My First Engine

By Staff

317 Hunting Lane, Goode, Va. 24556

It was the fall of 1983, and I was attending the Ferrum Folk
Festival in Ferrum, Virginia. This is an excellent show put on by
Ferrum College’s Folk Life Division. Much of the college
grounds are filled with arts, crafts, and food cooked in the old
fashioned tradition. Some of the activities that visitors can enjoy
include mule jumps, horse pulls, chain-sawing contests, antique
automobile displays, coon dog races, tobacco twisting, and country
and folk music.

I had attended several events and was on my way to watch the
coon dog races, when some strange sounds caught my
attention-mechanical hissing, coughing, burping, sputting and
spitting sounds. My curiosity headed me in the direction of these
fascinating sounds. Nearing the area, I noticed some large, slowly
turning flywheels, and saw puffs of smoke rising. I had come upon a
collection of running antique gas engines and was amazed at the
sight. The old engines had all kinds of levers, flywheels, cams,
cogs, trippers, and other working parts that showed amazing
ingenuity. The rest of my day was spent in this area. I had been
bitten by the bug, and decided that I must have one of these old

After I returned home I began to ask everyone if they had any
idea where I could find a hit-and-miss engine, but most people had
no idea what I was talking about. Then one day a friend called and
said he thought he knew where there was an old engine. I called the
place, and sure enough, the man who answered described exactly what
I wanted. I got in my truck and drove about thirty miles to view
the treasure. Upon arrival I jumped from the truck, and entered his
place of business. There sitting on the floor was what was left of
a 2HP hit-and-miss engine. It looked as if it had been dipped in a
thick black paint at some time during it’s long life, and was
rusted so bad that not one part would move. I tried to bargain with
the owner, but we could not agree on a price. I left

Some months later I attended the Grease, Steam and Rust
Association meet in Pennsylvania. There I saw an engine just like
the one I had tried to buy. It was a 2HP Economy, and was sitting
there just ‘hitting and missing’. I was elated. I talked
with the owner for some time, then told him about the engine that I
had found. Not realizing the actual condition of the engine, he
suggested that I try to get it at any reasonable cost, for old
engines were getting very hard to find. He said he would be glad to
rebuild the magneto at his cost.

Immediately upon my return home I contacted the owner of the old
engine. He wanted to swap something for the engine, so I ended up
trading an antique maple school desk, and a mini-bike that I
figured was worth about $65. I later learned that he sold the desk
for $100.

When I got the engine home I started to take it apart. It was
then that I found that the black coating on the engine was not
paint, but some sort of tar compound. The tar had done very little
to protect the engine, and had allowed moisture to collect between
the tar and the metal. The engine was badly rusted and pitted. Try
as I might, I could get only a few parts loose. So I decided to let
the engine rest for a while. Meanwhile, I wrote to Gas Engine
Magazine in hopes that I would be able to learn when my engine was

One day I was tinkering with an old Briggs and Stratton engine
in the back yard, when a man walked up and introduced himself. He
had seen my letter in Gas Engine Magazine, was in the area visiting
his brother, and thought he would stop by and say hello. I showed
him my old engine and he suggested that we take it apart. It was an
offer I couldn’t refuse, so we proceeded. It was at this point
that I learned how much effort it took to get these old engines
apart. Although my new friend indicated that the engine was in
questionable condition, he offered encouragement by reminding me
that an engine in almost any shape could be restored.

As we continued to remove the parts, the true condition of the
engine began to emerge. The block was cracked in an area that would
be very difficult to weld. The carburetor was not original, the
cylinder was badly pitted, the gas tank was completely rusted out,
and the bearing surfaces on the crankshaft had deep pits. Some of
the smaller parts were rusted to the point of being unusable.
Scraping off the tar in one area of the block revealed a blue
color, suggesting a Jaeger engine, not an Economy as I had
originally thought. But the water hopper opening was identical to
an Economy, so I decided that I would restore it as an Economy.

