2253 Harding Avenue Bismarck, North Dakota 58501
The hug of searching for old stationary gasoline engines hit me about fifteen years ago. As many collectors do, I started out with Maytags and John Deeres. Then I diversified into other engines. About five years ago Ed Borchert called me wanting information and parts for a John Deere 1 HP engine. Of course we all have a few extras. He also mentioned a Challenge engine that needed several parts; however, it wasn't for sale.
After the spring thaw in 1990 I called to visit with Mr. Borchert. He said come on down, so on a nice day, Ed Tibesar and I headed out of town for a drive to Lark, North Dakota (a ghost town). Stopping for coffee along the way we arrived at Mr. Borchert's farm. He was very nice and gave a full tour of his old rusty iron. During the tour, a 'basket case' Reo lawn mower was found. After some negotiating a deal was struck on the Challenge engine and Reo mower. Now to load the engine it was no big deal, just start up a WD Allis with a loader and place it on the trailer. After the engine was loaded we started back and had dinner at the small town of Carson.
I had heard about a really good meat store in Carson which made its own sausage and other special meats. We found it across the street and bought ten pounds of their products. It was good!
After several phone calls I located another 2 HP Challenge engine in Washington, belonging to Bill Moldenhauer. He was very helpful in sending me the parts I needed. I had them recast and machined them to fit.
Now back to the engine itself. With its piston stuck and water hopper suffering from North Dakota hard water (ice), some real work was needed. After working on many engines I have come to appreciate a lesson given me by a retired blacksmith. The lesson is about how many of us tear into a project wanting to tackle it all in one day. The old smithy said, 'Remember this rust didn't get there overnight, so use your head not your hammer. God gave you a head for a reason other than a hat post.' I have used the method described below on several engines with good success.
To free the piston, I removed the head and stood the engine upright, then filled the cylinder with brake fluid. I placed a 2 x 2 x 6 inch long oak stick in the fluid, and lit it. After burning from nine a.m. to three p.m. the fluid, which needed to be filled twice, was now all gone. Now came the time of anticipation, is it loose? A one inch thick aluminum slug, ten-thousandths of an inch smaller than the bore, was placed on top of the piston. One tap of the hammer resulted in slight movement. With each successive blow more movement was noticed. I have used this method on several engines with very good results. Sometimes two heatings are required.
To repair the ailing water hopper a soft nickel rod was used. Before welding, a one-sixteenth inch diameter hole was drilled at the end of each crack. Use of the back step welding method, followed immediately by peening, yielded a water tight hopper.
After many hours of rebuilding it was time to fire up the engine. With gas, oil, grease, buzz coil and a couple of cranks of the flywheel it came to life! The painting and woodwork for this engine was done by John Beck. After sending a photo to Mr. Borchert he encouraged me to write a story for GEM. I then quizzed him on the history of this engine. His reply was that 30 years ago this engine was left at an auction sale and did not sell. A couple of weeks later he went back and the owner gave it to him. He placed it on his iron pile until I inquired about it. He's glad to see the younger generation interested in restoring some of the past.
As a test engineer for the Melroe Bobcat skid steer loaders I have a couple of comments. Even though these engines seem crude they played a vital role in getting us to where we are today. Hindsight is always 20-20. Without the aid of modern test methods and programs, extra iron was often used. 'Make it heavy so it won't break' was common practice. I'm continually impressed with some of the mechanical mechanisms used in the early 1900s. This is a great hobby and I have met many helpful people. Let's keep it up.