| July/August 2000

  • Gas Engine

  • Magnet charger

  • Gas Engine

  • Engine

  • Gas Engine
  • Magnet charger
  • Gas Engine
  • Engine

P O Box 358, Clifton, Colorado 81520

After reading GEM for the past few years, I realized it is my obligation to submit something as my share of the load to keep things going. I enjoy reading about others' experiences, so I need to add my own. I was raised on a ranch where the small gasoline engine was a common and necessary piece of the scene. I have always had an interest in the old, slow speed, one-lungers and felt I was probably the only one on the planet who appreciated their contribution to history. I salvaged what I could when my dad retired and sold the homestead, thinking I would restore my 'treasures' just to satisfy my own interest. A few years back, I got on the Internet, just poking around, and started looking for antique iron-tractors, equipment, etc. What I found amazed me! There were actually people out there who had the same interest in the old 'snort and wheezers' that I did. Fortunately, about this time, I was able to retire and devote the time and energy to rebuilding the rusty iron I had packed back and forth every time we moved.

My first project was an old and dear friend who was not actually a member of the family until fairly late. I bought an International Harvester LA out of the junk pile in the late '50s or early '60s, probably ten bucks, to use to water the yard instead of having to run power for an electric pump. This engine was belted to an old Fairbanks-Morse centrifugal pump from a dairy can washer and first pumped out of a shallow well and then out of an open ditch, until the ditch was put into buried pipe with enough head to gravity water the lawn and garden. Needless to say, my wife was not sad to see the old engine retired, as the two of them didn't speak the same language, but I enjoyed hearing the 'putt-putt' when it was running. Retirement came in the late 70s and the old LA waited until 1998-1999 to get a place in the sun again.

I thought restoring this engine would be fairly easy, as it was fully enclosed and had always been under cover, at least as long as I had it. No frozen pistons, broken parts. Most of what was not on the engine was in the box of 'small engine parts.' I had taken the mixing valve off and added a float style carburetor and air cleaner. The gas tank had been discarded and replaced with an elevated gas tank. I had also added a crankshaft power shaft to get around the 2:1 reduction in the output shaft. This gave me speed enough to drive a centrifugal pump.

First thing was to clean up and check everything over and find out what didn't work. Years of use with no cleanup had added their layers of dirt and grime. After a scraping and washing, installing the original mixing valve, making a temporary gas tank, an oil change, and we could give it a try. Somewhat reluctant, but it started-kind of. The spark was weak when cranking and didn't appear to improve after starting. Compression was so-so, but no major problems mechanically.

The magneto appeared to be the major problem. The impulse worked, but the mag didn't fire every time and had a weak spark. The coil checked okay, but no way to test the magnets. I decided we needed a magnet recharge. There used to be at least one good magneto shop here locally, but they shut down several years ago, sold off what they could and stored the rest-no help there. Calls to the local old iron people offered suggestions, which I tried, but no one wanted to work on a Wico H, no parts available. What it boiled down to was, fix it myself.

First thing I had to do was build a magnet charger. Lots of plans out there to build a charger, but there must be an easier way than winding coils. GEM had an article about using starter solenoids from large engine starters, which proved to be a good solution, with some modifications to make it more versatile. A magnet recharge improved the quality of the spark, but still not consistent. Nothing would show the condenser to be faulty, but all indications were in that direction. The installation of the condenser in the case doesn't leave a lot of options. A new condenser from an electronic shop didn't help. But lo and behold! I found a repair kit for a Farmall ignition system in, of all places, the local discount store, with a condenser of the right capacitance and size and shape to fit the magneto case. Suddenly (almost) we were in business. Put it all together, a new gas tank from Lee Pedersen, minor adjustments to the mixing valve and away we went!

Now we had to strip everything down, clean, scrape, wire brush, and don't forget the oven cleaner. Works great on grease and old paint. Fill in the miscellaneous holes from past mounting bolts. Make a valve cover from an electric motor end bell cover. Make a cover for the water hopper-never had either of these parts. Remove the head and grind the valves and seats. Of course we had to make a valve seat grinder first, because nothing we had would go that small. Oh well, probably will need it down the road anyway. Remember that a die grinder on your lathe tool post will do a great job on occasional valve grind jobs. Just make sure to cover the ways.

Opened the crankcase for a look. The crank bearing had (surprise!) excess clearance. The main bearings felt pretty good. A piece of Alcoa wrap behind the crank insert took care of the problem. Rings and piston were good enough for a long while yet. Put everything back together-head gasket leaked. Made a new head gasket out of Garlock 3200. Works well on low load applications and available as scrap from someone who cuts pipe flange gaskets.

Everything got a coat of rust converter and then metal primer. A nice finish coat of grey and red for the engine, and black on the base. Probably not what came from the factory, but this old girl deserved some fancy clothes. I have handled this engine too many times the hard way. Now is the time to put wheels under it. Cut off pieces of 8' pipe, ?' pipe for hubs and 1? strap for spokes made the wheels. Other scrap plus common 2x4's completed the base. Some varnish, paint, and the router finished it up. One mistake, I figured I could live with not having front wheels pass under the cart. WRONG! I have since had to notch the cart rails for the front wheels, which means I will have to go back and re-do the rails at some time. At least we were up and running in time for our first display last fall.

This winter, I have been rebuilding a yard pump jack to go along with this engine. I had to do more work on this project than on the engine itself. Rebuild gears, repour babbitt bearings, machine new shafts, restore the pump body and manufacture a pump. Actually, the more shop work there is, the better I like it. Great place to play and keeps me out of the bars.

A few other thoughts I like and will pass along:

Duco cement or clear nail polish makes a good light duty thread locker (machine screws).

Celotex sheathing (the black stuff) makes a good fatigue mat on concrete floors.

My favorite penetrating oil is ? n' ? #2 diesel and Marvel Mystry oil. I've seen it do amazing things and it is cheap. Don't forget a liberal dose of patience along with it. Also good as brass and aluminum cutting oil.

Roofing felt makes good low pressure/temperature gasket material. Makes large gaskets easy. Not too good on oil or petroleum products. Also good for patterns.

A great shop magnet is a 'cow magnet'-fed to cows to pick up tramp metal in their stomach. Cheap at a slaughter house. Buy new at a livestock supply.

Need a light duty expanding mandrel? Use your expansion reamers, take light cuts. Every shop should have a set, as cheap as they are now.

I have two more carcasses awaiting resurrection. One partly rebuilt and one undergoing the 'anoint and wait' process. These will be more of a true restoration from the dead and will be another story. If anyone wants to contact me about specifics or just chat, use the address above or phone 970-434-6401 or


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