A Not So Easy Emmons

By Staff
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Tom Stranko pauses between applying coats of paint on the Emmons’ flywheel.
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The Emmons, primed and ready for paint.
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The Emmons’ bottom end goes back together after careful disassembly and refurbishing.
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Detail of the timing linkage. Note steel link arm fabricated from a railroad spike (arrow).
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A close-up of the very rare Toquet mixer.
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In addition to the finely crafted homemade cart, all the brasswork has been polished to a high luster, making for an absolutely gorgeous engine.

At the August 2001 Southern Tier Antique Gas
and Steam Engine Assn. (STAGEA) show in Maine, N.Y., my wife Sherry
and I set up my engines for display. I usually take a fast walk
around the displays and flea market looking for “stuff” for the
engine hobby or my railroad lantern collection (I am genetically
pre-disposed to collect things). In the back of an old pickup truck
I saw an old single-cylinder inboard engine with “$400” written on
the side. I was intrigued because its nameplate said it was made by
E. Gerry Emmons Corp., Swampscott, Mass., a maker I had never heard
of. Although it had a big spark plug sticking out of the head,
there were a lot of pieces and broken parts. I never got to speak
to the owner, but I did get his phone number. Once home, I searched
through some of my inboard literature and poured over the digital
pictures I had taken. Finally, I spotted a similar engine (made by
the Stanley Co., also of Massachusetts) in an old Motorboating
magazine. It was clear I had missed out on a very neat
make-and-break ignition engine.

That next Monday I was on the phone to the gentleman setting up
a time when I could drive up and “see” (buy) the Emmons. After we
made the deal and loaded the engine into my minivan, I headed back
home, very sweaty, but very happy. Somehow, the motor got real
heavy on the trip back and I had to get my neighbor Rick to help me
unload it.

Engine Assessment

With the Emmons in hand, I began to do a survey of what was
broken or missing. Right away I could tell the main bearings were
pretty worn out – there was a loud “clunk” when lifting the
flywheel up. I could also see that several of the ignition parts
were gone and/or had been cut off and probably thrown away during
the “blacksmith” conversion to spark ignition. The mixer on the
engine was obviously part Schebler and part Lunk-enheimer. Then
there was the question of why there was a cork wrapped in cloth
electrical tape jammed in a hole down low on the engine casting
right by the mixer.

What I believe to be a 2 1/2 HP engine turned over, but not too
easily and there was a lot of blow-by. I was not really thinking
about compression at that point. This little lack of foresight
would come back to bite me after the engine was all assembled. I
realized there would be a lot of machine work ahead, which is good
in the winter months. I also knew I’d be attending the Hershey,
Pa., Antique Auto Show and staying near an uncle with a big
sandblaster. In the meantime, I dismantled and researched the
Emmons as much as I could.

I was put in touch with Keith Billet of Billet Industries, who
is the antithesis of the blacksmith repair man who modified the
Emmons. Keith isn’t into simple pencil and paper sketches of parts
or approximate figures. He uses a CAD (Computer Aided Design)
program to produce industrial quality drawings and CNC (Computer
Numerical Control) tapes that will allow an automatic lathe or mill
to produce a replacement part. Well, Keith is also an antique
engine collector who happened to have a single-cylinder Stanley
with the same ignition system. Keith was willing to lend me the
parts from his engine that I needed to copy and I agreed to loan
him the parts from my engine that were missing from his.

I was also put in touch with a Canadian collector, Larry Healey,
who had a Toquet (a predecessor of the Stanley Co.), and while the
ignition system was not identical, seeing the mixer on the Toquet
was like getting the Enigma code or finding the Rosetta Stone: I
now knew what the hole with the cork was for and why the
Schebler/Lunkenheimer was made.

It turns out the Toquet Co. designed and cast their own brass
mixer that bolted to the crankcase. It had a built-in check valve
and an integrally cast brass air intake pipe. That pipe entered the
hole (of the cork fame) and drew hot air from an annular casting
surrounding the exhaust pipe, down the rear of the block and into
the mixer. Toquet literature is pretty sparse, but what I have
states that the Toquet would run on gasoline or kerosene. In all
those early illustrations, the Toquet has a hot head, meaning it
has no water jacket. This is a feature of kerosene-fueled engines
to get extra heat to fully vaporize the kerosene. I assume exhaust
heat would come up before the head reached operating temperature,
and the designers knew they needed all the heat they could get.

I should backtrack here a bit to remind everyone that my
research into the origins of the Emmons company had led me to the
fact that Emmons was strictly a boat builder and that they bought
their engines from other manufacturers, re-badged as Emmons. My
engine was actually made by the Stanley Co. I have dated my engine
from advertising to be a 1906 model. By 1906, Toquet had been
almost absorbed by Stanley, who was no longer using the Toquet
mixer designs in anything except a single-cylinder. All
multi-cylinder Stanleys had a Schebler carburetor with an add-on
hot air intake tube running around the exhaust casting. Thus, my
Stanley needed an obsolete mixer made by another company.

