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Now That Its Mine, What Do I Do With It?

| June/July 2001

  • Picture#1

  • Picture#1

516 S. Moreland Blvd. Waukesha, Wisconsin 53188

Grandpas are special people. Mine was a dairy farmer in northeast Iowa. Not only did he teach me how to bale hay and catch rainbow trout, he also introduced me to old engines. He had everything from small Maytags up to 10 HP hit-and-misses, but he liked the big engines the most. He never took them to any engine shows, but he was proud of them and was always willing to start them up if visitors stopped by. As a kid, it was always fun watching him tinker and run them.

I grew up and got married in 1978 and darn if my father-in-law wasn't interested in old tractors and engines, too. He restored an early Massey-Harris tractor and was ready to tackle a new project. He wanted to buy a hit-and-miss engine, so I talked with my grandpa, and he said he was willing to sell an 8 HP headless 1922 Witte that was in the project stage. In the fall of 1980, my wife and I drove from Waukesha, Wisconsin, to Decorah, Iowa, to bring back the Witte for my father-in-law. He soon had it sandblasted, primed and mounted on a cart. That's as far as he got, and he seemed to lose interest in it. He never got it running, yet the engine was fairly complete. It sat in his garage until he passed away in 1991 after battling cancer. Before he died, he gave the engine to me.

The Witte continued to sit in the garage for the next three years while I worked on a project of my own, which was finishing a restoration of an airplane. By the fall of 1994, I decided it was time to see what could be done to get this engine running. I talked with my grandpa, who was now in his early eighties, and he gave some advice on what the basics were. I knew I needed to find out if it was timed right and I soon learned it wasn't. Naturally, I couldn't find both timing marks, so I set it by guess, while observing the piston position and exhaust valve movements. The engine had originally been equipped as a kerosene/gasoline model and the original two-section tank that mounted on the water hopper was missing along with the water tank. The best I could do was get a pop or two from it. It was then that I realized this was going to take more than just timing to get it running. I wanted it restored correctly, but to make it completely original would require fabricating too many parts. I chose to make it a straight gasoline model.

After pulling the piston, I decided to have the cylinder rebored and the piston sleeved, along with new rings installed. It turned out to be more difficult than I first thought, because this model is headless. No local machine shop was willing to tackle this job. I finally found a company willing to do it, so with the help of my brother-in-law, we took the one piece cylinder/water hopper off and loaded it in the back of my minivan and off I went, driving the forty miles to deliver it for the reboring. It was 'only' about five months later that I got a call saying it was done. I guess they didn't view this as a high priority job. Even though it took forever, they did a great job. Now I could ship the piston out east for the sleeving and rings. As I was waiting for this to be done, I got word my grandfather had died. I had really wanted him to be able to see that engine run, but it wasn't to be. He always wanted updates on how the restoration was going. I wished I had started this project sooner.

It was now August of 1999, and I was getting close to having the engine ready. I ordered a reproduction gas tank that looks like the pictures I found in an old, reprinted Witte (pronounced Witty) manual. It also showed me the correct tank placement and fuel line fittings. The Wico mag had been checked over several years earlier, and every time I tried turning the flywheel, I got a good, healthy spark. I also learned it was best to try starting this model with the back-kick method. It was now time to see if all this effort and money was going to pay off. With the help of my oldest son, Will, and Ron Nettesheim, whom I met at an engine show in Sussex, Wisconsin, we were ready to try starting this big, old engine.


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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