The Gilson Dream

By Staff
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October 1992: the day it landed on the front porch.
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The cylinder with chunk out.
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The ignitor after gathering up all the pieces.
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The finished cast iron ignitor.
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707 Crestwood Drive Marshall, Missouri 65340

This all started after a morning’s worth of working on
various projects in the late July heat. Dad and I decided to cool
off and have some lunch. I was reviewing the August ’92 issue
of GEM, after eating, when I saw it right there in the classified
ads; highlighted in yellow were those words I thought I would never
see! ‘FOR SALE Gilson 4 HP vertical.’ When I asked Dad
about it he said, ‘I must have forgotten to tell you about that
yesterday.’ After discussing it for a while, we decided that it
was just a dream!

After dreaming a bit, we decided to call anyway, dialing the
number with no hope of it still being there. Joe was the
gentleman’s name on the other end of the line. After a minute
or two of talking he stated, ‘You’re the third one to call
about the engine.’ My heart sank. He then said, ‘If the
first two don’t take it, would you be interested then?’ Of
course my rusted blood, or my lack of good sense, told me to tell
him yes. He told me if they both turned down the engine that he
would give me a call. As I hung up the phone, I explained the deal
to my dad. He agreed that it was just a dream.

About three or four weeks went by, and I happened to be at
Dad’s visiting him after some surgery. That’s when Dad told
me Joe called to tell us that the first two guys backed out. My
first thought was GREAT! Then I wondered why anyone would turn down
a prize like this? My answer soon came, when I called Joe. He said,
‘It’s in pretty bad shape.’ With no hesitation I said,
‘I’ll take it!’ After making the plans with Joe to get
the engine, I hung up the phone and turned to Dad, who was looking
at me like I was crazy. He soon agreed that we should go for it.
Joe said he would send us some pictures before we had to make up
our minds. (Too late-we were already hooked!)

A week and a half went by before the letter finally arrived with
the photos enclosed ( a week and a half is an eternity!) Joe
wasn’t lying. The engine was in sad shape. He had drawn an
arrow to a crack in the outside of the cylinder and wrote that
there was a crack inside, also. At least the piston wasn’t
stuck; it was lying on the ground in front of the engine. In the
photo I could see all the working parts except for the carburetor
and muffler. The engine lacked trucks, skids, battery box or
cooling tank of any kind. The pictures weren’t top quality, but
they were good enough to convince a Gilson nut like me! Again I
called Joe, ‘I’ll take it!’ Now the dilemma was how to
get the thing from Maine to Missouri, a little bit more than a
Sunday drive.

Joe said that he bought the engine at a farm sale in Ontario,
Canada, and brought it across the border into Maine. He told me he
would meet me somewhere to pick up the engine, although it was not
a good time for either of us to travel. A few days later we talked
again to settle payment. Joe said his neighbor, a truck driver,
hauls to Columbia and Kansas City, Missouri. occasionally, and that
he might be willing to haul it for us (for a reasonable fee). In
the meantime, Joe sent the smaller parts by common carrier.

A week went by. I got home from work one evening to find two
boxes from Joe. Krista, who was one year old at the time, and I
tore into those boxes like it was Christmas morning! I was amazed
by what I found. The boxes contained the rocker arm, intake valve
cage, piston and rod, some broken pieces of the igniter, nuts,
bolts and even the exhaust valve (well, the head of it anyway).

More weeks passed. The phone rang one day and the man on the
other end said he had ‘something’ on his trailer with my
name on it from a guy in Maine! He told me he would be in Columbia,
Missouri, in about three days and he would give me a call to pick
it up there. Great! That is only 60 miles from Marshall, and it
sure beats driving to Maine.

The days and weeks were beginning to really add up and the wait
was killing me. Finally one day, when I was home for lunch, the
truck driver called and said, ‘I’m in Columbia unloading.
Is there some place we could meet and exchange this thing?’
When I started to explain to him that I did not know Columbia
enough to tell him a place to meet, he said, ‘I mean in
Marshall where you are.’ He then explained he was on his way to
Kansas City and he didn’t mind the ten miles extra to drop it
off in Marshall. He said he would be here around 5:00 p.m. Now that
is service!

At 5:00 p.m. I was in the parking lot at the IGA store a half
mile from my house. After a short wait the truck pulled into the
lot. The driver said, ‘I’ve got somthun’ in a crate for
you.’ When the door opened it was right in the back and all we
had to do was slide it down the ramp onto my truck. Once the engine
was loaded, he asked that question we have all heard a million
times, ‘What is that thing?’ When I told him it was an
antique engine he just scratched his head and nodded with a strange

When we got it to Dad’s, the only place we had to put the
engine was on the front porch. We slid it onto the porch and
started taking some pictures as we were getting our first real good
look at this prize. The first thing we looked for was the tag.
There it was, still in place. It read ‘Gilson Engine Company,
4? HP Serial No. 5002,’ then on the bottom it is stamped
‘GUELPH, ON.’ We also found the remains of the exhaust
valve stem still rusted in the guide, and the igniter was a sight
to see. It looked like many hours were spent tinkering, welding,
jury rigging and swearing, which all came to an end with a short
temper and a large hammer! To say the least, it was a nightmare of
what used to be the igniter. With a flashlight in hand, we looked
at the cracked jacket. It wasn’t that bad, just about six
inches long. With a little welding we should be able to fix it. I
then looked down into the top water pipe hole into the water
jacket, and to my surprise I saw the crankshaft. Yes, I looked to
where the water comes out and saw the bottom of the engine.

