Getting Started With the Engine Hobby

| November/December 2001

The following comes from a recent topic on SmokStak at Various individuals started, commented and concluded the following bulletin board thread.

I would like to get a hit-and-miss engine. I know little about them, but am pretty mechanically inclined. I would like your advice on how to get started. I do not have deep pockets, so I am looking for one on the low end, price wise, but would like it to be running. I feel like I could restore one, but would feel better if I knew it ran first. How should I go about getting started in this hobby? What models should I look for that would be less expensive, but be able to maintain? How much money should I expect to part with for a 'rough but running' hit-and-miss engine? Where can I find one?

Are you sure it HAS to be a hit-and-miss? Or, would you be happy with a throttle-governed flywheel engine? There are a lot of common throttle-governed engines out there at pretty good prices; head-type Wittes, Fairbanks-Morse Dishpans and Z Type Cs, and others. Prices are often around $350-$400 for a nice complete runner. Another affordable option is a single flywheel 'pig' engine (this refers to an earlier thread, sorry), rather an 1HC LA or LB, or perhaps a little F-M Z Type D. Depending on the local market, I've seen these at $200-$250 for a nice runner. Try to buy a complete engine if you can, as certain parts (magnetos, especially) can be worth nearly as much as a whole engine. Big auctions, national magazines, and online auctions are usually a bad idea if you're looking to pay a good price. Good places to look for 'bargain' engines are engine shows or swap meets, local classified ads, locally advertised estate sales (if you can get over feeling sort of like a vulture), and good old networking.

Like you, I'm pretty new to the hobby. A few years ago when I started, the biggest problem was getting information. Don't jump in too quick just to get any engine. Get a copy of the national show directory. The sponsors of Harry's site have them. I know Hit N Miss enterprises has them 'cause that is where I got mine this year. You will be amazed how many shows there are that you might not know about. Walk around and talk to people. I still am constantly surprised at how eager people in this hobby are to help you. Once you look at engines for a few months you will get a feel for what you like, and these folks are good for telling you about the engines that are hard to get parts for. I looked and made friends for a couple years before I got my first engine. Especially helpful were a couple guys who let me help restore engines during the winter. READ everything you can get your hands on. My last hobby lasted for 20 years, and the worst part was that you had to be constantly on guard 'cause someone was always trying to take you. It was assumed that there were hidden problems with everything you got. I'm not saying that everyone who plays with old iron is a saint, but the general attitude of folks in this hobby is to be helpful and have fun. I personally think it is the family involvement. Now, if I could only convince my wife to come to a show! Have a good time first, learn as much as you can, then buy some iron.

Where did you get your prices? Ain't none of mine for sale for that price. Expect to pay double what was said.

Double? For an over-restored, buffed and polished trailer queen, maybe. For a hit-and-miss rather than a throttler? Maybe there, too. From an engine dealer? Yeah, I'd expect to pay him for his time and trouble. On the other hand, there are still a LOT of older restorations and scruffy runners trading owners in the price ranges that I mentioned. It's just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.