Bitten By a Bulldog Engine

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As a physician assistant in a small, mixed farming and manufacturing town in formerly rural North Carolina, my job in the emergency department is to treat minor illnesses and injuries. Seemingly, there was nothing unusual about the chart I picked up about a year ago which said, ‘Crush injury-index finger.’ Car doors, hammers, farm implements, and various industrial machines can and do inflict minor to major injuries on body parts, especially fingers. I walked into the exam room and met a young man in overalls who had obviously been working on the farm, judging from the dirt and grease present. Again, not too unusual, we don’t expect formal attire in the ED, it’s definitely a come-as-you-are type place.

I began my exam as usual by introducing myself and asking what happened. ‘I got my finger caught in my Bulldog,’ the young man said.

‘Did he bite you, or did you get your finger caught in his chain?’ I asked. He then explained that he had a hit and miss engine which was a Bulldog, and he had had the misfortune of getting his index finger caught in the gears.

Now even though I grew up on a farm, the era of the hit and miss engine was long gone by the time I came along. I was not completely ignorant, however, since I recalled the old-timers talking about hit and miss engines many years ago up at the general store when it was the evening meeting place of the community. And I do remember an abandoned cotton gin where a huge, single cylinder engine with flywheels at least five feet in diameter sat on a concrete foundation. My uncle tells me it was a crude oil engine and was hauled off for scrap some forty years ago. But these are stories for another time. Back to the Bulldog.

The finger was pretty well mangled and could only be cleaned, trimmed of crushed tissue and sutured. Fortunately, an x-ray revealed no broken bones. As I was suturing, the young man told me he would have the Bulldog on display at the Pumpkin Center Tractor Pull and Antique Engine Show the following day. I went to the show the next morning and he graciously showed me his engine. There was also a drag saw, grist mill, and several water pumps, all hooked to hit and miss engines! And, of course, the usual assortment of antique iron just chugging along, making that great sound and smelling of smoke and warm oil. The big engine of the show was a 20 horsepower hunk of iron mounted on a dedicated trailer. I don’t remember the make, but was very impressed with it and all the other engines and tractors.

You’ve probably guessed by now that my patient was not the only person bitten by the Bulldog that day. It’s been over a year now and only recently I have acquired an engine of my own, two to be specific. I figured if one was good, two might be even better. I was right. The first is an original 1? HP Economy E. Original means it had all seventy-nine years’ accumulation of grease and crud still intact. I cleaned it up and it has some patches of pink primer and even a little of the red overcoat hanging on. Despite tinkering and adjusting, it smokes and has some blowback with each power stroke. It has good compression though, and runs great. Like any antique, one can restore or one can leave almost a century of patina alone. This one stays as is.

The second engine is a 5 HP Economy E, which required an 800-mile trip to bring it to its new home in Cat Square. It is an older restoration, pretty well done and running well right now.

I had a great time corresponding with people throughout the country over the Internet, gathering information and ideas and suggestions about the problems encountered with these two engines. They were fairly minor compared to the stories of restorations I’ve read in GEM, but just enough to pose a challenge to a novice and with plenty of satisfaction when the problems were solved. Thanks to all of you who helped me. The gas engine set seems to be a congenial and helpful group.

The next step is only logical. Even though jobwise I’m pretty far removed from the machine shop or farm, I’ve always enjoyed anything greasy and mechanical. I think the challenge of a basket case engine restoration might keep me amused and occupied for a long time. After all, the pleasure of a job well done is directly proportional to the difficulties encountered. If it’s like most things in life, persistence and hard work is half the battle. So, if you have that old piece of rust that you’ve been thinking of getting rid of, drop me a line. Oh, and by the way, if your Bulldog bites you, I’ll fix it for you; I am pretty good at that!

Contact Larry E. Sain at 6800 Saintown Road Cat Square, North Carolina 28168, e-mail: sain@vnet.net

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