The tar substance just couldn’t be removed by normal
methods, so I decided to have the engine sandblasted. The estimate
was $35, probably because the sandblaster thought the black color
was paint, not blast-resistant tar. When I picked the engine up my
bill was considerably higher than the estimate. The man apologized,
told me how many hours it took to complete the job, and said that
he had lowered his hourly rate because he missed his estimate. I
now had an antique desk, a mini-bike, and $55 invested in the

Although I thought that the WICO PR magneto was beyond repair, I
sent it to the man in Pennsylvania to have it put in working
condition. After a while, the magneto was returned, completely
rebuilt. The repairs were done at very fair rates, but I was still
surprised to learn that I now had an antique desk, a mini-bike, and
$133.50 invested in the engine.

A major problem that had not been solved was the repair of the
cracked block. But luck was with me, for I had a friend who was an
excellent welder, and he was experienced in welding cast iron. I
took most of the engine to him, hoping that he could weld the block
and remove the flywheels from the crankshaft. When he took a look
at the engine, he couldn’t believe that I was going to restore
it. He pointed out how badly the block was cracked, and noted that
someone had used stovebolts on the crankshaft bushing caps. But
still, he thought he could weld the crack and repair the bushing
cap threads, but he offered no guarantee. He suggested that I use
an epoxy paint to really do a nice restoration, and that he would
paint the engine for me. I left with my spirits lifted.

The epoxy paint was purchased-a gallon of primer at $27, a quart
of red for $10, and a quart of agent for $12. The paint supplies
were delivered to my friend, and I now had an antique desk, a
mini-bike, and $182.50 invested in the engine.

Meanwhile, I had decided that I would have the cylinder rebored
to eliminate the deep pits, and that I would install an oversize
piston. So I placed an ad in Gas Engine Magazine for some of the
parts that I needed, including the piston and carburetor. Also, I
wrote many of the advertisers in the magazine and told them of my

The first response was from Bill Starkey of Starbolt. He
suggested that I replace the bad block with a good used one, at a
cost of only $45. This sounded like a very reasonable solution, so
I called my welder friend and told him not to repair the block, and
I let him know that I had found another block in good shape.

At the Catoctin show in Maryland I met Bill Starkey, and picked
up my new block. I was tickled to death, it was in excellent
condition and even included the push rod and crankshaft bearings
and caps that I needed. At the time I did not realize that the
hopper opening was different from my original block. As it turned
out, my ‘new’ block was an ARCO. So, I decided that I would
restore the engine as a Hercules. I later learned that the hopper
opening on an ARCO is not quite the same as the Hercules. My
investment in the engine now consisted of the antique desk, the
mini-bike, and $227.50.

To continue the restoration of my engine I needed to get the
cracked block and flywheels from the welder. So, I gave him a call
to let him know that I would like to pick up my engine parts. He
noted that this would be a good time, for he had completed the
welding, and had repaired the threads. He had forgotten that I had
asked him not to do the repairs! When I picked the block up I
noticed that he had painted the block red, but had painted the area
below the connecting rod white. He also had painted the rod white,
and pointed out that someone apparently had hit the rod with a
sledge hammer, because it was badly bent. The bill for his work
came to $40. I now had the antique desk, the mini-bike, and $267.50
invested in the engine.

Another ad went to Gas Engine Magazine for parts-a connecting
rod, a carburetor, and a crankshaft. The rod was located quickly
from Berkshire Flywheel Farm for $10, and a crankshaft from
Michigan for $18.50, a replacement gas filler cap from Starbolt at
$18.50, and an engine oiler for $15. But the quoted prices for the
carburetor were just too high, so I continued to advertise and to
search. My records showed that I now had an antique desk, a
mini-bike, and $329.50 invested in the engine.

My Economy-Jaeger-ARCO-Hercules was purchased in 1983 and is
still undergoing restoration. For completion I still need an
original carburetor, a gas tank, and some of the smaller parts. But
my first old engine has been fun, and has taught me a lot. Because
of it I have met and corresponded with a lot of nice people, and
attended many enjoyable shows. During the restoration I have added
eight other engines to my collection-an Ideal Lawn Mower engine, a
1? HP Little Jumbo, a 1? HP John Deere, a 2HP Fairbanks-Morse, a
2HP Stover KE, an 8 Cycle Aermotor, and a 6HP McCormick-Deering
Type M. And only the eight cycle Aermotor has cost me more than my
first engine!

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Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines