In February 1974, I discovered a 2 HP ARCO engine, serial no.
348776, while hunting for old oil field engines in southwestern
Indiana. A farmer in the area told me about an engine in a barn on
some land he farmed, so I contacted the farm’s owner, and she
said she’d sell it for $10.
Her grandson had used an axe to knock the oiler off, most of the
Wico magneto and the spark plug. The engine was among the most worn
engines that I’ve ever encountered. The engine suffered from
excessive play in every moving joint with nails or baling wire
replacing the cotter pins.
The casting date on the block is July 22, 1926, and 1 suspect
that it was assembled some time that fall. Although most ARCO
engines were used on Hardie orchard sprayers made at Hudson, Mich.,
this engine was supposedly used to pump water. It was mounted on an
authentic Hercules cart, but the ARCO didn’t come with the
hopper cover or the normal crankcase enclosure.
In the United States, 4-H members often participate in a project
called Americana. Americana participants are encouraged to exhibit
original or restored antique items that have a compelling story
behind the item’s history. Accordingly, my older son Kurt made
the ARCO his 4-H Americana project.
In December 1974, Kurt disassembled and began repairing the
engine. He reamed out all the worn cotter pin holes and installed
larger cotter pins. He had the cylinder bored out 1/64 of an inch
and installed a 3-5/16-inch aluminum piston from a Continental
Following original paint colors, the engine was painted blue and
gray to approximate the original paint scheme, and the pin-striping
was redone in gold. Since no ARCO reproduction decals were
available at the time, we had new ones fabricated using the
original decal on the engine as a guide. The new decals are made of
pressure-sensitive vinyl, India ink and a red felt-tip pen. The
oval decal and letters were then cut out of the vinyl and applied
on the engine. Once finished, my son exhibited the restored ARCO at
the 1975 4-H fair and was awarded a Champion ribbon for his
The story of this ARCO engine doesn’t end there. My sons
exhibited it at engine shows for years, but as they grew up and
became interested in other things (such as muscle cars) the engine
was pushed to the back of the barn, where it stayed ’til last
Now – some 28 years later – my granddaughter has decided to make
it her 4-H Americana project. So, we’ll repeat the same
familiar steps of getting it out again, stripping the paint off,
re-doing and correcting a few earlier repairs, and making it look
like-new once more. The engine’s original cart was sold to our
nearby friend Keith Kinney many years ago. Fortunately, he’s
going to loan it back to us for the 4-H project.
For now, I’m glad to see this old engine discovered again by
yet another generation. Yet, I suppose that in another year or two
my grandson will want to claim it for his own project, thus
carrying on an age-old tradition of restoring old engines.
Glenn Karch is a noted authority on Hercules engines.
Contact him at: 20601 Old State Road, Haubstadt, IN 47639, or
e-mail at: email@example.com