9687 SE 48th Avenue Runnells, Iowa 50237
It struck me as hard as a lightning bolt from a summer Iowa sky.
I was wandering around the Waukee, Iowa, swap meet when I was
suddenly drawn to two weathered, incomplete bodies. There was
something about them perhaps the fact they were lying on their
sides in a heap, discarded, unwanted, unloved; perhaps it was their
unusual design; perhaps it was because it was the biggest challenge
I’d ever faced in engine restoration. Whatever the reason, I
knew I had to have them two Chapman 2 HP carcasses. Seldom had I
ever had so little doubt about a purchase.
I decided to take the plunge, held my breath, and wrote the
check, then walked away pleased but wondering what I had done. How
would I find parts for something I had never seen or heard of
before? Between the two of them, there wasn’t a complete
engine. Plenty of external parts were obviously missing. This was
going to be fun!
Of course, I got the usual ‘That isn’t an engine,
that’s junk’ upon my arrival home, but I knew better. First
course of action Write to GEM! There has to be someone with a
running example, or parts or drawings to lead me, or someone who
I quickly hit the jackpot. Within days, I got letters in
response to my questions. Not so amazingly, the two most important
came from Canada. Edison Brown and Albert Denyer wrote not only
with information, but also drawings and explanations of how the
very complex-looking and missing fuel system worked. I had not only
found the information I needed, but found two friends in the
process. That alone made the engine worth more than money.
Writing back and forth takes time, but I was in no hurry. It
took nearly a year of careful work to get it all apart without
further damage. With the loan of the fuel pipes from a complete,
working engine, I was able to duplicate the pipes and fittings.
From the drawings and explanations of the Chapman system, I was
able to piece together all that was missing and make it all fit
At some point years ago, the mixer had been drilled and tapped
and holes plugged in an effort to make it a more conventional
system. I had to undo all of this, plugging some holes, unplugging
others, fixing minor cracks in the fragile, brittle mixer casting.
It is amazing how much time in this case, a full day and then some
can be spent on a single part. The head had been warped by
incorrect tightening so badly that you could visibly see the
corners pulled down, leaving an uneven surface. Working with a
file, I carefully made it true.
Again with drawings and descriptions from my Canadian friends, I
made the fuel float from a piece of balsa wood turned round,
pointed on the end, and sealed with fuel tank sealer. The skid
measurement and design were done by measuring a drawing of the
engine on a photocopy of Chapman literature. Knowing the flywheel
size already, I calculated the size of the skids and battery box.
(I have since received an original wooden box, but have not yet
finished or installed it. The size of my reproduction was within
‘ of the wooden original.)
All the parts finally gathered, it was now time to clean and
prepare for painting. First, soaking and scraping! Then, borrowing
my neighbor’s sandblaster, I spent hours of labor and bags of
sand taking off years of rust and scale. The flywheel hubs were as
deeply pitted as I had ever seen, but I decided that I would leave
them that way as a reminder of its past life and to give it that
authentic, old timer look. The rest was sanded smooth between
several coats of primer. Color well, what color was it? There was
nothing left of paint when I got it home, and I didn’t seem to
get a decisive answer, and the only ones in existence were not all
the same color. The only traces of paint that were at all
recognizable were under the brass tag (which was the only part in
good condition). After applying different solvents to see what
color this faded paint could have been, the only one that came
through consistently was black. Black, then, it would be an easy
color to match.
We all know the excitement of hearing such a project produce its
first pop in years. This was even more exciting due to the poor
condition of the original engine and the fact that all of the parts
I had produced from scratch fit and worked together. It took a fair
amount of effort to finally get it running correctly; I first had
to run it at full choke just to keep it running. After carefully
checking all parts, tiny holes and passages, and consulting my
friends to the north, I decided the hole in the vacuum pipe fitting
was too big, allowing too much air to be pulled into the engine via
the fuel pumping system. So, taking it apart again, I reduced the
hole in the fitting down to 1/8 inch. After
carefully refitting the float and newly restricted fitting back
together, it was better but not good enough.
But we weren’t finished. Just because you see a spark jump
the plug gap when the coil buzzes does not mean it is as hot as it
should be. Back to my junk drawer, I found another coil, one of
those ‘just in case’ items. Placing it in the battery box,
I was rewarded with the pleasantest sound I have ever heard: a
smooth-running, easy starting, mellow-popping Chapman, almost four
years to the day since I swallowed hard and wrote that check.
Dedicated to Albert Denyer and Edison Brown of Canada
couldn’t have done it without you, fellas!