French Find

By Staff
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Jim Ellis’ Robertsonville Foundry engine from Quebec, Canada.
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Jim Ellis’ Robertsonville Foundry engine from Quebec, Canada.
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A close-up of the only identification on the engine, reading: “Mfg. Par La Founderie de Robertsonville.”
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Hans Petter Nielson’s home.
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A door leading into a room in the H.P. Nielson factory.
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The decaying remains of the Nielson factory in St.?Joseph,?Mo., most of which are being hauled off to the dump.
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Outside the factory.
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The decaying remains of the Nielson factory in St.?Joseph,?Mo., most of which are being hauled off to the dump.

My wife and I made our annual trip from our home in Oregon to Quartsite, Ariz., to spend a few weeks in the winter sun while visiting relatives. The yearly antique engine show put on in Quartsite in January also seems to call me there each year.

While in Arizona, I looked up a man I met previously who had some engines for sale. He showed me everything he had and I chose an engine I had never heard of. The only identification on it was a large plate on the side of the water hopper that read, “Mfg. Par La Founderie de Robertsonville,” which sounded like French to me – French Canadian. There’s nothing to indicate horsepower or serial number, but judging from the physical size of the engine, my guess is that it is a 3 or 4 HP.

My plan was to take on the task of rebuilding the engine at some future time, but after only a couple weeks, I couldn’t stand it. So I began to disassemble and clean each part.

I started with the magneto, which is a Webster with igniter. It was dirty and rusty with the nameplate corroded in two. I took the magneto apart, sandblasted it and painted the parts. I sent for a new brass nameplate and after reassembly, my Webster looked like new. I bench tested it, and to my delight it had a good spark.

The next thing was the head, and I found the valve guides to be badly worn. I took it to my friend Dick Hediger, who seems to have whatever it takes to repair anything. Sure enough, he had the tooling to resize the valve guides, and while at it, he ground the valves, also.

Next, I inspected the piston, which had part of the wrist pin boss broken and a crack in the other side. This made the piston unusable, so I began looking around for another to take its place. The task was more than I would have guessed and I couldn’t find anything close enough to use. Wondering what to do, Dick came to my rescue with a suggestion. He said that I might clean the inside of the piston on my lathe, down past the wrist pin holes, then make a sleeve and insert it and re-drill the pin holes. I couldn’t see why this wouldn’t work, so I proceeded on with the repair job. Upon fitting the sleeve into the piston, I ran a weld bead around the skirt and re-drilled the pinholes and fitted a new wrist pin to it and it all looked fine.

All the bearings looked fine, so I started putting things back together, but the old rings just didn’t have enough compression to start the engine. Back to the drawing board. Careful measurement told me that 5-3/8-inch rings should do the job, which I found at Starbolt’s Engine Supplies, and in a few days I got my old buddy Dick back with his cylinder reamer, and after a few passes things fit perfectly.

Now I had all the compression in the world, but couldn’t get a pop from the machine. I tried everything I knew, but to no avail. Finally, in desperation, I rigged the engine up with a spark plug, coil and battery. I gave it a couple cranks and away she went. Great, it ran, but I wanted it to run with the magneto. After running it two or three times this way, I tried the magneto again and lo and behold, away it went. So far it starts every time with very little effort and I’m quite happy with the results.

My Robertsonville came with a pulley clutch, which was a nice plus. The clutch took some freeing up and I had to build a few small parts, but it works fine now upon reassembly.

The only thing I did to change the original look of the engine was to change the muffler. It seemed to have a louder report than most engines and it bothered me. I found a nice shiny motorcycle muffler and fitted it to the engine. It does sound better and looks kind of neat, too, with that chrome stack sticking up. And for the peace of mind for you purists out there, I’m saving the original muffler.

This was a fun project and is a nice addition to my other engines. Maybe someone out there knows something about this brand, as I’d like to know its horsepower and something of its history.

Contact Jim Ellis at: 82481 Greenwood St., Creswell, OR 97426; (541) 895-4662.

For more information on the Robertsonville Foundry, see Gas Engine Magazine, August 1998, page 17.

H.P. Nielson History

Nearly ruined by 40 years of neglect, this piece of history is under new ownership

By Wayman Griggs

Having researched years ago on the subject of Hans Petter Nielson’s factory for C.H. Wendel’s American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, my information comes out of St. Joseph, Mo., city records.

Many times we drove by the area recorded as the site of H.P. Nielson’s factory, but we could not get a look, as a 6-foot tall, solid fence got in our way.

Our son Randy is into buying and restoring old St. Joe houses, and he bought the old Nielson factory.

I?had an H.P. Nielson engine for many years, and now we have the home and factory. But it is over 100 years old and was not maintained for the last 40 years.

Old Hans was an oculist, or in modern terms, an eyeball adjuster and glasses fitter. In 1902, his office was in a prestigious location of downtown St. Joe (Suite 1 of the Missouri and Kansas telephone building.)

He had many sons with professional jobs: a cabinet-maker, coach driver, physician, railroad worker and machinist were recorded.

This 80-foot-by-100-foot brick building was built the old way: four layers thick and interlaced together, possibly two-story. Because of the trees, it was mostly toted away to the dump in trash containers. I just bet it would cost more to haul the materials away than it cost to build it in the early days of 1900. Just makes a person cry to see this piece of engine history hauled to the dumps.

Contact Wayman Griggs at: 14150 state Route NN S.E., Stewartsville, MO 64490.

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