Answers To Spectators’ Questions

By Staff

20201 Arthur Road, Big Rapids, Ml 49307

Q. When did gasoline engines first come into
use, and what period of time utilized the old ‘one

A. Although experimented with for a century
before this, they were introduced as a potential source of energy
and power around 1880. At the turn of the century, they became very
popular. During the period of time between 1900 and the late
1930’s, there were approximately 2,000 companies advertising
engines for sale. Gasoline engines were competing with steam
engines for tractive power until about 1920, then gasoline engines
took over. In the late 1920’s, high speed multiple cylinder
light weight engines made the old cast iron engines less

Q. What size engines in terms of horsepower
were available in these old engines.?

A. All of the companies, including about 2,000
trade names, advertised engines of various sizes. The most popular
were 1 1/2 to 10 h.p. at a rated speed of approximately 450 rpm.
However, many models producing 40 horsepower and more were built.
During the 1920’s, some manufacturers built multiple cylinder
engines of over 1,400 horsepower.

Q. Why were gasoline engines so popular when
electric motors were available during this time?

A. Electric motors were available, but
electricity to run the motors definitely was not available in many
areas. Not until the late 1930’s was electricity available in
most aeas.

Q. What were these engines used for that made
them so popular?

A. Wherever a wheel turned or hand power was
needed, someone would adapt an engine to do the work. Such as: pump
water, saw wood, grind feed, run the washing machine, chop corn
fodder, churn butter, power source for a line shaft to operate a
lathe or drill press; last, but not least, to power a vehicle later
called an automobile and to power a tractor to compete with steam

Q. How many manufacturers of these old engines
are still in business?

A. When you consider the almost 2,000
manufacturers of these engines and compare it with the number of
American tractor companies and American automobile manufacturers in
existence today, you have a fair idea of how many companies
survived. John Deere, International, Fairbanks Morse, and Briggs
& Stratton are a few of the most popular.

Q. What is meant by the term ‘Hit and
Miss’ in reference to antique engines?

A. ‘Hit and Miss’ is a term referring
to the type of fuel and ignition control used in conjunction with
the governor to both limit and maintain the speed of the engine. In
this type of control, there is a latch engaged on a lever to hold
the exhaust valve open. When engine speed slows down, the governor
action releases the latch on the lever. The exhaust valve closes
and the engine operates in a conventional manner.

Q. What is a throttle-governed engine?

A. During the development of gasoline engines,
some manufacturers decided that a carburetor with fuel reservoir
could be used more effectively than a mere mixing valve. The mixing
valve was the former device used to control air and fuel mixture.
The carburetor would provide a more dependable fuel supply and
would use a throttle butterfly control. With this device, the
engine would fire every compression stroke. The speed of the engine
would not fluctuate as much as the Hit and Miss device. The speed
could be more accurately controlled through the throttle butterfly
and the governor. However, some manufacturers still relied on
suction of the piston to open the intake valve.

Q. Why did they change the operation of the
suction action to open the intake valve and replace it with a
rocker arm and lever to open the intake valve?

A. The demand for speed increase changed the
requirements for fuel delivered to the combustion chamber. The old
method of piston suction opening the intake valve was too slow in
action. A positive valve opening time, duration, and closing time
had to be built into the system.

Q. What is the difference between low tension
and high tension ignition?

A. With the low compression engines of the
time, a little spark was all that was needed to ignite the fuel
mixture. This was provided by an igniter installed in the
combustion chamber. An igniter was a device that provided a path of
flow for an electric current inside the combustion chamber. At the
precise time a spark was needed, a movable arm and lever would open
a set of contact points that electricity was flowing through. The
abrupt break in the path of flow caused the spark to ignite the
fuel mixture. Some engineers of these times decided a spark plug
with high-density, high-voltage spark would be more efficient and
dependable than the low tension spark device. Higher compression
engines and increased speed made the igniter and low tension spark
less dependable. The development of high-tension spark ignition
carried over into modern engines. High tension spark ignition could
reach as high as 20,000 volts.

Q. What is the difference between battery
ignition and magneto ignition?

A. Ignition refers to the source of electricity
that furnished the spark to ignite the fuel mixture. Low tension or
high tension ignition could be either a battery or a magneto. A
battery (usually 6 volt) provided the initial electricity to flow
through a coil of single winding to activate a spark in the low
tension igniter. A magneto could provide the same spark using a
permanent magnet to provide the initial electric flow. Low tension
ignition required no condenser or contact points. High tension
spark required a condenser, contact points, and a coil with two
windings, a primary winding and an induced current on a secondary
winding of the coil.

Q. What is the difference between a two-cycle
and a four-cycle engine?

A. In engineering terms, a cycle refers to the
number of strokes of the piston to complete a cycle of events
within the cylinder of an engine. In 1862 a French scientist, Beau
DeRochas, stated the principle that for an internal combustion
engine to operate efficiently, it would require four strokes of the
piston. The strokes included: An intake stroke; a compression
stroke with ignition at the end; a power stroke; an exhaust stroke
to eliminate gases. Dr. N. A. Otto and Eugene Langen produced an
engine using these principles in 1876. This became known as the
Otto cycle or four-stroke cycle. This same year George Brayton, a
New England man, introduced a two-cycle engine exhibited at the
Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, 1876. This engine combined the
first two strokes, intake and compression, in one and combined the
power and exhaust in one stroke. This engine used part openings in
the cylinder in place of the conventional valves. It was more
complicated than conventional two-stroke cycle engines but proved a
successful theory.

Q. What is a sideshaft engine?

A. A sideshaft engine, although similar in
construction and purpose to any other engine, had one major
difference. In place of a camshaft gear and lobe operating a long
push rod to activate the exhaust valve lever and ignition device, a
sideshaft used a worm gear on the camshaft. The worm gear was in
mesh with a helical cut gear keyed to a round shaft. The shaft ran
the length of the engine, and lobes on the rotating shaft operated
the exhaust valve and the ignition device.

Gas Engine Magazine
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Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines