Lister Genset, A British Beauty

| March/April 2001

  • Main Panel
    Main panel.
  • Lister-Bruston Battery Charging Genset

  • Lister-Bruston Battery Charging Genset
  • Lister-Bruston Battery Charging Genset

  • Lister-Bruston Battery Charging Genset
    Rotary drum type carb.
  • Lister-Bruston Battery Charging Genset

  • Main Panel
  • Lister-Bruston Battery Charging Genset
  • Lister-Bruston Battery Charging Genset
  • Lister-Bruston Battery Charging Genset
  • Lister-Bruston Battery Charging Genset
  • Lister-Bruston Battery Charging Genset

25 N. Front Street Mountaintop, Pennsylvania 18707 e-mail: Homepage: angelfire. com/pa3/generatorgus

I know a lot of collectors don't give a hoot about generators, but anybody who likes old machinery will love this old girl. She is a Lister-Bruston Battery Charging Genset, model TB, 10 HP, twin cylinder with a 5 ' x 5 ' bore and stroke and is petrol (gasoline) fueled. Born at Dursley, England in 1915, she moved to New York City, in 1916. From there she settled in eastern Connecticut, to work for a well-to-do doctor, where she put in many years of dedicated service until Rural Electrification came and forced her into early retirement sometime in the 30s. She remained in seclusion in a damp basement until the early nineties, when she was rescued by an engine collector, whose name I don't know. The story goes that he had to remove part of the basement wall in order to extricate her. She then made a trek to northeastern Pennsylvania, in care of another collector, my friend, Sean Hatton. Being a generator man for some years, I admired this aging beauty every time I visited Sean, but he wasn't at all interested in parting with her, until about a year ago when he decided to move out west and couldn't take her with him. Now I'm her caretaker. Thanks, Sean!

The years in that damp basement didn't much bother her internally, but did take a toll on her cosmetically. Also, she had a freeze crack in the outer water jacket of each cylinder. I decided she needed a facelift, and since she was partially disassembled when I got her, I decided a complete teardown was in order. I must say I'm not a big fan of restoration, but in this case it was necessary. At this point I'll stop doing the 'she, her' thing and get down to brass tacks.

Aside from a lot of cleaning, brushing and some sandblasting, the engine didn't need a lot of work. The rear cylinder had some damage caused by a mouse who entered through the sparkplug hole. A light honing and the replacement of two top rings (thanks, Dave Reed, Otto Engine Works). Also, the valves needed grinding and seating (thanks, Don Leonard, my pal, for letting me use his equipment). The only other internal problems were a broken fuel pump drive gear (thanks, Gus), and a clogged rod oiler line. That clog evidently caused the rod bearing to fail, as it had been repoured long ago by some ancient mechanic, although the clog itself was never cleared. All of the other bearings are bronze shells, which were in perfect condition. New composition gaskets with metal compression rings (thanks, Lubbock Gasket) were made for the intake and exhaust manifolds, also the valve installation plugs. Did I mention that this engine is headless?

This also caused me some concern. While reassembling, instead of putting the rod and piston on the crank first, I opted to put them in the heads first and drop the whole set up into the engine. It seemed like it would be easier to work the rings into the bore first, rather than try to hold the heavy head in while attempting it.

Gus Simms of 25 N. Front Street, Mountaintop, Pennsylvania 18707 tells the Lister-Bruston Battery Charging Genset.

This proved to be a mistake, as I pushed the piston too far into the bore, and the top ring expanded into the cast in the cavity just above the machined part of the bore. I had a heck of a time getting it out, and at one point I thought I would probably break the piston. I rigged a puller, put light tension on it, and gently rapped around the head with a lead mallet, thinking it might work the ring back into the groove. It worked, what a relief!

I said that the engine was partially disassembled when I got it, but I didn't say that a couple of parts had been broken. One side of the intake and exhaust manifolds were broken across the bolt hole, as was one of the valve installation plugs. These were brazed back together. Also, a few studs were broken and a few nuts and bolts needed replacing because of severe pitting. One of the problems I didn't foresee was the Whitworth bolt system. My wrenches didn't fit some of the bolts, but standard size nuts and bolts seemed to fit the threads on the engine, although a tad tight. Not having a Whitworth wrench set, I relegated the chore to my trusty locking adjustable wrench, plus a few metric and standard size wrenches that seemed close enough when the adjustable wouldn't fit in some tight spaces.

After the fact, through the Internet chat line, 'Smokstak,' found on 'Harry's Old Engine Page,' I found that Whitworth threads, although they have mostly the same size and threads per inch, are cut at a different angle than ours. I also found a supplier of standard sizes. I then found that my neighbor, a retired mechanic who specialized in British cars, had a whole set of Whitworth tools that he would have gladly lent me. Oh well!

Another problem was the magneto, the armature was burned out. It is a C.A.V. (Charles A. Vandervelt), British Magneto Company. This mag is smaller, but very similar to the Bosch EU4, and is chain driven. Since finding a replacement would be difficult, I had it rewound (thanks, Marks Magneto). The cylinders fire at 180 degrees, like a John Deere or Harley Davidson, giving the engine that unique sound usually attributed to these machines.

The timing had me a bit confused, not only because of the chain drive and the 180 degree firing, but the camshaft is driven through an idler gear between it and the crankshaft. All three gears are a different size. I marked them with a punch from the inside of the engine, and later found factory marks which are visible only with the main bearing cap removed. Once moved, the marks won't line up again for 17 turns on the crankshaft. After reassembly, the engine was reunited with its six-foot-long cast iron base.

