763 Tunk Hill Road Foster, RI 02825
About a year ago, I became the owner of a small vertical gas engine. The engine had been outside for some time, but was in fairly good condition, or so I thought. The interesting thing about this engine, and what drew my attention to it, was that it appeared to be a stationary engine that had been manufactured by a marine engine company. It has a cast base and a pulley cast into one of its flywheels, a brass water pump operated by a brass connecting rod from an eccentric on the crankshaft, and a Schebler carburetor. It is a two stroke engine with a check valve built into the cover that mounts the carburetor on the lower end of the crankcase. The governor consists of two L-shaped arms on the inside of the flywheel that move another eccentric that controls, through an odd-shaped rod, a throttle valve located in the transfer port on the opposite side of the engine from the carburetor. The ignition is low tension with an igniter that gets its snap from a rod that is operated by the same eccentric that operates the water pump.
All these things are quite intriguing, but the icing on this engine is the brass cover on the cylinder head that has a six-pointed star pattern drilled in it. The cover appears to be machined from a solid piece of brass and is about a quarter of an inch thick. It is shaped like a jar lid and fits into a groove milled around the top of the head. It is held down by the primer cup that extends from the center of the head and it has a hole in it for a water pipe that exits the decoration.
And decorative it is! The first thing I did was to polish the brass cover. Some Never-Dull and elbow grease exposed a piece that must have been the pride of the person who made it.
The question: who did make it? No plate, in fact no casting numbers. None anywhere. No problem-a check in the 'bible' ( Wendel's American Gasoline Engines Since 1872) is sure to reveal something.
At this time I would like to compliment Crestline Publishing Co., and the people who bind their books. Maybe they can use this as a testimonial because, after looking through the book at least ten thousand times, it is still together. Unfortunately, no clue to the origin of this engine was found.
Disassembly of the engine revealed that water had done a thorough job of causing the cast iron piston to be firmly locked to the cast iron cylinder wall. And the reason the piston stopped moving in the first place was that the connecting rod was broken many years ago. Other than this, and a few missing parts, the engine seemed to be restorable.
The first order of business would be to replace the connecting rod. How? Get one cast. How? Make a pattern. How? Get a piece of wood and cut away everything that doesn't look like a connecting rod. This seemed to be within the realm of my ability. A few days later, I had a wood connecting rod which I took to a local casting company, and within a week, I had a bronze rod that looked just like the wooden one I had made.
Now all I had to do was to get it machined. A trip to several small machine shops indicated to me that I am in the wrong business. It would probably cost me only $400 to $600 to get the rod, that cost me $40 to cast, machined. I was told that the problem with doing a job like mine was that it would take one man about ten hours to set up a machine and do what was needed to be done to the casting, and the cost of the machine and labor is not cheap. I can understand this, but the price was more than I wanted to pay for a part that, once installed, will never be seen.
Fortunately a good friend came to the rescue. Pete, a fellow old engine person, has a home shop that includes a Bridgeport machine he had purchased a few years ago, but had not yet set up to run. Pete and I discussed the problem I was having getting the connecting rod machined; his comment was 'wouldn't it be great to do it ourselves?'
A night or two later, I got a call from Pete. He had the Bridgeport set up and it was ready to go. Over the next two weeks, we spent about 60 hours in front of the Bridgeport (the $600 was sounding better all the time). The end result was a beautiful solid bronze connecting rod that nobody will see. Pete thinks I should put a window in the bottom of the engine.
Things were progressing. The connecting rod was a major project, and with that done, the crankshaft welded and turned, most of the castings cleaned and sandblasted, it was time once again to try to identify the maker of the engine. During the cleaning process, the only numbers found were a small 40F on the igniter boss and similar numbers on the main bearing housings, no casting numbers or other markings. Another visit to the 'bible,' this time with a more familiar eye, still turned up nothing.
About this time it crossed my mind that maybe I could trace the engine's lineage through its past. I contacted my niece's husband, from whom I had got ten the engine. He told me he had a son who worked with him, who probably was familiar with his father's engines. I called the son and he remembered the engine very well because of the star in the brass head cover. He thought the engine may have come from an auction that he and his father had attended at the Owl's Head Museum in Maine. He also thought the engine might be an Ellsworth. Wow, a name!
A phone call to Owl's Head and a conversation with the director indicated that, yes, an Ellsworth, or what was thought to be an Ellsworth, was sold in an auction about ten years ago and that the engine had a broken connecting rod. Things were starting to add up.
In the meantime, cleaning revealed that the engine base and the flywheels had been painted a shade of light blue and that the engine itself was dark blue, or maybe black.
A quick trip to the paint store and the engine, flywheels, base and assorted other parts were once again back to what I hope to be the original colors. The hardware, nuts, bolts and other unpainted parts were treated with cold blue, a process used by gunsmiths. Reassembly is in time for the summer show season. Now maybe someone will know for sure what the engine is.
I talked to a lot of people this summer, some very knowledgeable people. Unfortunately, by the end of summer I knew no more about what make my engine is than I did in the spring. One thing that stuck in my head was that very little is known about engines built in New England. A few companies, such as the Abenaque Machine Works from Vermont, are well-documented, but obscure manufacturers like Ellsworth are unknown, even to the people who now live in the towns that produced them.
A scan of the index of American Gasoline Engines Since 1872 yielded a list of 120 manufacturers in the six New England states. This brings me to my current project. New England is a small geographical area and I thought it would be interesting if I could trace some, if not all, of these companies. Trips to several city libraries revealed some interesting facts. One, very few people know what a gas engine is and the important role they had in farming and industry, filling the gap between' steam and electricity as a prime source of power. Also, there seem to be a larger number of manufacturers than the' 120 noted above. For example, in the city of Providence, Rhode Island, my re search has uncovered eleven companies that at one time were involved in the manufacture of gas engines. If the list continues to grow at this rate, I think my project may be more than I originally anticipated. But the results may well be worth the effort.
What about the small vertical engine that started this story? Good news. Last week I visited the Rhode Island State Archives, and there in the New England Business Directory, published by Sampson and Murdock in 1912, on page 1676, is an ad for the Ellsworth Foundry and Machine Works, Ellsworth, Maine, with a picture of one of the nicest small vertical engines I could have hoped to have seen.
Anyone with information about New England engines can contact me at home. My intention is to publish a book on this subject in the future.