ENGINE COLLECTING I Did It My Way


| August/September 2001



Novo gas engine

11801 52nd Drive NE Marysville, Washington 98271-6225

Back in 1964, after a beekeeping hobby that turned into a situation of too big for a hobby and too small for a commercial enterprise, I sold out. Left with nothing to challenge my mind, I turned to mechanical devices. A set of flywheels on the top of a junk pile in a rancher's front yard got my attention. Speaking to the owner revealed the engine was a l HP Economy, make and break ignition, Webster tripolar oscillating mag, price $1.50. Now you are thinking that this new guy on the block has made the buy of a lifetime. Not so. Read on.

This engine had powered an air compressor in a back country gas station where there was no electricity. One day the compression shed caught fire and put the engine out of service. Main and crank bearings melted out, piston and valves stuck, the mag melted into a blob. After unloading the Economy at home, the wife took one look, and said, 'What the hell did you bring that thing home for? It will never run!' Never tell a German it can't be done, because those words will fire him up to accomplish the impossible.

The first thing that came off was the head. Second thing was to free up and remove the piston and loosen rings. Third, hone out cylinder. Fourth, make up a jig to babbitt crank end of the connecting rod. Fifth, removing the flywheels from the crankshaft. Sixth, clean up the crankshaft journals. Seventh, attach connecting rod to the crank-throw. Eighth, put piston in cylinder, prop up crank in such a way so it could be rotated 360 degrees to make sure that the timing gear teeth ran true, and the piston traveled freely in and out of the cylinder. Ninth, babbitt the lower half of the main bearings with crank in place. Tenth, place a few shims and then do the bearing caps. At this point, I will tell you all that I knew about babbitting bearings I learned from watching my grandfather babbitting mill machinery bearings back in the early thirties. Eleventh, I had the valves and seats faced off and ground in. It took a little time to figure out the exhaust valve timing; with that out of the way I was dead in the water.

The ignition system was a whole new kettle of fish. I had freed up the igniter, but what about this mag? I showed the blob to various people who didn't even know what they were looking at. One day I got lucky. A car collector friend of mine said he saw something like it at a vintage auto parts outfit in Spokane, Washington. He believed the price was $10.00. I mailed a check for $15.00 and a rough drawing with instructions to ship. A week or so later I had a Webster tripolar in the best of condition, hallelujah, not quite yet. This mag was the next size up from what came on a 1 HP Economy. Where to from here? I am too far into this project to quit, and my heritage was not going to let me stop. I made an adapter to the mag bracket and mounted up what I had. I am not out of the woods yet. Figuring out the adjustment and timing of the linkage, mag, and igniter was a very trying experience. To do all of these last procedures required a lot of rolling over the flywheels. This was an on and off ritual that spanned about six months. One day the old engine gave off with a puff of smoke, later a spit and finally a putt, putt, putt. That's it folks, from then on I was hooked on engines.

As you collectors know, most engines are not out in plain view. I needed a plan to ferret them out. I am new at the game and with no printed or personal advice on how to proceed. My aim was to get the word out that I was interested in old engines. This was accomplished by posting notices in areas where country people gathered, also old car collectors and restorers. By word of mouth, eventually leads came in and then I had another problem to solve. How does one approach a gas engine owner and not act or appear too anxious to buy at any price? One has to remember that two strangers have come together, one to sell and one to buy. There usually are many differences between the two: age, income, occupation, upbringing, and on and on. Small talk gets the conversation moving, and this does not include politics or religion; common interests and acquaintances work best. Eventually you will be told of the engine and the owner's memories connected with it. Don't ask too many questions, let the owner do the talking. This person's engine may be tucked away in a building, or down in the south forty where it was last used during World War II. Make a good overview and express some interest. Up to this point, all has been a pleasure, but the hard part is just around the corner asking price. Negotiating a price is where I didn't want our relationship to fall apart. I always ask, 'What do you expect this engine owes you in dollars?' Once in while an owner will tell you outright, which is good because if the price is too expensive, in my opinion, I can negotiate downward or walk away. In most cases the answer will be he doesn't know. Make an offer. Now the ball is in my court and I'd better not flub it.