TOUGH ROCK ISLAND RESTORATION

By Staff
1 / 9
The 'before.'
2 / 9
Parts.
3 / 9
Piston.
4 / 9
More parts, mostly broken.
5 / 9
Painting.
6 / 9
Rebuilt.
7 / 9
Rebuilding.
8 / 9
First show.
9 / 9

Langhuisterweg 45, 9076 PL Sint Anna Parochie, The Netherlands
e-mail h.terpstra@wxs.nl

In the early spring of 1998 we were visiting a collector who
just had gotten a fair couple of engines home from Canada. When
wandering around the engine shed, our eyes fell on a small
attractive-looking engine. With closer inspection we learned that
it was a Rock Island, serial #4341, and that it was in a very bad
condition. A list of damaged parts : connecting rod had been broken
and welded; the cylinder head was broken; the piston had a hole
almost as big as the diameter (someone tried to tap it out).
Nevertheless, it was a very nice looking engine despite its poor
condition. We didn’t buy it at the time, though.

Later that evening at our house we took the Big Yellow Book, and
looked for Rock Island. We learned that Rock Island never made any
engines but just sold other engines under their brand name.

This particular model was made by the Jacob Haish Company of
DeKalb, Illinois. Rock Island sold these engines between 1912 and
1914. We decided it would be a nice engine to work on, although it
would be a big challenge to get it back in top condition again. I
called the guy and we talked about the engine a little. I told him
we were interested in the engine and asked him the price; well,
that was far more than we were willing to pay! We knew it would
cost quite a lot to have all new parts cast that were needed to
bring it back in running condition. I told him that his price was
too high. After a while haggling about the price, it was obvious we
wouldn’t come to an agreement. It took about six months until
we came to an agreement, and we got it home in early August 1998.
By that time he had taken it apart so it only was a pile of parts.
It was looking even worse now!

When we unloaded it at home, we both thought it wasn’t the
smartest buy we ever did.

A catalog of parts that needed to be cast for it includes: the
piston (the piston’s head was completely gone; after inspection
we noticed this piston wasn’t the original anyway, as it was
much too short); new connecting rod (the old one was made longer to
give the engine at least some compression with the wrong piston);
main bearing cap (the old one was cracked); the cylinder head
(there was a large piece broken off the head, presumably because
someone tightened the head too much); and finally, the governor
weight bracket.

We decided to make a wooden pattern for the piston, as we had no
idea what the length of the original piston would have been. We had
a lot of guessing. After we made the wooden pattern for the piston,
we had to figure out the length of the connecting rod. We cut off
the ‘head’ and after a lot of measuring, we welded a new
massive bar on top of the conrod. We just glued the broken piece
back on the cylinder head, as it was only needed to be in place for
the pattern and no stress would be on it. As both main bearing caps
were the same, we could use the good one as a pattern for a new
one.

We brought the pattern to the foundry and it took quite awhile
before they made them. In the meantime, we honed the cylinder and
it was in good condition, so I ordered three new piston rings for
it. The big end of the crankshaft was badly pitted and needed
grinding.

While we were still waiting for the new castings, we put the
engine aside for awhile and worked on our 6 HP International
Famous, but that’s a different story.

During the spring of 1999 we got all parts back, but as it was
almost show season we didn’t start working on it until October
1999. We started with the machining of the piston, as it seemed the
easiest to start with. The machining of the piston went quite well,
but it involves quite some time and measuring. When the piston was
machined to its correct size, it was time to make the wrist pin
hole. We drilled the holes smaller than its final diameter and set
it up in the lathe again in the independent four-jaw chuck with the
holes in line with the tailstock. Then we ‘line bored’ it
with an adjustable reamer; this way we were able to get both holes
in perfect line, and diameter.

