My Old Witte Engine

By Staff
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At Denton Farm Park, Denton, North Carolina, July 1993.
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Got it running before I disassembled it.
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All stripped down to bare metal.

301 Meridian Avenue Taylors, South Carolina 29687

I am a person who likes to obtain items that are alike, or at
least similar to ones that I have owned or had contact with in
earlier years.

As a boy on a farm in the foothills of North Carolina, I
remember an old engine in a shed we called the Mill House. In
younger years, I remember being afraid of it while it housed a corn
mill. I spent a lot of time in this building because there was a
workbench with wood working tools, all hand operated, that I loved
to putter around withmaking such things as wooden toy
airplanes.

As I grew older, the mill was disposed of, but the engine
remained. It was now used to pull a tilt table saw, cutting tree
trunks which were hauled in from the woods and cut into
firewood.

Sometime ago I began to remember this engine and the fascination
it held for me. Not knowing much about the engine collecting hobby,
I saw a listing of the book American Gasoline Engines Since 1872,
by C. H. Wendel, which I acquired in July, 1988. Having remembered
someone calling the engine ‘The Witte,’ I eagerly looked
through the book for maybe a picture or description of one. Sure
enough, I found a picture that looked just like what I remembered
from my boyhood about the Witte engine. Since then I’ve learned
that that engine, in all likelihood, was a 4 HP Witte headless on
skids.

I started going to shows, answering ads, and inquiring
everywhere I thought there might be a chance of locating one of
these jewels. Finally, on July 6, 1991, at the Old Threshers
Reunion at Den-ton Farm Park, Denton, North Carolina, I found a 2
HP Witte headless engine for sale. Though this one was smaller, it
at least looked like the one I remembered.

I had no truck, but a two door sedan with a fairly large trunk.
I tried it on for size. Somehow I was lucky enough for it to fit,
so home with me it went!

This July 3, two years later, a friend and neighbor of mine (who
has a truck), and I went back to the show at Denton Farm Park,
taking the engine with us as an exhibit. The two years in between
were spent restoring the engine, as close as practical, to its
original appearance when it came off the assembly line in Kansas
City, Missouri, on June 22, 1920. I chose to make it a hand
portable model, since this would make it easier to move around.

Before doing any restoration work, however, I purchased a buzz
coil and, using an old battery eliminator, wired up the engine and
got it running. Boy, was it fun to start this thing and watch it
run!

A 1914 catalog illustration resembles 2 HP portable engine s/n
48376 manufactured June 22, 1920 and restored by Charlie Dellinger
between July 1991 and June 1993.

The engine had been sprayed with Caterpillar yellow paint by the
previous owner. After totally disassembling the engine, I scraped,
used paint remover, wire brushed, and sandblasted individual parts
down to bare metal. I found some parts had a couple different
shades of green paint under the yellow and over remnants of the
original dark green. After reading in GEM that one part Rustoleum
Black and two parts Rustoleum Forest Green would produce the
correct color, I set out to buy the paint. It took considerable
phoning, and chasing all over town to find that Rustoleum Forest
Green is an industrial paint and not available in retail stores. I
found a distributor who had the paint, and I was amazed at the
beautiful dark green color! The engine I remembered just appeared
black to me probably covered with many coats of dirt and oil!

The connecting rod Babbitt bearing had been removed, and a
makeshift bronze one inserted. I located a man who could still pour
Babbitt bearings and let him have the rod. It was ten months and
four days before I saw it again, but he did an excellent job!

I started inquiring about oak 4×4’s for the beams. All the
local lumber yards said in effect that there was no such thing. I
finally went to a sawmill in a nearby county and asked them to saw
me some. They sawed out a twelve footer, then cut it in half for
me. Of course it was green, and I tried to let it air dry slowly,
so it wouldn’t crack or warp. It did a little, but the beams
turned out fine after a local cabinet shop planed them for me and I
put the imperfections on the bottom and back side.

The battery box was also a challenge. Knowing the dimensions of
the four single cell batteries and the buzz coil, and using a
drawing from a copy of an old Witte catalog, I scaled the
dimensions, using the known dimensions of some parts as a
reference. I used the same method to obtain the gas tank
dimensions, then had it custom made from galvanized sheet metal. I
wanted the battery box to have interlocking corners, and after
having tried and failed to find someone to build it for me, I set
out to do it myself. I bought inch oak boards, had them planed down
to inch, and after building myself a jig, proceeded to build my
box, using my trusty table saw.

I used some scrap brass sheet and some black Bakelite material
to build a replica of the ignition switch, circuit breaker, and
timer contact assembly. I purchased the cast iron cart parts and
wheels from a GEM advertiser. I had to hand craft a few small parts
and the tongue. The original wheels were six spokes ones, but I
couldn’t find any that I liked; hence the five spoked ones on
my cart. I found the original type muffler, a cast reproduction, at
Denton.

Needless to say, I’m really proud of the ‘Old Witte
Engine’ and like to show it off at home, and hope to take it to
more engine shows.

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