A 28-year-old engine fan restores a 98-year-old Baker Monitor VJ engine.
Manufacturer: Baker Mfg. Co., Evansville, WI
Serial Number: 20531
Horsepower: 7hp @ 400rpm
Bore & Stroke: 6in & 7in
Ignition: Spark plug w/battery & buzz coil
Governing: Hit-and-miss, flywheel weight
Owner: Andy Moravec
Twenty-eight-year-old Andy Moravec is chasing after pieces of his grandfather Lloyd Young’s collection, and already has a couple of crawlers and his elder’s 1919 Monitor 7 hp gas engine, which the Minneapolis, Minnesota, youth has restored. “My goal is to reassemble his collection,” Andy says.
Lloyd Young started collecting back in the 1960s and died in 1975, so Andy never got to meet him. But much of Lloyd’s collection was passed down to his aunts and uncles. “One of my favorites when I was growing up was his Rumely 20-40 G OilPull tractor, because that one started the Union Thresheree at Symco, Wisconsin, in 1967, along with Harold Werth’s threshing machine,” Andy says.
This 1919 7 hp Monitor was passed down to one of Andy’s uncles and remained as a kind of lawn ornament for 25 years. “I always saw it sitting in his yard, with nothing happening to it, so I talked to my uncle about it. When I showed interest, he asked if I wanted to restore it. I scooped it up and moved it from Wisconsin to a two-stall garage in north Minneapolis, where I started to restore it.”
“Restore” is the operative word, as the engine was seized and a rough one, needing valve work, water jacket repair (it was cracked in two places), replacement of the deteriorated wood seat, as well as removing rust and fixing welds on the cart, which had been modified several times.
Andy started work to get the engine running in October 2015. “Both the intake and exhaust valves had to be ground, and the seats, which I had done. It needed a new head gasket, which I made myself,” Andy says.
The piston was tight in the cylinder, but with patient work he was able to free up after removing the valves. Andy didn’t touch the cylinder head plate, which sits under the hopper at the top of the engine. “It’s the only piece of iron that was never unbolted. I left it that way because from what I have heard it is a nightmare to get undone because it’s in water its whole life. The piston wasn’t removed, either.”
The fuel system was next. “The other big thing was that cast iron gas tank. It had gas sitting in it for 30 years. It was completely rusted with an inch of dirt, rust and soot on the bottom. I put nuts and bolts and mineral spirits in it, and then put it on a lathe and turned it. That cleaned it out really well, then I coated the inside of the tank,” Andy says.
A difficult project was fixing the water jacket, which had two large cracks in it, one right behind the gas tank and one behind the serial number plate, both running straight up the engine, and not from freezing, but due to poor casting. “It wouldn’t hold any cooling water, so I ground the cracks out, welded them, and then ground them down to make them look natural,” Andy says. Looking at the engine today, you’d never know it had previously had cracks at all.
Every bolt on the engine was removed and either replaced or cleaned. “I’m a stickler for authenticity and detail,” Andy says. “Over the years the original nuts and bolts had been replaced with other stuff, so I replaced any of the oddball ones with square-headed bolts and nuts just as they were originally. Making sure everything was uniform was kind of challenging.”
The most difficult issue with the engine was cleaning off all the rust. “After I got it running, phase two was to strip it and paint it, so everything had to be cleaned. I didn’t have access to a sand blaster, so cleaning it had to be done one piece off at a time using a wire wheel or grinder. Everything came off. That was the most time-consuming part.”
Although the restoration was fun, Andy says he gets the most fun educating people about the Monitor engine and gas engines in general. “I come from an education background, and I like to educate people. It is one thing to see something like this engine working, but it’s a lot more beneficial to give people a little knowledge. I tell them this is basically a 1919 chainsaw used to cut firewood to heat your home 100 years ago. I take it to shows to educate people who are drawn to it. I’m a public speaker in my job, so I see this as another platform for that; while the engine is running I’m answering questions. A lot of people don’t have exposure to this kind of equipment. We’re going back almost a century, so the educational aspect is my favorite. I also enjoy playing with it, of course.”
