Hercules Engine Restoration

By Staff
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# 279910
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# 279910 before restoration.
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Garrett Shively putting the finishing touches on the paint on engine #279910.
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Hercules #279770 had been longing for a mate of the same horsepower and model letter. A couple of little Hercules engines had been added to his side over the last couple of years. These little brothers and sisters helped to ease his longing for a mate, but his owner feared that if a mate was not found for him he would not keep performing perfectly at the engine shows.

A friendship was formed with Kirk ‘Kerosene’ Taylor over the last year or so. Everyone knows ‘Kerosene’ around most of southwestern Pennsylvania, some of the Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia engine shows, by the Thermoil engines he brings to the shows. One evening Kirk and I were talking about my Hercules engine #279770, ‘a throttling governor engine’ when I asked Kirk if he knew of a hit and miss style Hercules engine of the same model letter and horsepower that might be available for purchase. Kirk thought about it for a minute and then he said he knew of an engine he thought was a model F hit and miss, that was real close by. Kirk said he would check it out for me and let me know.

The next time we talked, Kirk said that he had the engine for me, he had been saving if for me for about 10 years. I scratched my head for a minute and thought about it, because I thought that Kirk had shown me all of his engine collection. Kirk told me that this particular engine was stored outside and that he had pretty much forgotten about it until I asked him about the whereabouts of one. Kirk also mentioned that it was missing a lot of parts, and stuck, of course. I did not waste any time getting up to Bedford to see the engine.

When I arrived at Bedford one evening I was told to drive around back of Kirk’s parents house, to pick up the engine. I knew this was going to be my lucky day, when Kirk’s mother was on the back porch waiting for me to arrive. She was so excited about somebody taking away that ugly rusted up mess of an engine, that had been sitting under her pine tree for about ten years, that I thought she was going to load it into my truck for us. The engine tag was still attached to the hopper, and it confirmed that the engine is a model F serial number 279910 3 HP hit and miss style Hercules gas engine, exactly what I had wanted to go with number 279770! We loaded the engine in my truck for the ride home to LaVale, Maryland. A handshake of appreciation is all Kirk would accept for the engine.

The next morning at school, my colleague and partner in restoring engines Jim Cogan and I looked over and assessed the condition of the Hercules. We were very excited about my new toy we had to work on! The engine was only missing the ignition system. There appeared to be no cracks or welds. There were, however, some very interesting modifications from originality about the engine, we noticed.

First of all, the only thing Kirk knew of the history of the engine was that it had been in a blacksmith shop around the Breezewood area of Pennsylvania, when a fire had burned the building and engine. The engine sat next to what was left of the blacksmith shop for God knows how long before the engine was given to Kirk, and then to me. Nothing was left of the building except the remnants of a few boards, bits and pieces of various types of rusted metal, and the outline of a foundation. So the engine had sat out for a very long, long time.

One interesting modification had been done to the ignition system. The original Wico magneto had been removed. Somebody very ingeniously had rigged a wooden block to the base of the engine, below the cam gear and spaced out perfectly, so that a set of contacts were rigged to touch and make contact for timing the engine. The magneto bracket had been removed and a cast iron slug was bolted on with a hole for a spark plug. The spark plug was unique in itself. It was an extra long reach style. The length of the plug was about six and one half inches. It was so long that the previous owner had to machine a little groove in top of the piston for the end of the plug to clear, so that it would not hit the side of the piston during stop dead center of the cycle. Jim, Kirk, and I looked at the groove in the piston very closely; it appeared to be machined out, and not filed or crudely done by someone with limited tools.

None of us could quite figure out why someone long ago had gone to such extremes to redo the ignition system from the original. The pulley had been built up with about three inches worth of rubber belting, I guess to increase the belt working speed. One more strange thing was observed. The cam gear boss on the base of the engine was broken completely off, but the missing piece was rusted in place, still attached to the cam gear. We couldn’t see how the came gear boss could have possibly been broken. There were no tell-tale signs of an accident that would have had enough force to break the boss without a tooth or two being broken on the cam gear itself. These strange modifications from originality were interpreted from the clues we had when assessing the condition of the engine. We enjoy trying to figure out the history behind an engine by some of the breaks, fixes and modifications that have been done to them. It’s amazing just how much of the engine’s history can be figured out.

