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
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
Anyone with information about New England engines can contact me
at home. My intention is to publish a book on this subject in the