135 Harmon Street, North Tazewell, Virginia 24630
Several years ago, when I was young and innocent, I saw my first
hit and miss gasoline engine. It was a marvel to me how the engine
would seemingly run at times and coast at other times. Being
blessed with better than average mechanical ability, I soon saw
that the exhaust valve and the magneto were disabled during the
coasting times. I immediately set a goal for myself to own one of
this type of engine.
Later I saw an advertisement for a book with the plans to build
a hit and miss engine from scratch. I purchased the book, looked at
it, studied it, and put it up for another day. That day has never
Last spring a friend of mine brought to work an auction flyer
with a Fairbanks-Morse one and one-half horsepower hit and miss
engine listed. He informed me that he planned to attend the
auction. I asked him to buy it for me if he could stay within my
budget. The following Monday he showed up at work with a truckload
of goodies and one engine in very dirty shape.
After studying the engine I saw that it was a Fairbanks-Morse
Model Z one and one-half horsepower engine that ran at 500 rpm. The
engine had a set of points rigged to work from a post on the timing
gear and what I assumed to be a coil.
Later that day, I loaded the engine and hauled it to a steam
cleaner for a thorough cleaning. Then I waited for the ‘cheap
time’ to phone my cousin in Washington who is an expert on and
a connoisseur of antique engines. I proudly informed him of my
acquisition and he broke the news to me that it was not a hit and
miss engine but a throttle governed engine. He told me that he
would send me copies of Gas Engine Magazine advertisements
so I could order reprints of manuals.
Between this time and the time my manuals arrived, my friend and
I looked through his other boxes to decide what was of value and
what was fit for the scrap iron yard. We kept a magneto that looked
interesting and a used head gasket. We scrapped the funny looking
motor scooter fender.
The U.S. mail finally delivered the manuals. That evening I
spent a few hours studying and restudying them. Then I found that
the engine ran on the spark supplied by a magneto. The same magneto
that we had stored in case of a future need. The engine also had a
crankshaft guard that was the duplicate of the ‘fender’ I
scrapped. Woe and misery upon me.
On further inspection I found that at some time in the life of
this engine someone had broken the connecting rod and repaired it
in a blacksmith shop. The connecting rod journal was measured and
found to be 0.011 of an inch out of round. The magneto trip pin and
roller on the timing gear would have to be renewed and the governor
spring adjusting screw was missing. The engine was missing the
hold-down clamp for the magneto. The oak skids would need
replacing, and a new fuel tank would need fabricating. The magneto
was inspected and found to have no spark. The butterfly in the
carburetor was worn, and a new one was made from a scrap door kick
plate. I also found, to my dismay, a crack in the head that would
need the attention of a professional welder.
Getting a spark from my magneto was an initial concern, and no
one in my area could help with the repairs. An advertiser in
Hemmings Motor News told me that Mr. John Rex in Massachusetts
could do the repairs. So 1 contacted Mr. Rex and talked to him for
several minutes. He seemed to be very knowledgeable. Mr. Rex told
me that I should not be concerned about the connecting rod journal
and that he could repair the magneto. Mr. Rex was good to his word
and returned my magneto, in a couple of months, with a very hot
I was still concerned about the connecting rod journal. I took
the crankshaft to a local automotive machine shop. The man at the
shop wanted to know the original size. I told him that it did not
matter because bearings would have to be made especially for the
engine. I don’t think he wanted to do the job because no
meeting of the minds occurred. Upon returning to my shop, I used a
micrometer, a milling machine (a flat smooth file), and various
grits of sandpaper to remove the excess metal from the journal. The
journal is now smooth and round to within 0.001 of an inch.
New rings, bearings, gaskets, and a replacement rod were ordered
from our friends at Hit and Miss Enterprises. However, Hit and Miss
could not help me with a replacement for the ‘motor scooter
fender,’ but the machinist did inform me that the connecting
journal was undersized by 0.250 of an inch.
Several parts had to be custom made to finish my restoration.
Using a photograph I found on the Internet, I made a pattern and
cast a new magneto hold-down clamp. A new ratchet pawl was made for
the starter crank handle. A new fuel tank was fabricated from
galvanized sheet metal and two old paint thinner cans. Finally,
using blacksmith tools, a new crank guard was forged from sheet
steel. The compound radii were so time consuming that it made the
‘scooter fender’ worth about $300.
The engine was covered with a fresh coat of green paint and
reassembled. I then mounted the wooden engine skid on a shop-made
cart assembled from scrap iron and pipe. It gave me great pleasure
at lighting off time for the engine to start and run smoothly the
My advice to anyone who has the bug to own or restore any piece
of antique machinery is to educate yourself. Subscribe to Gas
Engine Magazine, read books, and talk to owners before buying or
starting any project.