8315 Amber Lane, Newcastle, California 95658
After studying about designs of old engines I began to wonder,
did the old ones really run? I decided the best way to find out was
to build one. My first one, the Bischopp, turned out to be a real
Next I thought I would try something even older. I chose the
James Robson Cogwheel engine built in North Shields, England in
1857, which was 14 years older than the Bischopp.
When he was 19 years old, Robson was experimenting with gas to
heat an incubator. This experiment resulted in an explosion which
almost killed him. He decided to try to harness that power. The
result was the cogwheel engine.
James Robson was not an engineer and had even less engine
technology available to him than Bischopp had. Robson’s engine
had all the components to utilize the fuel of the day to develop
some form of continuous power.
My biggest problem was how it ran, not how to build it.
I first saled the plans from a picture, which gave me a 3? bore
and a 6′ stroke. The box, or radiator, and frame must be of
full 2′ stock, the flywheel or gear must be 26′ in
diameter. I had the proper size gear, so it was time to get
Two inch lumber was not available in the retail yards, so I went
to the saw mill of a former customer of mine.
Next step was to design and make the wooden patterns for the
carburetor, exhaust valve and ignition port, which was all one
piece. Then the patterns for the bearings, piston, cams, exhaust
and ignition and cam guides.
After casting these parts I found that the cams and carburetor
had to be redesigned (trial and error). I wondered if Robson had
gone through this process also.
I then machined the parts and assembled the box and all its
components. I now had a beautiful flower box with a gear on it!
Now it was time to hook up the fuel and give it a try.
The first attempt to run was a loud explosion.
My grandson Jeff, who was helping me, said that we could always
use the engine to scare the birds away if it didn’t run! (The
birds had just enjoyed our cherry crop.) At this point I needed
help. When I asked Jeff for his opinion he said that the problem
might be the automatic muffler bearings. This is the kind of help
you get from the younger generation!
I decided it was time to give the project a rest for awhile, as
I had to do a few more times. My engine sat around the shop for a
couple of months, and the comment was always, ‘Well, did you
get your box engine running yet?’ I returned the question with,
‘Can you give me any help?’ The answer was always no. Again
I wondered about Robson’s experiences.
After weeks of trying, I finally found the combination. It
started and ran; now all I had to do was make adjustments to the
cam and fuel.
I had it done in time for our first spring gas up at Grass
Valley, California, in June of 1992.
The running of the engine brought expressions of total amazement
to the faces of almost all of those who saw it. It must have been
the simplicity and the wooden construction of the engine.
Much credit has been given to other engine builders, but 19 year
old James Robson was truly a genius and a true pioneer of the gas