II 884 West Jackson Street Marshall, MO 65340
It all started at Oak Grove, Missouri, the same as any other
local show. Several friends and collectors were sitting under a
portable shade tree socializing (shoot in the bull). It was just
after the noon indigestion- two chili dogs with onions-and everyone
was cursing the July heat and begging for a breeze when, as happens
at lots of shows, a stranger walks up and says, ‘Anyone want to
buy an engine?’
My first reaction was ‘Oh boy!’, not in the sense of
excitement, but more in the sense of ‘Here we go again, another
yard ornament.’ He said, ‘It’s a Gilson.’ Then
someone in our group asked me a question. I turned to answer, and
when I turned back the stranger was gone.
I spotted him about three trailers down. My father and I chased
him down; he was already talking to another collector who was ready
to buy. I pulled him away to tell him I wanted to see it, and we
followed him to a tin barn about seven miles south of Oak
We walked in and, sure enough, there on a large wire spool sat a
1 HP Gilson style E air-cooled. It was dirty but no rust. He said
it belonged to a friend who lived in Kansas City. So off to a pay
phone to call.
We squabbled over the price for a while, then settled. With the
engine in the truck, we headed back to the show. As we arrived all
the conversation turned towards the Gilson.
Later that same afternoon, back home, we sat the engine under
the shade tree in the back yard. We oiled it and found another gas
tank, then wired it up and started it.
‘It runs!’ But that’s all you could say. The piston
flopped, the wristpin knocked, rod bearing sloped, mains jumped and
everything else rattled, banged and clattered. To say the least it
was wore out. If all else fails it had three broken air fins.
And so restoration began. It was completely disassembled and
cleaned and sandblasted. The crank throw was turned, new valves
made, new bearing poured, all new pins made, and then to the
The air fin was fun. At the show I received 1001 ways to do it,
none of which I liked. My father and I tag-teamed this one and we
got it done. The fins were tapered, from ?’ at the bottom next
to the cylinder to ?’ at the top edge. Our idea was to take a
?’ plate the same diameter as the outside of the fins and place
it in the lathe and turn it round and taper it as the fins are,
then cut the center out as the base of the fins are. Then hand fit
to the broken edge and braze the new one in place.
The cylinder was then hone bored and the piston was turned down
about .020 and built up with braze and fitted. I have done this on
about six engines and it works great.
After all this, everything was washed clean and two coats of
primer and two coats of polyurethane auto enamel were applied to
get the finished product.
This engine was my first air-cooled to restore, but we have
restored lots of engines, some rare, some not, ranging in size from
? to 16 HP. Of all the engines I have restored, none were as
delicate as the Gilson. This cast iron was extremely soft and
brittle. It machined and drilled easy and honed perfectly.
Several parts on the engine had previously been broken and
repaired, but not very well. The cam roller and push rod had to be
rebroken and repaired, even the governor weight bracket was
I also want to mention the homemade muffler which we cast from
aluminum, thanks to a kit we bought from Metal-Max. It was an
experience to pour for the first time. Fun but a good way to burn
My father is the carpenter in the family and the machinist. He
built the truck under the Gilson. I’m the wrench turner,
welder, and the paint slopper. My sister is the artist. She has
striped and lettered several engines. We all try to do our best. I
thought it turned out alright, thanks to Lee W. Pedersen, who
supplied small parts and miscellanea.
Thanks to everyone who helped on it, I have won two trophies in
the 1987 season.