Engines & Engine People

By Staff
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Restoration has just begun on the 5 HP Superior.
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Another view of the Superior.

134 Wexford, Belleville, Michigan 48111

Well, the show season is over for the year, my iron toys are
mostly put away for the winter, the old woman has a nice fire going
in the wood stove, the house smells a little like wood smoke and
the apple pie she just took out of the oven, and I have time to
ponder some of the things that probably would never cross my mind
if I had anything better to do.

Youth was okay when I still had it, but this old age isn’t
all bad either. Gives us a chance to back off and look around a
little. Wasn’t it Socrates who said, ‘The unexamined life
is not worth living?’ Of course someone else advised,
‘Don’t kick sleeping dogs.’ I guess we can take our
choice but I’d like to share a few of the things that are going
through my mind if any of you are interested.

Lately, engine shows with old iron, old ways of doing things,
and especially old people have been a big part of my life. I enjoy
most all aspects of engine shows, everything from the gigantic
steam traction engines that currently change hands for more money
than I paid for the house I live in, all the way down to those
nasty, smoking little two cycle washing machine engines. But I have
to say that my all time favorites are those big horizontal hit
& miss oil field engines. You know the ones I mean. They
typically arrive mounted on a trailer with at least two or three
axles that look to be overloaded, and when they fire, which
doesn’t happen often, the whole thing shakes in spite of the
owner’s best efforts to block it up good and solid.

So I sit here enjoying the fire and dream about engines and
engine shows in general, and I wonder why I am so fascinated by hit
& miss engines in particular. Then it occurs to me that maybe
it is because these engines seem to have an almost human
personality. (No, it is only wood smoke.)

Bear with me. I will try to explain. It may not be easy. You
see, the hit & miss engine’s personality results from the
four stroke cycle it employs and the governing device that is used
to control its speed. You know all about four cycle engines I am
sure, but let me just chase it through once the way I understand

Stroke 1: Intake. The exhaust valve is closed. The intake valve
opens as the piston moves away from the cylinder head permitting a
mixture of fuel and air to be drawn into the cylinder.

Stroke 2: Compression. Both valves are now closed and the charge
of fuel and air is compressed as the piston returns toward the
cylinder head.

Stroke 3: Power. This is the only time the engine is capable of
doing any work. Both valves remain closed and now the fuel mixture
is ignited, resulting in a rather violent explosion which drives
the piston back away from the cylinder head. Through a system of a
connecting rod and a crankshaft the rotation of the flywheels is

Stroke 4: Exhaust. The exhaust valve now opens, and as the
piston makes its way back toward the cylinder head the spent fuel
mixture is expelled through the exhaust pipe.

It would seem that it should now be time for another intake
stroke so we could go through the whole sequence again, and that is
exactly what happens in engines other than the hit & miss
variety. Hit & miss engines use a governor to limit their speed
by propping open the exhaust valve, thereby postponing the next
intake stroke until such time as friction and load, if any, have
reduced the engine’s speed to some pre-determined level.
Actually, hit & miss engine enthusiasts seem to take great
pride in making their engines run as slowly and fire as seldom as

So we stand there agape as the engine fires once and then
coasts, revolution after revolution, slower and slower until it
seems that it must fire now or die. Then sure enough, we may hear
the exhaust valve close and the unmistakable click, slurp, whoosh,
boom, just in the nick of time and off we go again for another ten,
twenty or maybe thirty revolutions of coasting. Often we hear the
sound of air entering and being pushed back out of the exhaust
pipe; almost a hee-haw sound as the flywheels gradually lose

So what has all this to do with human personality? Well, I think
some of us also operate on the four stroke principle. You see, we
sometimes experience an intake stroke. It happens when our mind
picks up a new bit of information, that may come as something we
heard or experienced, or maybe from something we read, perhaps in
GEM. You get the idea.

The compression stroke is when we think about this newfound
information, often splicing it onto something we already know.
Maybe it turns out to be the little bit we needed to figure out on
how to whip that fuel problem we have been having with that engine
that has never run the way we thought it should.

The power stroke is when we finally struggle out of that easy
chair and actually go do something constructive.

The exhaust stroke, of course, is when we modestly harangue
anyone who will listen, for as long as they will listen, about how
we brilliantly arrived at our ingenious solution to the

So our mind is on our governor and we stand there by our hit
& miss engine with our exhaust valve propped wide open and
hee-haw for just as long as we can hold our audience. Trouble is,
as long as our exhaust valve is open, the intake can’t
function. Without intake there can be no power stroke, no work can
be done. And of course, none of us has ever learned anything when
his mouth was open.

There is something else I have noticed about engines and people.
We try to make our show engines run as slowly as possible but
somehow the really big ones always seem to respond better to our
efforts than little ones like my 5 HP Superior. I am lucky to get
it to go ten or fifteen revolutions without firing. It almost seems
that the interval between the power stroke and the next intake
stroke is somehow related to relative mass of the engine.

One of my favorite people, a friend of long standing, used to be
real strong on intake, compression and power strokes. He was okay
on exhaust strokes too, of course, but a few years ago he had a
little mishap that laid him up for awhile and, during that time of
inactivity, he picked up a few extra pounds.

Quite a few. And would you believe it? That increase in mass
must be what caused it because he moved right out of the 5 HP class
and is now up there running with the 20-25 HP bunch. Once that
exhaust valve opens it seems like it is never going to close. Do
you know anybody like that? It must be the same principle as adding
more weight to the flywheels.

Of course there’s another possibility, too. We’ve all
torn a lot of pages off the calendar and it seems the older we get,
the longer the interval between power strokes but I’m having
trouble relating the age factor to the way show engines perform.
I’ll have to give that some thought. Perhaps you have ideas on
the subject.

Maybe things are just the way nature intended them to be. Some
of us are older than the antiques we show and, in some cases,
that’s pretty old. It could be that power strokes are mostly
for the younger generation and I’m not sure I even like a lot
of what has been coming through my intake valve lately.

Anyhow if you see a little 5 HP Superior at a show next summer,
stop by and I’ll tell you all about how I got it to run so
nice, for as long as you will listen. That is, if my intake valve
picks up what I need to get the job done.

See you next summer. Bring your big engine and tell me your
story I’m a good listener and I need all the intake I can

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