After being abandoned for about 83 years, an Olds engine is retrieved from an old pump house.
At a school function, my son, James, was talking with a fellow parent and our gasoline engine hobby was mentioned. The parent said, “I think I’ve got one of those down in the old pump house.”
It was a few months before we followed up on it, but on March 29, 2006, Jim and his friend and I pried the old weathered door off a pump house that had been nailed shut since 1923. Thus began a very strange and wonderful experience.
Our friend had seen the engine through the dirty, cobwebbed window. All the buildings on this farm had been maintained on the outside and kept weather-tight, but the pump house had not been entered, except by insects and rodents, for about 83 years.
Our best information tells us that the engine was built between 1917 and 1921. The farm got electricity in 1923. Then an “L” was built onto the pump house with a separate entrance and an electric pumping system replaced the engine and pump jack. The original part of the pump house was simply nailed shut. As soon as the door came off, I said, “That looks like an Olds!”
The spark plug was broken, but an old Champion X was in the room. The sheet metal crank guard was off the engine, but it, too, was in the room. The governor side of the engine was toward the window and the paint on that side is a little faded. On the filler side, the paint is as unspoiled as I’ve ever seen on a “farm-fresh” engine.
Nothing on this engine was stuck hard. The piston could be moved right away. We gently tapped the valves with an old tool found near the engine and they both came free easily.
On April 2, Jim and his son, Chris, went to the pump house and brought the engine home. When we got it to our shop, a little WD-40 and a few spins of the crank and the pushrod roller was turning. We never had to touch it with a tool of any kind. Of course everything was dirty, especially the oiler. It was quite a job to clean everything. Amazingly, the galvanized fuel tank was intact – almost pristine.
The engine had been left with the exhaust valve open a bit. When the head came off, there was a virtual palace in the cylinder built by mud daubers. One of the fuel lines was also full of their building material.
All we did was disassemble, clean, re-assemble, lubricate and provide an ignition system and a cart. Unlike our usual procedure, we re-used the head gasket. The buzz coil was missing and the battery, although there, was dead. The battery box was there, but the cover was missing. The crank guard was off the engine and bent, but it was there. It was easily straightened and re-installed. On many engines this got discarded early. The sheet metal crank guard had a beautiful decal, but about half of it was missing, as though something had once fallen on it and scraped off about half of the decal. We kept the original skids – they were not rotted at all.
Once re-assembled, fueled and lubricated, this has turned out to be the easiest starting engine you could ask for. It starts without choking on the first or second firing stroke and just sits there running beautifully without missing a beat. This is the only engine we’ve ever seen with the muffler cast as part of the cylinder head and the only one we’ve seen with a governor that works like this one.
The nametag looked curiously off balance. There are two screws, but they are not centered on the right and left sides as you might expect. Instead, they are below center. Also, there’s no border on the bottom. We have a restored Type A 1-1/2 HP, shop no. F3452. On this one, the border is complete and on the bottom part, the tag reads: “Rumely Products Co. Distributors LaPointe, Indiana.” We think that Olds and Seager had an agreement with Rumely and when that arrangement ended, there were some of these tags that were now wrong. Someone decided to just cut off the bottom part and use the tags anyway. Our source in Nazareth, Pa., says he has seen this before, so it wasn’t just this one tag. I have no idea how many were used this way, but this is the first one Jim or I had ever seen.
On April 16, Jim and I took the Olds back to its farm home. Jim and I are not trying to acquire this one. The farm dates back to well before the civil war and the engine is part of its history. The farm is still owned and operated by the descendants of the original owners. As long as the engine is being valued and appreciated by the current owners, it belongs on that farm. Restoring this machine to operating condition has been a rare privilege. We may borrow it on occasion to display at a show, but it will probably live on this farm for a long time. We consider this to have been the discovery of a lifetime.
Contact Robert Meixell, one of the founders of the Maine Antique Power Assn., at: 221 N. End Road, Westport Island, ME 04578; (207) 882-5440.