103 Academy Avenue Alexandria, Tennessee 37012
I remember some 25 years ago playing around this strange looking
mechanical thing in the corncrib of our barn. I was a kid then, and
those flywheels looked so big. Of course, at the time, I didn’t
know that they were flywheels. Not being able to budge them, my
interest was short lived, and I would move on to other things
around the barnyard. And thus it would go for the next several
I didn’t know then that my grandfather was periodically
cleaning, greasing, and oiling the mechanical thing in the
corncrib. I’m very thankful now that he did.
The last run of the Rockford was sometime in the early 1950s.
The old model T coil had quit providing a spark, and the engine was
given a rest over in the corner of the corncrib. Electricity had
come to rural areas of DeKalb County, Tennessee, by that time, and
the Rockford wasn’t really needed anymore. So no effort was
made to replace the coil.
My grandfather, Charlie Bailiff, purchased the 1912 hit-n-miss
1? HP Rockford engine from a neighbor’s brother in nearby
Smithville during the early 1930s. For the next 20 years the engine
powered a generator from an old Pontiac car to charge batteries, as
well as providing the power for a corn grinder.
During the 1980s the old bam was torn down, and with my interest
being on other things, such as getting a driver’s license and
girls, the old mechanical thing was totally forgotten. Unbeknownst
to me, my grandfather had moved it to the woodshed and was still
periodically cleaning, greasing, and oiling the moving parts.
In September of 1995, my grandfather had a stroke. I then began
to take more responsibility around the farm. I’m sure that I
had seen the engine over by the woodpile before last fall, but last
October those flywheels ‘jumped’ out at me. I told my wife
that I thought it would never run again, but what an interesting
item to have around. So, I flipped the engine over onto the
flywheels and rolled her up an old ladder and onto the truck. I now
know that loading the engine in that manner was not the best
method, but it worked.
Neither my wife nor I knew at that time that her uncle, John
Jones of McMinnville, is a collector of old iron. My father-in-law
and I took the Rockford to McMinnville to let John have a look.
What wonderful news it was to hear that this old engine could have
life again! But first it had to have some work.
What gaskets remained would have to be replaced. The needle
valve for the fuel was rusted so badly that it could not be turned,
and a piece of old pipe served as a muffler. Both would have to be
replaced. The oiler leaked and was missing some small pieces. The
check valve was missing the ball and only one of the three grease
cups could be found. The crank guard was missing, and all but a
couple of the springs were so brittle that they broke under the
slightest pressure. All would have to be replaced. But, thanks to
my grandfather for all of those years of maintenance, the piston
was free and the flywheels easily turned.
John gave me gasket material to use, and I made new gaskets.
After three nights of soaking the needle valves in WD-40 and
applying heat, I was able to remove the needle. John made a nice
new brass one. I ordered a new ball muffler from Mr. Elrey
Grambart, a GEM advertiser. A new brass check valve was
purchased from Chuck Balyeat. I purchased a new oiler from Essex
Brass, and picked up a couple of grease cups at a local swap meet
to match the one original that I had. I fashioned a new crank guard
with heavy wire and sheet metal. Everything was beginning to come
With words of wisdom from the Stationary Engine List (SEL),
especially Ken Christison, I began my education of basic mechanics
and old iron. I must have e-mailed Ken a few dozen times in just a
few short weeks. I thank him for his patience and help.
With all of the new parts attached, I was ready to start the
engine. John lent me a model T coil, and I had purchased wire from
Bill Lopoulos. Tom Gibson and Ted Brookover of the SEL e-mailed me
with instructions on how to attach the wires to the model T
No matter what I did, the Rockford would not start.
The valves were leaking, and it was losing compression. The
intake valve was slightly bent. I didn’t know at the time how
to check for leaking valves. But with some guidance from John and
SEL member Jimmy Priestley, I became educated. Leaking valves mean
very little compression. Very little compression means hours of
cranking with no luck! A new valve job was scheduled for the next
week at a local machine shop.
Jimmy sold me a cart. And Mark Wigmore, Lawrence Sutherland, and
Ron Long shared information about their Rockford engines with me.
So, with a little paint, a new battery box, and a new fuel tank
from Hit-N-Miss Enterprises, the Rockford began to look a little
like the picture in Wendel’s big yellow (or red) book.
With the valve job complete, John and I started the Rockford on
Saturday, February 19, 2000. My 88-year-old grandfather was elated!
He reminded me that he had told me back in October that it would
run, when I doubted it. It was always a good running engine and
there was no reason why it would not run again. I was very glad
that he was right.