At some time in the past, the mixer on my Emmons must have
developed a problem the local mechanics couldn’t fix. Their answer
was to toss the Toquet mixer and replace it with a Lunkenheimer
thread-in mixer, modified by soldering a bolt flange and throttle
from a Schebler carburetor onto the threads. I wanted to have an
original, so Larry agreed to lend me his mixer to try to copy.
Since Larry was going to Hershey that year, he brought the mixer
for me to borrow. What transpired is what I love about engine
collectors: We discovered that the other person had things we could
swap with each other – and both make out like bandits. I would get
the Toquet and have the mixer to keep, plus I got an engine I had
been looking to add to my collection for a decade – a Dunn open
crank inboard (GEM, February 2005, page 9). Larry would get a very
nice Iron farm engine, plus a really rare Canadian Essex

As I headed away from the Hershey show, I went south into
Pennsylvania to visit Keith and view some of his magnificent
collection. I photographed his Stanley and took home a box of parts
to copy.

Getting to Work

The disassembled engine was sandblasted and back home in time to
clean and etch the castings prior to a nice coat of primer. There
were three major areas on the engine that would need attention:

1) The ignition system needed a lot of parts made, and in some
cases the dimensions of the missing parts had to be determined by
measuring the existing parts and how far they traveled in their
operation, and the shape and size of openings where the part

2) At this point, I didn’t realize it, but the engine badly
needed a new set of rings. It did get those rings, but not early on
in the rebuild as would normally happen; it was done retroactively
after the engine was restored (a process I do not recommend!).

3) The engine really deserved to be treated to the full court
fill/wet sand and spray enamel finish, and have all the brass
polished. Plus, the wood cart, battery box and gas tank had to be

With the mixer in my possession for good, I turned to the
ignition parts. I had borrowed three important pieces from Keith
and I wanted to get them back to him ASAP. I started with what I
call the “igniter bearing tube.” One of the nice things about
copying a threaded part is that the thread depth and how much
interference is allowed can be felt and measured with a

Keith’s parts confirmed that a thread of a certain inner and
outer depth would fit fine. Parts like the electrode holder that
thread into the head had been ground off and drilled out to allow
some 1/2-inch pipe threads to be cut for the spark plug. I had no
part like this to copy except the scraps of brass I managed to get

After I made all the electrical and rotating parts for the
igniter, I had to make the sliding, or reciprocating parts. This
was an assembly of five parts, the major one being a simple steel,
cylindrical piece with two flats machined opposite one another for
approximately 1/2-inch of one end. This slide piece is powered
upward by the same eccentric wheel and arm that runs the water
pump. It travels downward with just the force of a small
compression spring, and if it was to jam traveling down, the
make-and-break contacts inside the cylinder would not open and the
engine would misfire, or maybe not run at all. What I did when
making this part was to make the fit as smooth as possible and I
machined the length to match the upward travel of the pump rod part
under average timing conditions.

The trip arm I borrowed from Keith was a bit under 3 inches in
length and needed to be milled out of 1-1/8-inch square bar stock.
My well-stocked parts cabinet did not have such a piece, so I used
a steel railroad spike to carve the arm out of.

The water pump actuating arm had a hardened steel axle bolt that
drove the bigger main igniter slide. It was bent, and when I
attempted to adjust it back into place in the vise, it snapped. I
had to turn and thread and lap another one in place.

The ignition timing is adjusted with a short, brass-handled
lever mounted high up on the front of the engine that swings left
and right. Sometime in the past, the timing lever handle had broken
off and was gone. I turned up a suitable shape out of brass and
brazed it to what was left of the original lever. With a bit of
grinding and polishing, it looks and works great. Except for a bit
of spring adjusting and such, the recreated make-and-break ignition
was finished.

Next, I started rebuilding the bottom end of the engine. A good
friend gave me two 10-inch lengths of 2-inch oilite bearing stock.
Having the old main bearings to work with for the overall length
and O.D., I chucked each piece of stock into the lathe and turned
the outside surface, marking the ends in relation to the locating
pin hole and the grease tube hole. The 3/8-inch locating pin keeps
the bearing tube from rotating or moving in and out. After I marked
these dimensions and drilled the small holes, I reset the bearing
in the lathe with an indicator to be sure the O.D. would be
concentric with the hole I was about to bore. I increased drill bit
sizes until the hole was big enough to use a boring bar to finish
it off. By using both a micrometer and a vernier caliper I was able
to get a clearance of 0.001″. The grease forced into this space by
the grease cups would both lubricate and keep the crankcase
vacuum/pressure inside, ensuring good fuel mixture flow. The main
bearings took about two months of weekends to make. The machinists
out there will see that I should have used a steady rest, because
the bearings were projecting too far out from the chuck jaws. If
only I had such an option for my ancient South Bend, I would have
used it! I was forced to take very small cuts, but perhaps that was
best since I only had enough oilite material for one try.