Next came the machining of the new head. As we only had a ROUGH
casting, it was obvious that it would take a lot of work to make a
head of it! First we drilled the four mounting holes and cut thread
in them. By cutting thread in the holes we had a way to screw it on
a mounting plate and machine the surface of the head. The head also
had a ‘ring’ high that fits in the cylinder. This ring came
in handy, as it was something to hold in the four-jaw chuck. We
then drilled the valve guides and reamed them to fit the
‘new’ valves we intend to use. Now we had to machine the
exhaust port to size and cut the thread for the exhaust pipe. We
made some special tools to mount the head under a 90-degree angle
and machined the exhaust port and cut the thread on the lathe.
Finally, the head needed valve seats, but we are very fortunate
that our friend, Gerrit Venema, does head revisions as his work. He
offered to make the new seats and make the valves fit. Now the only
thing we needed to do on the head was to drill the carburetor. The
carburetor is cast onto the head. We drilled from the outside of
the carb onto the intake port in the head. Then we drilled the hole
for the needle valve and cut the thread. On the other side of the
mixer we cut thread for the gas line. Now the head was ready;
unfortunately, we didn’t take any pictures of the machining of
the head.

Next was the machining of the new connecting rod. The foundry
suggested using another, stronger, type of cast iron for the
conrod, as it gets a lo t of stress when running. This sounded like
a very good idea, but it was almost impossible to machine. We had
to heat the head of the conrod three times before we were able to
drill a hole for the wrist pin bearing. Cutting thread for the big
end bearing cap was almost impossible! Now that we had machined the
conrod, we poured a new big end bearing. We also poured new main
bearings.

In the meantime, we had made a new bronze bushing for the
camshaft. Now we could reassemble the engine again. We already had
all the main parts sandblasted and primed by this time. After lots
of adjusting and adapting, we had it all together and it was time
for its first test run. We used a small can as a temporary fuel
tank, and set up a coil and battery. The engine started
surprisingly easy and ran very nice and slow after a few
adjustments. We decided to take it to the last show of the season,
the next weekend, to see how it would run for a longer periods of
time. Well, the engine ran all day without stopping! Now we knew we
could finish the engine.

First, we made some skids for the engine; we had some nice oak
we used for the skids. The skids are quite simple but needed to be
cut to size and we wanted round ends. Our friend Henk Herrema
helped us with this, as he has the machines to do it. We varnished
the skids and let them cure for the time we needed to restore the
engine.

Then we took the engine completely apart again and cleaned it
thoroughly. We spent quite some time with the filling and sanding
job. Fortunately, it wasn’t a very big engine; we didn’t
work on the Rock Island alone, but also on our 4 HP Associated that
we ‘technically’ restored as well. (But that’s another
story.) Painting consisted of a layer of primer, three layers of
filler, and about four layers of DuPont Centari number 68532. That
color was close to the Dulux 24590 listed in Wendel’s
Notebook. Dulux is not available in Holland.

The first day we put on the primer and filler. The next day we
sanded it in the morning and painted it in its color in the
afternoon. We let the paint cure for a few days, and then added the
pinstriping. I tried to make the pinstriping look as original as
possible, and used the engine in Wendel’s BYB (big Yellow Book)
as an example. It only needed striping on the hopper and on the
flywheel spokes. After the paint had cured, we took the skids and
assembled the engine on the skids. Finally we had this ‘nasty
critter’ back together. On the crankguard we added the original
Rock Island decal. I think the result is quite nice.

We have taken the engine to several shows during the 2000 show
season, and got a lot of comments on the engine. Lots of people ask
why we painted the engine in that brown color. Seems not everybody
likes the color that Rock Island used for their engines. The engine
runs real good, but we had one problem. On a small show it blew out
the head gasket. As we didn’t have a copper gasket we used
asbestos. We made a new gasket and so far, we had no problems
again.

I would like to thank Gerrit Venema for his help with the making
of the new valves in the head, and Henk Herrema for his help with
skids.

I haven’t seen another Jacob Haish-built Rock Island so far,
but I know of two others in the U.S.A. If anyone has a similar
engine, please contact me. My e-mail address is
h.terpstra@wxs.nl

The technical specifications are: 1 HP @ 500 rpm, bore
stroke=3′ x 4′, replacement = 44 cu., serial number 4341,
made approximately 1912.

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