Eli and Me

By Staff
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The day I brought the Eli home. What was I thinking?
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Even though it took two years to restore, in hindsight Paul Frasier, 12234 Harris, Carleton, Michigan 48117 would restore this 1903 3 HO Eli all over again. See his story, 'Eli and Me,' inside this issue.
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Cylinder almost ready for brazing.
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The original mixer and one I made up.
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Parts just back from the foundry, have not been machined yet. Note some of the body filler is removed from the pattern flywheel.
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12234 Harris Carleton, Michigan 48117

There were many times that I thought a better title would have
been ‘Bits and Pieces,’ because it seemed for the longest
time that I had more bits and pieces than an engine but that could
be another story.

I picked up this engine from Ed Laginess a couple years ago. He
had received the engine as a wedding present I bet the new wife was
all excited about that gift! Oh, I’m just kidding! The Eli was
in a little bit rougher condition than what he had hoped, but it
was not a total loss. Ed has another Eli engine, #1426, that was
very much complete only missing the original fuel mixer. The engine
that was sent to him did have the proper mixer on it.

When Ed did get around to getting his Eli repaired and running,
he used the mixer from the gift engine. Now what do you do with the
old Eli parts engine? He did with it as the rest of us would do. He
put it in the corner of the garage. And when you clean the garage,
you move it from one side to the other, but you don’t throw it

Now this is where I come into the story. Ed was restoring a 5 HP
Columbus. I was helping him with the cylinder. The bare cylinder
weighed 135 lbs., so it was a two-man job. The repairs took a
couple months to complete. Now, being dedicated collectors and
restorers, we would work on the Columbus for a while, then go and
play I mean study other engines he had in the shop. We started and
ran his Eli, and I was quite surprised how well and smooth it ran,
for a two cycle engine.

Now I must have walked by the Eli parts engine dozens of times,
but never paid any attention to it. But then it happened. One night
I had a dream about the Eli engine. If I’d had any brains or
common sense whatsoever, I would have gotten up out of bed, taken
two aspirins and a cold shower, gone back to bed and forgotten all
about it. But no, when the weekend came, I went and saw Ed and
asked him what he was going to do with the old Eli parts engine.
Before I could say anything more, Ed said, ‘That would be a
good project for you. Why not take it home and see what you can do
with it.’ He also said I could take his running Eli home and
use it to make up missing parts. At that point I told him I
wasn’t worried about needing any parts. I said if the inside of
the cylinder was cracked, that would be too much work and money to
repair, in light of all the other damage and missing parts on the

We loaded it up and I took it home. I started to work on it the
next day. It had double trouble both the piston and cross head were
rusted solid. One nice thing about the Eli is that the cylinder and
block are bolted together. Once the cylinder was unbolted, all I
had to do was get the cross head to move a couple of inches and
remove the taper pin. Then the cylinder and piston would be off. To
get this job done I used a lot of heat and jumped up and down on
the spokes of the remaining flywheel. I took the cylinder and
pistons to the auto parts store. They put it in one of those hot
tanks for degreasing engine blocks. We left it in there all day. I
picked it up in the afternoon and took it back to work while it was
still quite hot. I used my air hammer on the end of the rod. After
a few seconds of hammering, the piston started to move and soon it
was out.

I sandblasted and honed out the cylinder and checked for cracks.
There was a lot of rust and pits, but no visible cracks. At that
point I decided to repair the water jacket. I went to the scrap
yard and picked up a cast iron pipe, cut out a piece to fit the
hole and veed out all the other cracks in the water jacket. I put
the whole thing in the barbecue to preheat it for brazing. After it
had cooled, I put it in a milling machine and made a light cut on
the top of the cylinder to make sure it was flat and would hold a
head gasket.

Something I noticed about the cylinder was that the water jacket
on the right side was completely plugged with calcium and the water
outlet for the left side had an opening about the size of a pencil.
The exhaust port that is about four inches long and a half inch
wide was carboned up to a hole about the size of the end of your
little finger. So this engine in its last days running must have
been down on power and ran awful hot. The calcium and carbon was
hard even after being in a hot tank for six hours and in a hot
barbecue for four hours. The only way I could remove it was to
drill holes in it and chip it out with a punch. What I could not
remove with a punch, I removed with a sand-blaster.

I was able to remove all the rings from the piston without
breaking any, but they were completely worn out and could not be
reused. This piston used five rings that were
7/16 inch width. That is a lot of piston ring
for one piston. Replacing the rings may have been a tough job,
because no one had a ring that wide in stock. I thought about
stacking or putting two rings in each groove, but worried about
their catching on the ports. I then sent a letter to Joe Sykes of
New York. He custom made the ring for the engine at a very fair

When I made the decision to put forth the time and effort to
repair and restore this engine, I knew that not everything was
going to go right all the time. I knew there would be some
setbacks, but I decided to call them slowdowns instead.

After cleaning up the cylinder head and making a gasket, I
grabbed some half inch bolts to put it on. I soon found out the
bolts went about three turns and then stopped. I checked the
threads, and they were half inch twelve, instead of the half inch
thirteen used today. This was a little slow down. I had to find
some hex bar stock and make up some on the lathe. I was able to
order a tap and die from one of the local tool shops. Now that
cylinder head was bolted on and the water jacket filled, I watched
and waited. Good luck no leaks!!