Now the fun begins. The engine had sat out so long that I figured it would be a real challenge just getting it unstuck and apart. I was right, every nut and bolt had to be heated up before they would break free. One day at lunch Jim and I heated up the head nuts and got them all free! After cutting the pushrod, I took the head off. A little heat on the valves and out they came, also!

So far, so good! I stood the engine up on end and let the cylinder and piston soak in some penetrating oil. I started the restoration on the head. Sandblasting revealed no cracks or old welds. I used the original valves, but made new stems. I then had the valves and seats reground. My head was ready to be used. A few weeks later we noticed the oil had soaked around the piston, so we figured it was time to see if it would break free. After a few raps with a sledge, out came the piston. The cylinder was in terrible condition with deep pits and lots of rust.

Kirk had mentioned that he had just completed resleeving a 2 HP Thermoil, which just happens to have almost the same bore size as a 3 HP gas engine. Therefore, he had made the right size plate, that fits in the head’s stud holes, that allows the use of a Van Norman boring tool. He volunteered to resleeve the engine for me. I ordered the right sleeve size, and after a couple of evenings work we had resleeved the cylinder! At this point I had the head and cylinder restored and ready to use. Since the base had a broken cam pin boss, it would need some work on the base of the engine!

I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the finished job! It was perfect, you can’t even tell it was even broken! Now the crankshaft needed restoring. Since the engine had been in a fire, it had no bearings. They had been melted out! The crank journals sat all those years with no bearing or grease to protect them. So the crankshaft was deeply rusted and pitted. I had had the crankshaft turned down on engine #279770, so I knew what the cost was. I opted for this engine to purchase a used crankshaft from Ed at Hit & Miss. Ed was nice enough to throw in the crank gear, which I needed also.

I had poured bearings for engine #279770, and was smart enough to keep the jigs I had used. That made pouring the bearings for this engine pretty easy. When I talked to Ed about the crankshaft, I purchased the other parts I needed to finish the restoration: rings, pushrod, magneto trip, and the magneto bracket. I was really excited now. I had all the parts needed to finish the restoration!

I put the main parts of the engine together for painting. As with the other engine I painted these parts separately, and then assembled the rest of the engine. Everything went together as was designed. I was worried about all the parts fitting together right; so many replacement parts had been used from different engines. But, everything went together, just like the Hercules engineers had designed them to do way back in 1922.

I wanted this engine to be on an original wagon, if possible. After making lots of calls, I realized that finding an original Hercules wagon was going to be nearly impossible! I talked to Mr. John Ritter at the engine shed, and he thought he could find me one! He was right, and in a few months he called and said he had one at his shop if I wanted it! Kirk and I rode up to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and picked it up one evening. I wanted it to be original colors, also.

I talked with Glenn Karch at the Coolspring, Pennsylvania Show in June. Glenn informed me that all the wagons, whether they had Hercules or Economy engines on them, were made by another company and were painted with Hercules green wheels and Economy red rails. I painted the wagon the right colors and put the engine on it. What a nice outfit! I was really impressed at how easily the engine could be moved on the wagon! I’m ready to try to start the engine!

Kirk came down one evening, and we started the engine. It fired and ran good, but was running way too fast. We tinkered with the governor spring a little and had it running right along about where we wanted it.

Without the help of my friends I would not have been able to restore this engine. I’d like to thank Jim Cogan for all the time he spent doing the welding, and Kirk for giving me the engine, plus resleeving it for me! What a great hobby we have; it brings people closer together!

I think the happiest one of all is engine #279770, he now has his mate in engine #279910. They must get along pretty good, because they both ran perfectly at the following shows last summer: Berryville, Virginia; Cumberland, Maryland Heritage Days; Coolspring, Pennsylvania; Route 40 Pike Festival; and the Sistersville Oil and Gas Festival.

Contact Allen Shively at 10400 Witt Lane, LaVale, MD 21502.

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