With the mains done, I could cut and fit crankcase gaskets,
mount the piston and rod on the crankshaft, and re-insert the
piston into the cylinder. Jumping ahead a bit, after the engine was
all assembled, painted, polished and mounted on the mahogany cart,
I tried to start it one evening. All I could get from it were a few
pops and sputters, but worst of all, I could tell that the
compression was really low, and since there were now no leaks from
the head-mounted ignition parts I was forced to the realization
that I had blundered by not replacing the rings when it would have
been relatively easy. In desperation, I made up a gear reduction,
chain-driven electric motor gizmo to turn over the engine, trying
to seat the old rings. It did nothing. I had displayed the engine
half finished at our show in August 2002, and completed in August
2003, without running it at all. I was mortified at myself for the
error, but in my own defense, I would say the Emmons was the first
engine I ever bought that had rings so worn it wouldn’t run.

I removed the “jug” (cylinder, head and piping all attached) and
bought two smaller-width rings from Paul Weaver of Bremerton,
Wash., to fit in the old, wide slot. Being a 2-cycle with ports,
the rings had to be pinned so the ends would not rotate around and
end up over a port or an oil hole. I really hoped I could insert
the piston with new rings down through the crankcase end of the
cylinder, thus allowing me to leave the head, head gasket and paint
in those areas untouched. Again, fate was not on my side, because
each time I tried it, the new, tighter rings began to pull the ring
squeezer into the bore or the rings snapped out just before
insertion. So, I had to remove the head and drive a wedge between
the gasket area to pop it off. I made a lot of extra work for
myself because I was lazy. From now on, my motto will be, “change
the rings no matter what.”

It was pretty easy to insert the piston and rod from the top,
but I had to come up with a method of holding the jug in place so I
could attach the rod to the crank and re-safety wire it, then lower
the jug into place on the crankcase base (still on the cart with
the crankshaft and flywheel). What I did was get four pieces of
1-inch pipe about 6 inches long that I placed between the jug and
the crankcase base. This space allowed me to work with the rod and
crank, then, grasping the jug with my left hand, I removed the four
standoffs with my right hand and lowered the whole thing back
together. Before the August 2004 show I had to at least run the
thing a little, then send the parts from my engine to Keith for him
to duplicate, or at least accurately measure.


Because the Emmons is such a rare item, I decided to fill the
castings and spray some enamel on it. After sandblasting and
priming, the castings sat for a year while I built the mechanical
parts. I painted and hung the parts from an overhead beam in my
garage, and sprayed on the high-temp Bill Hirsch gray engine enamel
(there were traces of gray on the Emmons under bolt heads and

Rather than use the beat-up original head and exhaust bolts, I
had some replicas made in stainless steel. After polishing all the
brass piping and parts, I coated them with Eastwood’s clear

Cart, Gas Tank and Battery Box

I have used the same design cart for years. The wood I use
depends on what’s available. I usually belt sand and finish sand
all the pieces before brushing on a coat of urethane varnish, and
paint the cart hardware black. I usually use a brass “white gas”
stove tank as a gas tank that I bought in the 1970s when stuff was
still cheap, storing them away for future projects. The battery box
on the Emmons is from a local antique shop. It was an instrument
case made of oak, dovetailed all over. I couldn’t find a pair of
1/4-inch NPT grease cups big enough, so I turned down a pair of
3/8-inch ones that had bad threads. Lots of other small parts, like
the retracting crank handle and drip oiler, had to be made or
modified to work.

I connected the gas, water and battery, and with a can of ether,
I pulled on the flywheel and watched in pure happiness and
amazement as it took off and ran as smooth as you would want! I got
the mixer set where it was not smoking so much from the exhaust and
then looked over the ignition system for areas that needed a
touchup. I just sat back and listened to something that had been
silent for God knows how many years. I believe the engine ran for
over an hour and I was sure it would run fine at the show a month
from then.

As sometimes happens, the running at the show did present a
problem with the igniter assembly, and I?had to stop it after about
an hour’s run time. Over this past winter I have fixed the problem
and will be showing the Emmons at the 2005 STAGEA show in August.
Restoring the Emmons taught me I could indeed push my tools and
skills to a much higher plane.

The Emmons will be on display at the 31st Annual Southern Tier
show, Aug. 26-28, Maine, N.Y. For more information, call: (607)
642-8554. Contact gas engine enthusiast Tom Stranko at:

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