Restoration Rescue:

From a Pile of Parts, a 3 HP McCormick-Deering M Comes Back to Life

| January/February 2002

  • McCormick-Deering Model M

  • Case of Model M

  • McCormick-Deering Model M
    The Model M going back together.
  • McCormick-Deering Model M
    The Model M, assembled and running. Final painting and detailing is still to come.

  • McCormick-Deering Model M
  • Case of Model M
  • McCormick-Deering Model M
  • McCormick-Deering Model M

John Bailey's Model M was already disassembled when purchased, with small parts stored in labeled bags.

Back in April 2001 our club, The Louisiana Two Cylinder Club, had its spring show in Longville, La. As usual, tractor and engine shows are not just a time for us to display our treasures, but also a good time for friends to get together to share some fellowship. While visiting with one of my friends, Ken Vincent, a 3 HP McCormick-Deering he had on display came up in the course of our conversation. I had seen the engine briefly several months earlier, and I guess anytime you start talking about an old engine it seems inevitably the question comes up, 'is it for sale?' Well, I asked, and his answer was a definite 'probably.' After just a little negotiating, Ken said, 'why don't you just come over and get it.' He didn't need to say it twice. A few weeks later I picked up the engine.

Taking Stock

The engine was mostly disassembled, so it loaded up easily in the back of my pickup for the trip home. It wasn't until I got it to my shop that I really looked carefully at what I had. It was an over-strike ignitor model, s/n 39948, manufactured in 1921. The piston was stuck badly, and the igniter, governor, and fuel pump were busted up and would not be salvageable. The magneto could not be used either, as the magnets were missing. There were also a couple of small cracks in the crankcase on the governor side, but otherwise it was in pretty good shape. Since it was already disassembled, a lot of the preliminary work was done, and small parts had been stored in bags and labeled.

With the initial inspection complete, I knew there were several things I had to do before I committed to restoring the engine. I had to get the piston out to determine its and the cylinder's condition. I made up my mind at the outset that the restoration would be in two stages. The first stage would be to simply get the engine running, probably with a spark plug and buzz coil. If I was successful at that, then I would commit to a full restoration. I figured the first stage would be fairly economical.

The intake valve came out of the head fairly easily, but the exhaust valve was stuck solid. With several weeks of soaking in penetrating oil, and with a few well directed blows to the valve stem, the valve came out. What was left of the igniter was also stuck solidly in the head. I soaked the head in carburetor cleaner for a couple weeks, trying to free it up. The igniter was broken off almost flush with the head and there was nothing to grab on to. I was, however, able to get a small chisel against the ignitor inside the combustion chamber and, surprisingly, with a few light blows it started to move and came out.

The McCormick-Deering Model M engines have a sleeve for the cylinder. The piston was stuck towards the bottom of the cylinder such that the bottom of the piston was about a half-inch inside the cylinder. Although the upper part of the cylinder looked to be in good shape, it looked like water had been in the other end as the bottom half-inch or so of the cylinder was rusted badly. I sandblasted the bottom end to clear away the rust, and then I stood the crankcase up vertically and began a long process of soaking and pounding.

I used PB Blaster to soak the piston, and I had a piece of round bar about three inches in diameter and about a foot long to use as a ram. It probably weighed about 20 pounds. I also had a piece of flat plate cut in a circle four inches in diameter, just 1/8-inch shy of the bore. Every week or so I would try to get the piston to move by placing the circular plate on top of the piston and pounding it with the ram. Weeks went by without any movement. I took a feeler gauge and ran it around the circumference of the piston, cleaning out the cylinder down to the first ring. I did this for several months. Finally, one rainy Saturday, the piston moved about an eighth of an inch. Success was at hand. After about an hour of pounding, the piston finally came out. Initial inspection indicated that both the piston and sleeve were in pretty good shape.

The case on the Model M was cracked, requiring welding to repair. This picture shows the weld prior to final finishing.

That was just the beginning. The wrist pin was stuck solidly in the rod and piston. I submerged the whole assembly into carburetor cleaner for several weeks. Nothing. So I decided to try and pound it out. First, I had to get the keeper bolt out. Well, the head broke off of the bolt, and I was left with a short stub sticking up about an inch inside the piston with no possible way to get any kind of tool to grab on to it. I used my Dremel tool to square off the stub. I then drilled a hole in the center of it, and with several tries with several different size easy-out extractors I was able to get the stub out. Surprisingly, it took only minimal pounding to coax the wrist pin out of the piston. The rings were stuck solidly to the piston and I had to break all four of them to get them off.

