Iron and Brass Honeymoon

By Staff
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Right view of the Petter engine.
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The Petter engine.
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Left view of the Petter engine

13813 Travois Trail, Parker, Colorado 80134

My love for antique engines really got started when my wife of
two days, Tammy, and I were on our honeymoon in Victoria, British
Columbia, in April of 1985. While there, we went through the Museum
of Natural History and I noticed a small engine in the mining
display. I immediately made my interest in this device known, and
suggested to Tammy that we start looking around for an old engine
to purchase.

A day later, we entered an antique shop south of Duncan, B.C.
and inquired of the proprietor if he had any old engines. He led me
outside and showed me a behemoth which I could see was a little
impractical from a transportation aspect. Then he led me into one
of his sheds and showed me a nice British made Petter ‘S’
type, 5 HP, oil engine. It was stuck but with minimal pressure on
the flywheels, I was able to get it to turn. As we left, I was
thinking furiously about it but Tammy and I had kind of agreed that
it wouldn’t do having a 400 pound engine in the back of our
Datsun B-210 for the remainder of our honeymoon on Vancouver
Island.

As our honeymoon wound down, we made a stop by my folks on the
way home. Naturally, I had not forgotten about the Petter engine so
I told my dad about it. His reaction was basically, if we
weren’t going to go pick it up, he was! After discussing the
issue with Tammy, we found ourselves on the ferry back to Vancouver
Island to go pick the Petter up.

We finally arrived back at Duncan and after a little negotiating
with the store proprietor (which he won), we backed the B-210 back
up to the shed. The proprietor and I lifted the engine into the
back after I removed the hatchback. I was having a hard time even
lifting my end of the engine off the ground, while he had hold of
the other flywheel and was almost lifting the whole thing himself
with one arm! I obviously didn’t eat as much Wheaties as this
guy did.

We then started for the border in our Datsun which looked like
we had removed the rear wheels and which issued a few sparks from
the rear end as we went down the road. After being grilled by the
border police for about a half hour, and a bit more of a drive, we
made it home to our brand new house in North Bend, Washington, with
my new treasure (and bride).

Upon disassembly, I noticed that the crankpin and bearing was
shot along with one of the mains. One of the air intake valves
(it’s a two-cycle diesel) was also destroyed. There was a
section of the water jacket which had broken out. The rings,
naturally, needed replacing. The glow plug was rusted out. After
spending a while to see if there were any parts available, which I
came up dry on, I contacted a shop in Seattle to resurface the
crank and remanufacture the bearings. The cost on that was greater
than the purchase price of the engine!

Then I had another shop custom build the new set of rings. I
fixed the section of the water jacket that had been broken out. I
obtained a piece of sheet titanium to replace the air valve which
had rusted out. The fuel pump took about two weeks by itself to
free up and get in operational condition.

Then there was the governor. I soaked it for a month before I
was able to disassemble it. After disassembly, I cleaned it all up,
repaired the parts I had to break to disassemble it and got it
working as designed. A very interesting double eccentric/flyweight
design dynamically alters the outer eccentric shape which in turn
determines the amount of throw on the fuel injector pump. The fuel
injector was a challenge too. The nozzle was clogged and eroded and
the injector leaked at every joint. There wasn’t much I could
do with it, except clean it up a bit and make some new seals for
it. Never got it to atomize at all.

I then got to the oil line and fuel plumbing. This was perhaps
the most disappointing of all, because I had no idea how all the
original lines ran. My rendition of how the lines went didn’t
work so well, along with the external oil pumps which I
jury-rigged. Disappointment and disillusionment followed, and the
engine was mothballed for a while.

About a year later, I attended the Puget Sound Antique Tractor
and Machinery Association show in Lynden, Washington. There was one
exhibitor from Canada who actually had an operating 8 HP sister to
my 5 HP Petter! 1 spent a long time talking with him and taking
slides and videos of his engine, because all of a sudden, I
realized this new information of how the engine should be finished
off and made to run, gave me enough information to get mine running
too! At the show, I was also able to also purchase a single-feed
Madison-Kipp lubricator.

When I got home, a vast percentage of my available waking hours
were dedicated to finishing off the Petter project. I was able to
complete the fuel and oil plumbing. The original lubricator for
this engine had been a two feed, and I had bought a one feed, so I
connected the one feed to the crankpin and put drip oilers on where
the other feed should have gone, the piston. I went to the local
Caterpillar dealer and obtained what I asked for, ‘the largest,
hottest glow plug’. It was a 150 watts, 24 volts, which I was
able to set within the original glow plug.

I then built the carriage and assembled all the other supporting
equipment for the engine onto the carriage. The cooling tank I used
was the core from an old water heater of approximately the same
vintage as the engine. The pulley I turned on my brother’s
lathe, after laminating 10 8’x8’xl’ pieces of oak.
Since the original cast iron muffler was missing, I made one the
best I could, using pictures I had of the 8 HP as a guide. It came
out pretty well. I was even able to find a paraffin torch similar
to the one that had originally been supplied to heat the head prior
to start. This was for the folks who didn’t buy the optional
incendiary glow plug.

Finally, after over three years, I was finished and the day came
to start it. I believe that this was Thanksgiving 1988; my dad and
brother were visiting. We connected a 24 volt source to the glow
plug, and waited for it to warm up. When it did, I placed the
piston at BDC, manually worked the injector pump and got a flame
out the exhaust port. Then we cranked it up and it started1. We
were all smiles. What an inexpressible feeling to get the engine
going and watch it running so smoothly. I ran it for about a half
hour and shut it down. During the run, the glow plug core separated
from the glow plug body, which electrically opened it.

The family has moved to Colorado and it’s been about four
years since I last fired the Petter engine. Mainly because I
haven’t yet replaced the glow plug. Also, I’d like to find
an original Petter mechanical lubricator, or at least a
Madison-Kipp dual feed lubricator so I can make sure the engine is
being lubed properly. The original lubricator operated from the
rise and fall of crankcase pressure, rather than with an external
arm. The drip oilers on the piston don’t work so well due to
the varying pressures in the piston lube feed holes.

It would also be nice to be able to find an original glow plug
setup. The original glow plug screws into the upper combustion
chamber right opposite the fuel injector nozzle. Upon removing the
glow plug from the head, one would place a small incendiary
cylinder on the end of the plug and light it with a match. It would
burn, I suppose, like a sparkler. Then one would place the plug
into the head and there would be about 30 seconds to start the
engine before the tip burned down.

I’ve tackled a few other projects since I last worked on my
Petter engine. I’ve restored a 1929 John Deere ‘GP’
tractor, an International ‘LB’ engine and am now working on
a 1.5 HP John Deere engine.

I would like to correspond with folks who have these vertical
Petter oil engines, information, and/or parts for them. Of all the
many engine shows I have gone to, I have never seen another like my
‘S’ type Petter, with the exception of the 8 HP I mentioned
before, that gave me the inspiration and vision to complete the
project. This leads me to believe that they are among the most rare
types of engines in the United States. I don’t even have an
accurate idea in which year it was manufactured. Its serial number
is 201793. The only paperwork I have for the engine is a copy of
Illustrated Catalogue of S Type Petter Oil Engines, I received when
I bought the engine. The catalogue has the following handwriting on
the front: Canadian Petters, 551 Howe Street, Ask for Mr. H. B.
Petter, 1925.

Perhaps someone will be able to help me get this great old
engine running in fine shape.

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