Andy says that one of his pet peeves is having an engine at a show and not doing anything with it. “If I take an engine to a show, I’m going to take something along to show how it works. It’s a pet peeve, to see the engine just sit there and never run. My intention is to have equipment to demonstrate how it works. I’ll fire it up and demonstrate sawing wood, making cuts and giving wood away. Then I’ll turn the engine off and give a five-minute talk on it.”
Andy has a small cadre of friends who helped him with the restoration work. “My best friend Jeff Schley helped me with the machining, grinding the valves, painting and pin striping, and helping with a little welding on the cart. The rear axle was busted so that needed welding.”
That welding job ended up being a bit of an experience. To get the rear axle off they had to jack the engine up and block it. It turned out the flywheel opposite the valve chest side was loose, and when they unbolted the axle the engine tipped toward the valve side, the cart pivoting on the front axle pivot. The project almost ended up in disaster, Andy says, and he sees his experience as a warning to anyone working on old engines. “I’d thought about it the night before, that the front of the cart was made to pivot, and that while we were working on the back axle, we’d better secure the front, too,” Andy says, but he forgot. When they removed the back axle, the cart shifted and the loose flywheel fell off, and then the engine shifted the other direction. “It got unstable, and it could have killed us. Luckily, nobody was hurt and nothing was broken, but it was a scary, tension-filled moment until we regained control.”
Once the engine was reassembled, it was given its first test run. “In November 2015 it ran for the first time in over 25 years. I had a little bit of panic at first because I had worked on it so much by myself, and I’d never before seen it run in person. Once it started, it was pure excitement. A lot of people didn’t think it would ever run again, so when it did that was really satisfying.”
Help also came from friends Matt, who came over after work to help with general cleaning and getting it primed and ready for paint, and Mike, a Monitor collector who has almost one of every model Monitor made. “He has a great deal of Monitor knowledge,” Andy says. “Solving problems is one of my strengths, and with my two friends helping, there wasn‘t anything we couldn‘t solve regarding the Monitor.”
A few parts from the Monitor were missing and needed to be cast, including the brackets for the table and the water hopper cover. Andy was able to borrow those parts from Mike and sent them out to have patterns made so new ones could be cast. Andy adds that his parents, Wayne and Tammy Moravec, helped with working the wood. “My dad has a saw mill. The tongue was rotted out, so we rebuilt it entirely. My mom painted the Monitor logo on it and clear-coated it. So it was a full family project there.”
It was in fact family that got Andy interested in old iron in the first place. “I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I worked in cabbage country, so I knew about cabbage. That was my introduction to agriculture. My introduction to antique tractors came through my aunt Gloria Young, who started taking me to tractor shows and got me hooked on the hobby,” Andy says.
The project was finished by the end of July 1916, less than a year after Andy started, when the last paint and pin striping was added. “I took pictures to document the process as much as I could. It was cool to have friends and family involved, which made it all the more special.”
The Monitor engine came in several variations, including as a buzz saw rig on a cart, like Andy’s. “I’ve only ever seen one other Monitor engine with a buzz saw like this one. It came from the factory with a long table.” The table has to be hauled separately, and then bolted onto the wheel of the cart to hook it up. “It’s cumbersome and a lot of work to move it and set it up to use.”
Another unique element of Andy’s Monitor is the friction clutch. “They were common with other engines, but rare with the Monitor. It’s used to engage and disengage the saw,” Andy says. “The other obviously unique item is that big ball on top, which looks like a giant gumball machine. It’s filled with water and used to cool the engine. People are really fascinated by that.”
Though the Monitor was manufactured in Wisconsin, it’s not a common engine in that area. “It’s middle-to-above in rarity, I think,” Andy says. “It’s not rare like the sideshaft engine, but it’s an uncommon engine. I’ve only seen a couple other than this one.”
Andy says part of his inclination to restore the engine was to take pride in his family’s heritage. “This was the first piece of my grandpa’s collection that became mine, so it was a challenge for me. My goal was to make it as beautiful as it was when it came off the assembly line. It was personal test, to show that I could do it, and to show my family how much I appreciate the hobby. They were all very impressed when I finally finished it. They didn‘t think it would run again, much less run as well as it does.
“I love keeping my family’s heritage alive and continuing in my grandfather’s footsteps,” Andy says. “It makes me proud to know this engine will be on display at the Union Thresheree show that he helped start."
Contact engine enthusiast Bill Vossler at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; firstname.lastname@example.org