On the generator. This perplexed me some, not because of its condition, but because of its weight. It is 26 inch in diameter, and approximately as long. The outer case is a full ' thick, solid cast iron, with heavy windings and armature. 1 broke three of four cast iron wheels on my two ton engine hoist when I tried to unload it. Weight-wise the engine and its base weren't any challenge for my -ton pickup. But, when I went to retrieve the generator, was quite surprised how far the truck went down as the backhoe lowered it in. It was almost on the spring blocks, and bottomed out a few times on the slow trip home. Not being sure how I would pull the armature out, and because it turned smoothly and easily by hand, I opted to clean it and see what would happen. I flushed the oil reservoirs with kerosene and cleaned the brushes and commutator, then tested it for shorts and continuity. Everything seemed in order, so I applied 36 volts across the terminals and she took off spinning (there's that she word again). By the way, the generator is bi-polar, shunt wound and puts out approximately 4,000 watts at 110 volts DC. Among the very few missing parts are the generator tag and terminal cover plate.

Other missing parts include an electric governor (the engine also has a mechanically operated governor), part of the charging regulator assembly, and the covers for the regulator and the controller panel.

I put new wheels on my engine hoist, and gingerly nudged the generator into place behind the engine. Both engine and generator have heavy flywheels which mate by way of four heavy springs. The heavy flywheels and springs are more likely designed to help reduce the effect of 'flickering,' which causes the lights to surge with each power stroke of the engine, a problem which was common with low speed generators. This one runs at 550 rpm.

With three major parts reunited after who knows how long, my Lister was finally starting to look like something. Feeling confident that it would run, I proceeded to paint it, one coat primer and two coats 'Mid Brunswick Green,' the standard Lister color. Now all the brass could be installed. My standard for refinishing all clear coat metals is a quick trip through the sandblaster, followed by polishing with a fine wire wheel and followed with two coats of clear lacquer. This produces a low luster finish that I feel is realistic and quite at home on antique machinery. Included in these parts are a very unique rotary drum type carburetor, a piston type fuel pump and a pre-heater tube which connects between the carburetor and exhaust manifold. There is also a ton of brass and copper on the two control panels, which leads me to the next part of the restoration.

They say that no job is complete until the paperwork is finished, and that was true with this project. Now came the arduous task of restoring and figuring out the controls and how they were connected to each other, the engine, the generator, the battery and the lights. I've got to stop and say that it's almost miraculous that this outfit stayed so complete all these years, especially if you consider it was partially disassembled. When I picked it up, there were several boxes of loose parts, as well as a few cans full of hardware. The generator itself sat outside at a scrapyard for a number of years and somehow escaped being stripped of its copper.

I began the chore by taking fifty or so pictures with my digital camera and stored them in my computer. This allowed me a ready reference and prints or enlargements as necessary while reassembling. This proved a lifesaver, as the controller panel itself has nearly a thousand parts, if you count nuts, bolts, and washers. I made sketches of how each panel was wired and then proceeded to make rough wiring diagrams so I could figure out how all the related parts were connected, and how they all worked. This was a real hoot!!

I'll confess now, that although I've been collecting and repairing generators for ten years or so, I'm not an electrician. I'm a carpenter with a limited knowledge of electricity. I've survived by reading and studying every piece of old electrical literature I could get my hands on, and by picking the brains of people I know, who are more knowledgeable on the subject.

This old girl set me back a bit, as I found things I ain't never seen before. Both panels have a 'Rube Goldberg' approach to their operation. Each has a large solenoid which is mechanically linked to a number of devicesthe most unusual of which is a dampening mechanism, which consists of an aluminum disc that is connected to the solenoid through a series of clock-like brass gears, and rotates between the poles of an electromagnet. When the solenoid is energized, it starts spinning the disc, but the electromagnet, which is also energized, slows the disc and thereby controls the speed of the solenoid. I'm amused that the only device on the large main panel that is operated by the solenoid, and its speed control, is a simple hardware store variety toggle switch. A lot of brain fatigue and elbow grease later, I've got it all cleaned up, figured out and back together.

Here's a brief summary of how it works. You flip that simple switch, on the large main panel, with your index finger. This sets off a chain reaction of events on the controller (starting) panel. The large solenoid is energized, and slowly cuts out a resistance grid which was connected into the generator's field circuit when the plant was last shut down. While doing this, it also energizes the armature, which starts spinning. The action is completed as, at the end of its stroke, the solenoid pulls on two rods that are holding the exhaust valves open. The engine fires, comes to speed, and the generator begins its task. As the battery becomes charged, a regulating device on the main panel energizes that large solenoid, and it slowly flips the simple toggle switch back to off position. This de-energizes the controller panel, which in turn re-engages the compression releases. The engine coasts to a stop and waits for someone to flip that simple switch when the battery becomes low again.

If you're confused, think how I feel, but it was a lot of fun and I learned a lot. The controller panel works well, but the missing part on the main panel renders the automatic shutdown feature useless. I'll probably figure out and fabricate the missing part someday, but in the meantime, I'll just use my finger to flip the simple switch.

A question a lot of people would ask is, 'How does it run?' My answer, 'I don't know.' As I mentioned earlier, I'm not a big fan of total restoration. Although I'm very confident it will run, I hate to see it get all slobbered up, which is what happens to everything I've ever seen that was restored. Will I start it? You bet, but not for a while.

Note: As usual, the most important part of this project is missinginformation, especially wiring diagrams. If you've seen a plant like this, or something similar, or have access to information and wiring diagrams, please contact me. Thanks.


Gas Engine Magazine A_M 16Gas Engine Magazine is your best source for tractor and stationary gas engine information.  Subscribe and connect with more than 23,000 other gas engine collectors and build your knowledge, share your passion and search for parts, in the publication written by and for gas engine enthusiasts! Gas Engine Magazine brings you: restoration stories, company histories, and technical advice. Plus our Flywheel Forum column helps answer your engine inquiries!

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