To put it mildly, the cylinder had suffered too many years of
Canadian hard water. It had a 4-inch by 9-inch chunk broken out of
the cylinder wall. Luckily, the piece was still in the water
jacket. The crankshaft didn’t look much better. The rust pits
were as deep as I have ever seen in a steel shaft. After that
discovery, we knew this was more than just a dream-it had all of
the signs of a nightmare!

After nearly a year of soaking and tapping, with a little luck,
we finally got the exhaust valve out without breaking anything. But
the igniter was still stuck tight. We had to cut a large hole in
the water jacket so I could weld the broken piece back into the
cylinder wall. The chunk that broke out was busted from the bottom
of the water jacket to the top of the combustion chamber. While it
was cut apart, we used heat and a big patch to drive the broken
igniter out of its longtime home.

With the top end completely disassembled and repairs under way,
it was time to tackle the lower end. The crankshaft was so badly
rusted that we decided that there was no way we were going to reuse
it. Especially not on an engine with flywheels that weighed 150
pounds each! Apparently the base, which has no drain hole, had
filled with water, and of course the connecting rod had to be down
in it. The flywheel keys were another disaster. They were both
driven in flush with the hub and had no gibb to pull them out. Then
they rusted.

The pulley wasn’t any better. At least it had set screws on
top of the keyway that were twisted off. It was a tough decision to
start sawing on the pulley, as it appeared to be the original. It
had a chunk broken out of it and a crack on the other side with one
spoke broken. The pulley was scrapped!

Then came the crankshaft! I had to saw it on both sides between
the mains and flywheels using a torch to remove the keys. The crank
was lost, but the irreplaceable parts-flywheels, timing gear and
main bearing-were saved.

After several months of patient tinkering, the engine was
finally in pieces. Many parts had to be newly constructed from
scratch and numerous repairs to existing parts. There is still hope
for this one.

The first thing to do-sandbast everything! After sandblasting
was finished, I attempted to spot weld that piece back into the
cylinder wall. As I found with my other Gilson engines, the cast
iron they were built with was not of good quality, and it was
difficult to weld if it would weld at all. After this, I decided to
braze the piece back, taking six to seven hours to adhere the
broken piece, the piece I had cut out earlier, and repair the crack
that Joe had pointed out to me. Dad thought we had better pressure
test the water jacket. Good thing! Inside the cylinder, above where
the sleeve would cover it, we discovered a leak. I had to cut a
three-inch square piece out of the water jacket to locate a
hairline crack in the combustion chamber. We are not sure if we
missed it earlier or if it cracked while cooling down after the
first weld.

Finally, with the welding all done, we were ready to have the
sleeve put in. As we found out real quick, machine shop prices and
this old hobby do not mix very well! When you don’t have the
equipment to do something yourself, you have to hire it done, and
if you have to argue over the price, you can’t afford it.

The crankshaft was all new to me. I have never welded on a shaft
before, and I sure haven’t ever built one. I talked to some
local expert welders and, using their advice, I welded a crankshaft
from new steel. It looks great! I did it with a Lincoln AC welder.
Just shows that anyone, with a little help, can fix almost anything
on these old engines. Dad was able to turn the shaft in his lathe
to do the straight parts, but back to the machine shop for the rod
throw and keyways. Boy, this is getting expensive, but this engine
is worth it!

Getting the igniter out of the cylinder was just the beginning
of this mess. The body was in more pieces than we found for it.
After spot welding the pieces back together, Dad had to fill in the
blanks with epoxy. Then the missing pieces were cast in aluminum.
Many a casting was made before Dad was satisfied that he had it
right. The same goes for the small parts. No one’s sure how
many hours were spent just building a working aluminum igniter, but
there were almost as many hours fitting all the cast iron parts to
make it work right. The finished igniter is a work of art that runs
perfectly. Thanks, Dad!

Now that the major repairs are all complete and the small parts
have been fixed in between the big projects, we are ready to fit
everything together. Setting up an engine dry to fit it, time it
and adjust all the pins and bearings has to be the most fun part of
restoring an engine (next to the first startup, of course). The
anticipation of getting the engine running is so close!

A great engine deserves a great coat of paint, right? I mean,
when it takes you a thousand hours over seven years to restore an
engine, I don’t think I should paint it with just any paint. I
wanted it to look like a million bucks! I just didn’t know
that’s what it cost, too. But now that the pain is over it was
worth it.

On to the trucks. I thought this was going to be easy-just widen
the frame rails and paint. Yeah, right! Just like the engine, the
set of trucks I chose to use were severely rusted and some parts
had to be replaced; no sense in doing things halfway now. So, bite
the bullet and do it right.

Everyone gets lucky once in a while. One stroke of pure luck is
having a sister who is an artist. Jona did a very professional job
on the lettering and it sets the whole thing off perfectly. Thank
you, Sis! Dad did the woodwork as he does for all our engines, and
once again he did a wonderful job. My dad never fails to amaze me
with his perfection.

Well, here it is! The finished engine speaks for itself. I’m
proud to have this one in my collection of Gilsons. I have some
others I’ll write about some time. This is the worst engine Dad
and I have had the pleasure of restoring. Definitely the most
rewarding. A big thanks to everyone who helped and gave valued
information. And if I am dreaming, please don’t wake me, not

I read in this magazine that this could be a ‘fever.’
When you take on a project like this, I think it’s more like a
‘serious disease.’ I hope I never find a cure! If you think
you might have a similar ailment, give me a call at 660-886-7480.
Dad’s number is 660-886-2350.

Ill Forever, Bill Anderson.

P. S. I know of only one other vertical Gilson. Any more out
there? Let me know!

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