Childhood Tinkering with Thunderbird Engine Leads to Engine Education in Adulthood

Passing it Down

| April/May 2011

When I was a youngster, Dad would take me to a one-man salvage yard north of town where I found myself fascinated with machinery. My dad was always taking things apart and fixing them, which fueled my curiosity. I was always bugging my dad to get me a gas engine that I could take apart. Finally that day happened when my Uncle Roger came over with a junk Thunderbird engine. I was about 7 years old.

I still remember the excitement I felt that hot July day as I raced into the garage with my Radio Flyer wagon, put Dad’s toolbox in it and headed to the back yard under the big white oak tree. My younger brother, Victor, and I worked on that old Thunderbird engine all day, with Dad nearby to help us break the nuts and bolts loose and answer all my questions such as, “What is this?” “That’s the oil pump.” “Why do you need to pump oil?” and so on. I learned a lot that day about how an internal combustion engine works. My dad was so proud to see his sons working together taking that Thunderbird engine apart, and he took the picture at left for posterity. Shortly before his death two years ago, he had that little picture enlarged and gave it to me.

Last fall while looking at the picture, I came up with the concept of building an “open running engine” out of a 1929 Model A Ford parts engine to take to shows as an educational display so I can share my knowledge with youngsters. The bearings and pistons are lubricated with grease and oil and the 4th cylinder actually runs. Run times are short, though, as it isn’t water-cooled. You can view the running engine in a video at www.gasenginemagazine/model-a-engine

• Parts engine = $45

• Cart = $40

• Paint = $15


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