Good Intentions

By Staff

3325 N. 65th St. Wausau, Wisconsin 54403

There seems to be some controversy or difference of opinion on
quality of finish of antique gas engines. This writing is not
intended to end the controversy, but to expose some fact mixed with
the writer’s opinion.

It is my opinion that the quality of finish varied greatly from
manufacturer to manufacturer and from time period to time period.
For example, in the ‘Teens, engines had a high quality finish,
compared to the 1920s’ poorer quality finish. The reason for
this is the price competitiveness of the ’20s and greatly
increased labor costs. The manufacturer could not justify the
expense of labor and material, and the consumer would not pay for
it.

If one were to read some of the literature of the various
manufacturers, it would show great care was put into the finish of
some engines and some were just the opposite. The following are
excerpts from manufacturers’ sales literature.

Sandwich Excess Power Engine Catalogue, page 4: ‘The finish
of the Sandwich Engines is remarkable for its beauty and
durability. On a smooth and well cleaned surface we place five
coats of iron filler, paint and varnish.’

Witte Catalogue, ‘How to Judge Engines,’ dated 1917,
page 24: ‘Every Witte engine carries a fine finish. All parts
are carefully cleaned, dressed, and smoothed down, after which the
highest-grade metal filler is put on by our expert finishers. The
filler is allowed to dry thoroughly, when it becomes as hard as
iron, it is then smoothed and rubbed down by sandpaper and emery
cloth to a glass smoothness, when the various paints, enamels and
varnishes are applied, each to its own place, and for its special
purpose of insuring a lasting high standard finish.’

The Lauson Frost King Catalog dated 1916, page 41: ‘The
finish of all ‘Lauson’ and ‘Frost King’ engines is
in accordance with the high grade workmanship and material used
throughout. Five separate coats of special heat iron filler are
applied by hand to make a smooth surface. This is followed by one
coat of Flat Brewster Green Enamel over which a coat of the best
heat-resisting varnish is used. The result is a satin-like luster
with great durability. All exposed steel and brass parts are highly
polished which is in harmony with the high grade material and
workmanship throughout.’

IHC Mogul Oil Engines Catalog, page 27: ‘Special attention
is given to the finish on Mogul engines. They are primed and rubbed
so that when the special coats of paint and varnish are applied,
they present a perfectly smooth bright finish, and are engines that
you can be proud of in every detail.’

IHC Titan Oil Engines Catalog, page 35: ‘The neat design and
finish give Titan engines a very handsome appearance, though we do
not believe in making our customers pay for unnecessary labor in
this respect, as no amount of finish can increase the efficiency of
an engine. They are attractively enameled in the standard ox blood
red and Brewster green with gold striping.’

From reading the above quotes it is clear the intent of the
manufacturer. Note the terms ‘perfectly smooth’ and
‘glass smoothness’ used in the manufacturers’
literature. Unfortunately, I could not find literature saying they
only prime and paint the engines. I suppose that would not be a
selling feature to include in the literature even though it is
entirely likely that some, if not most, manufacturers did just
that. It is interesting to note the last two quotes particularly
because a different philosophy was used for each engine line. The
quotes are from the same manufacturer, same time period, but
different product lines. Mogul engines were made in Chicago,
Illinois. Titan engines were made in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is
obvious the quality of the finish was not as high on Titan engines
as Moguls.

To be historically correct, a restorer must use the techniques
and materials of the time and include the mistakes or defects made
in manufacturing. These defects include foundry sand in paint, runs
or poorly applied lettering. These, of course, were not the
intentions of the manufacturer. But nonetheless they were a common
occurrence in mass production.

My point is when looking at the engines at a show and one comes
across an engine with polished brass, smoothed castings and the
flywheel rims polished and lacquered, the engine may not be as over
restored as one might think. The restorer is trying to duplicate
the intent of the manufacturer.

My hope is to enlighten the reader and maybe to induce others to
do more research on the subject. I welcome readers’
comments.

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