With no cracks in the cylinder and a source for rings, I was now
thinking about having a flywheel and other parts casted up. I had
never had anything cast before, and knew very little about it.
Larry Massey from the Early Engine Club at Greenfield Village
helped me out with this part of the project. With his instruction,
I made the remaining flywheel into a pattern. Good thing that the
flywheels on this engine were the same. I had to build up the outer
rim and sides of the flywheel with auto body filler, and turn it
down on a brake drum lathe at work, to make it smooth. This was
necessary because when the new wheel was poured, it would shrink
when it cooled. Also, the spokes were filled to make them as smooth
as possible.

Next came a parting board. This was needed at the foundry when
the sand casting mold was being made. I had four parts made up for
a total of 120 lbs. of new iron. If you don’t understand all
these foundry terms, don’t feel bad, neither did I at

All of the machining of small parts I did myself, but the
flywheel was a different story. I called Ken Currie of Brighton,
Michigan. He had a lathe big enough to machine the flywheel and cut
the key way. This next part is hard to describe in words. When I
went and picked it up, what I saw was a brand new old part, with
casting numbers and all! It was a site for sore eyes.

At about this point in the project I started to look for
information on Eli engines. Ed put me in touch with John Davidson
from Bristol, Wisconsin. John sent me some nice pictures and a copy
of an Eli book that he had. I was very thankful for that
information. The restoration would have been hard to complete
without it. I referred to this information many times.

When I was replacing the piston rod, there was a bolt in the top
center of the piston that I assume held the rod in.. I found out
later that it was the remains of a piston trip ignitor system. The
ignition system had been converted to a spark plug. After all of
the time and work that was put into the engine thus far, I wanted
to put an ignitor back in if I could. I knew that I would have to
make it up. All I had for a reference on the ignitor were some
pictures Ed had taken of George Archer’s Eli at the 1988
Portland show. It was the middle of the 1993 show season. You know
how people say engine collectors have the craziest luck? I was set
up at the Henry Ford Greenfield Village show. Guess who shows up
and sets up next to me. You got it John David son yes, he had is
Eli with him. It was a great weekend for me. John let me take the
ignitor oft his engine and make a print of it. You know the old
saying: ‘One picture is worth a thousand words?’ Having the
part in your hand that you want to make is worth a thousand
pictures. About a month or so after the show I had finished making
the ignitor that I hoped would work.

There were many missing, damaged or worn out parts that had to
be made. As each new part was made, I put it on the engine. During
the week of Thanksgiving 1993, there were enough parts put together
that the engine could be started.

I hooked up the ignition power, put some gas down the
compression release, a few turns of the flywheels, I felt a little
nudge of power. With great expectation I took the engine off the
bench and set it on the floor. Using an olive jar for a gas tank, I
cranked that engine for the next six hours until I thought my arm
would fall off and my back would break in two. With only a weak
little pop from the exhaust from time to time to keep my hopes up,
I gave up for that day. I had had enough.

The next day I tried it again. After cranking on it without much
luck, my brother Ken stopped in. We decided to belt it up to my IHC
LB and run the rings in. I removed the Eli cylinder head so it
would turn over as easy as possible. I hooked the LB with a
come-a-long to the drill press. Ken held the LB down while I kept
the belt on the Eli with a shovel. Let me tell you, this was a real
three-ring circus. We kept this up for about a half hour. I put the
head back on and tried again, but we could not keep the belt on, so
back to cranking.

It did crank easier after that and the compression came up a
little. After a while cranking, I removed the ignitor and installed
a spark plug and hooked up a buzz coil. This did help a little. By
the end of the second day, it would keep firing as long as I kept
cranking. When I would stop, it would fire about two or three times
on its own, but would not run. I took the following day off. My arm
was too sore and I was somewhat disappointed, but not

When I went out to the garage on the third day to try and get it
running, I went out with a positive, can do, attitude. I turned the
heat on in the garage, picked up some fresh gas, made adjustments
to anything that I thought would help. I even warmed up the
cylinder with a heat gun. When I cranked it up, it started firing
as it had on the second day. But this time, when I quit cranking,
the Eli stayed running. It was laboring hard and running slow, but
running on its own. It stayed running and eventually it came up on
the governor. The more it ran, the better it ran. After it ran a
total of about two hours, I reinstalled the ignitor.

There was much more work that had to be done and many more
slowdowns to overcome. I ran it off and on most of the summer,
working out all the bugs a total of about six hours. When I was
satisfied that everything was going to work and stay together, it
was time to start getting things ready for painting. The engine
that I had just spent a year and a half to repair and get running,
was completely apart in less than 45 minutes just a large pile of
parts on the bench. I always look forward to painting an engine
because that means the hard work is over and that I’ve reached
the last step in the restoration.

When I decided to repair this 3 HP 1903 Eli engine #1011, there
was so much work to be done, I did not set a completion date. I
worked on one part at a time. When I completed one, I would repair
another. So how many hours did it take to restore this engine? I
don’t know. I never tried to keep track. How long did it take?
About two years. Did I enjoy myself? Yes! Would I do it all again?

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