Returning to the crankcase, I found that the water jacket around the cylinder was packed with mud hard as a rock. There would be no way to clean it out without removing the cylinder sleeve. Though a friend offered to press it out for me, it would have required moving the crankcase to his shop. I was determined to get the sleeve out myself, so I stood the crankcase up vertically once again, this time with the head side down. I had another round piece of steel plate that fit perfectly over the back side of the sleeve, and using the same ram that I used to get the piston out I began beating on the sleeve. It was in there solid. After numerous attempts over several weeks, I finally got the sleeve to move. Once it started moving, it took another half hour or so of pounding to finally get it completely out of the crankcase. Persistence paid off.

Everything seemed in good shape, and I felt like I could, in fact, make this engine run again. The next step was to get the cracks in the crankcase welded. I have a friend, Arthur Carter, who is an expert at working with metal. He had done a great job welding up some cast iron for me in the past, so it only seemed logical to get him to weld up the crankcase. He lives about 50 miles away from me, so the first Saturday that was convenient for both of us I was on my way to his shop. He did a great job welding up the two cracks for me, and I was now ready to finish cleaning up and to order the few parts I needed before starting reassembly - a set of rings and a few gaskets.

Seemed like with every milestone passed, there was another challenge. There is an o-ring type seal at the rear of the cylinder sleeve to prevent water from leaking into the crankcase. It fits into a groove that is machined into the block, and considering that the seal was over 80 years old, and that it had been compressed into its grove all those years, you can imagine, it was as hard as a rock. I used screwdrivers, pliers and a homemade pick to remove it from the cramped quarters of the crankcase - it took a lot of grunting and a lot of busted knuckles to get it out. Once out, I used my dremel too! to clean out the groove.

Putting it Together

It seems like accumulating parts for a restoration is as interesting as the restoration itself. As already mentioned, many of the M-D's original parts were not usable. I found a complete governor assembly off the Internet for $30, where I also found the rocker arm. In searching for parts, I made contact with an Internet friend I hadn't heard from in over a year. Common parts like rings and gaskets were readily available from advertisers in this magazine, but a replacement igniter eluded me. I wasn't too concerned about this, since I knew I could get the engine running on a spark plug and buzz coil. The igniter could wait.

I finally got the parts ordered that I needed to start reassembly; gaskets, rings, springs, gib keys, studs, etc. Everything else was ready, and after a couple weeks' wait for the parts to arrive I began the reassembly. It never seems to fail. I eagerly anticipated the weekend following receipt of the parts. As it turned out, that weekend was crammed with other obligations. But, I did manage to squeak out a few hours to work on the engine. Since I had prepared everything well in advance, I was able to make quite a bit of progress in a short period of time. I got the crankshaft installed, the flywheels and the piston. The most tedious part was getting the main bearing caps shimmed properly so the crankshaft would turn freely. I had already shimmed the rod cap properly while the crankshaft and rod were out of the engine. This made it much easier to install the rod and cap after the crankshaft was installed in the crankcase. If you're at all familiar with the M, you know the working quarters are very cramped at the rod journal end of the crankcase. Everything turned freely, and my anticipation for the next weekend was already beginning to build.

During the week I lapped the valves and installed them. I installed the head and mixer. All that was left was building up some type of timing mechanism to fire the buzz coil. I began working on that during the week.

Saturday finally came, and I was anxious. It was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky, temperature in the low 60's, and a slight breeze blowing from the north. I finished the timing mechanism and hooked up the buzz coil - it was time to try and start it. I wish I could report, as I have read in numerous stories, that with a few flips of the flywheel the engine started right up. Not so. Though it did pop a couple times early on, and that was encouraging, an hour later I was still flipping those flywheels. Recalling how temperamental my 1 HP M was when I restored it, I tried every conceivable setting of the timing and needle valve. By now I was getting it to pop twice, but still not strong enough to keep those flywheels turning. Finally resorting to starting fluid, I got it to where it would start and run for a few seconds. By noon my muscles were aching, but I got it to where it would run through a full mixer bowl of gasoline, and I was satisfied that with a little more tinkering and a more reliable ignition I would be able to get the engine to start easily and run reliably.

I'll end this article at this point. I have lots of work left to do, but it can wait. When it's done, I'll have another article describing stage two, the full restoration of the engine. If you're interested, take a look at for additional pictures and information.

Contact engine enthusiast John Bailey at: 1425 Kristle Lane, Lake Charles, LA 70611, (337) 855-6072, or email:, or goto:


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