Lister Genset, A British Beauty

By Staff
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Main panel.
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Rotary drum type carb.
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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

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

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

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.

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