the sideshaft would be babbitted in place, with the babbit taking up any variance in the alignment of the brackets.
Middletown Machine Co. didn’t do this. Flanges are machined, mating surfaces on the engine cylinder, head, and base are machined, and the sideshaft brackets have machined bores for the sideshaft, a 1-1/8-inch steel shaft running inside with only .003-inch clearance to spare. If any one item is off even a fraction of an inch, the sideshaft, which is nearly 5 feet long, won’t fit.
I mounted all the brackets, and then it was time to see what would happen. With only .003-inch clearance between the shaft and the mounting bores it had to fit in and, running through three brackets over a span of 4-plus feet, it had to be nearly perfect. I slide it through the first bracket. It was almost 3 feet to the next bracket; it hit dead center and slid right in. One bracket left! I slid it another foot and a half and it hit the last bracket dead center! No misalignment or binding on the shaft. Three brackets, separated by over 4 feet and only .003-inch to play with and it fit!
While tinkering on it, I noticed that the raw cast cylinder was beginning to rust. I was still in the experimenting stage and decided I would simply spray some paint on it to protect it until I could paint the entire engine. The original paint on the flywheels and base and was quite good. It appeared to be black. I went to the local Dollar Store and found a can of semigloss black paint for $1. I thought that would do for now. I cleaned the cylinder well, wiped it down with paint thinner and sprayed the semigloss black on it. Wow, it looked nice and matched the balance of the engine well, really well. In fact, when the cylinder was put back on the base, you couldn’t tell it had just been painted. It matched the original parts of the engine almost perfectly.
Ready to start
It was time to assemble all the smaller items and try to start this baby up. First on the sideshaft went the igniter trip. Next the exhaust cam, then the intake cam, then the governor, then the fuel injector cam, and then the fuel pump drive. There it was – a complete engine ready to start!
Miami’s are dual-fuel engines and I could run it on gasoline or propane. I decided to go with propane as it’s cleaner and would be easier to connect than gasoline. Plus I didn’t have time to connect a gas tank; I wanted to start this baby! The propane line was hooked up, the battery and coil was connected to the igniter and it was ready to spin over. On the third pull through she fired. Then she fired again, and again and again. It kept getting faster and faster. Then it began to walk across the concrete garage floor. I knew I had to shut it down so I grabbed a battery wire and yanked it off. Finally, she began to slow down. I knew I had more tinkering to do with the governor.
The assembly of the governor itself was a bit of a pain. Miami governors have the spring that provides tension for the governor weights inside the governor. To adjust or change the spring requires the governor to be completely disassembled. To disassemble the governor requires removal of the fuel pump drive, the fuel pump cam and the fuel injection system. After spending an entire day of putting the governor on, then taking it off, then putting it back on, then taking it back off, I finally found the proper spring size and tension to make the governor function well.
Now it was time to give it another shot. The second pull through compression she fired. She hit again, and then began to coast. Could it be I had finally arrived on the right combination for the governor? Yes. It ran beautifully for about 10 minutes and then began to get warm as I didn’t have it connected to a cooling tank and only had the water jacket full.
Since finishing it, I’ve showed the Miami at Portland, Denton, North Carolina, and Coolspring. It’s never given me any trouble and runs as good as any engine I own. I often take a few photos with me and show folks the process I had to go through to bring this engine back to life. The question is often asked, “Was it worth it?” Well, I’m not sure if I would go to this much work again to bring an engine to life. But I’m sure proud I did on this one!