An engine worth saving
David Ford's headless 1906 6 HP Massey-Harris.
Manufacturer: Massey-Harris Co. Ltd., Toronto, ON, Canada
Flywheel diameter: 33 inches
Flywheel width: 2-1/2 inches
Some engines require a lot more work than others, not just in restoration but also in rescue.
Take David Ford’s 1906 6 HP Massey-Harris engine, for instance. David’s grandfather found the engine in a Canadian side yard in the early 1970s, and soon discovered this particular restoration was going to be a costly project, both in time and in money. “It was in bad shape, all busted to hell,” says David. “And when he got it to the border, they had to figure out how to tax it. He told them it was just an old, rusty engine but they figured out it was capable of producing power so they taxed it based on power units. That was almost enough to make him take the engine back.”
With his wallet a lot lighter than he’d anticipated, David’s grandfather got the engine into the United States and found out just how much work he was in for. “It took him years to restore the engine,” says David. “He had to fabricate a new connecting rod, which was the biggest challenge, but he did a nice job on it.”
Gas engine detective
Over the years, David’s grandfather found out where the engine came from. “He talked to enough people about it and found it ran a series of conveyer belts on a dock in Nova Scotia, where it unloaded fish from the fishing boats,” says David. “You can just picture it running those conveyers, unloading those fish that must have looked like gold to those fishermen. For that reason, we started calling it the fish pump.”
More love for the Massey
Eight years ago, the engine found its way into David’s collection. His grandfather’s restoration work had held up well but the Massey was in need of a little freshening up. “Two years ago, I took it apart and restored it again, though it was mostly a cosmetic restoration,” says David. “I also made a new cart out of oak.”
The engine has a 6-inch bore with an 8-inch stroke, and flywheels 33 inches in diameter with a 2-1/2-inch face. The engine stands out in a crowd with its headless design. “The valves are in their own cages,” says David. “It was a pricey way to go about designing an engine, but it made it easy for the guy in the field to service it without having to remove a head.”
He admits that he wouldn’t have been as willing to take on the original restoration as his grandfather was. “I’ve only been in the hobby about 12 years,” says David, “but if I had found that engine the way it was, I would have passed on it.”
But David was happy to put a little work into it now to get the engine in prime “show” condition. “My grandfather passed away a few years ago and I’ve made it a lot nicer since then,” he says, “out of respect for him.”
Contact David Ford at