REBIRTH OF A DELCO

By Staff
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Completed light plant mounted on hand truck. Battery tray suspends on rod in front of small caster wheels.
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Mechanical components after disassembly and prior to clean-up.
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Major components after sandblasting and priming ready for re-assembly.

312 Gillett Avenue Waukegan, Illinois 60085

My interest in gas engines goes back to my boyhood days on the
farm in Western New York State. My dad was a mechanic for an IH
dealer for many years and had successfully made the transition from
horse drawn equipment to become the resident expert on milk coolers
(remember the smell of sulphur dioxide when those old coolers
sprang a leak?) and diesel engines. It was my privilege to work
with him for two years following my graduation from high school in
1948.

He started collecting old gas engines during the late
1960’s, long after I had moved to Illinois. Every year when we
went home to visit, he would eagerly show me his latest find and
soon the air would be full of the special music of old
one-lungers.

On one trip home, I noticed he had acquired an old 32 volt, 750
watt, Delco generating plant. It sat outside the garage with the
flywheel removed and all the electrical parts pulled off and lying
in a box. The engine was very rusty and stuck tight. Dad apparently
never had any interest in restoring this engine as it sat out there
for several years before finally being moved into a corner of the
old garage.

In 1983, following Dad’s death, the old Delco went on the
auction block as part of the estate sale. Not a single bid was
made, so as the auctioneer turned to sell the next engine, I
offered five dollars, to which he promptly responded,
‘Sold’. Thus began my collection of ‘rusty
iron’.

Shortly after returning to Illinois with my ‘prize’, I
began the restoration. Careful examination revealed that the parts
were all there. Someone had even thoughtfully taped the flywheel
key to the crankshaft after removing the flywheel. What followed
was a four week process of disassembly, cleaning, painting, and
repair to get the engine restored, and another several weeks to
figure out and wire the generator portion.

The mechanical restoration was fairly simple once the stuck
piston was finally removed. This turned out to be a major project.
That piston, stuck near TDC, resisted all efforts including soaking
in water, and boiling in oil (literally)! Even with the cylinder
removed from the crankcase so that gentle tapping could be applied
to both top and bottom of the piston, it would not budge. I finally
fabricated an adapter for the spark plug hole and used the power
grease gun. It worked beautifully. Fortunately, the intake valve,
which was stuck, had been freed up enough to hold the grease in the
cylinder. The only part I had to replace was the breaker point
spring which had rusted through. I made a replacement from a piece
of an old clock mainspring.

With an old ignition coil wired up and with an electric fuel
pump supplying gas in place of the original gravity feed, the Delco
was ready for ‘the big moment’. To my delight, it started
the second time I ‘twisted its’ tail” and it
purred like a kitten. So far, so good, but now remained the problem
of sorting out the generator wiring. What followed was several
weeks of correspondence, initiated by a request to GEM readers for
help. Several replies were received and by combining all sources of
information including some gleaned from the series of Delco reprint
books available, a seemingly workable schematic was created. My
Navy training in basic electronics helped out here!

All the original wires from the generator to the control panel
had been removed but were still there. By checking wire lengths and
the size of the terminal eyes against the possible connection spots
on the brush holder and control panel, wire routing and connections
which seemed to match the schematic were determined. New brushes
were filed to shape and installed. Contactor points were carefully
cleaned, two 12 volt automotive batteries connected in series were
hooked to the control panel, and we were ready for action.

The first time I manually closed the contactor, there was some
good news, and some bad news. The good news was that the generator,
now acting as a starter, began to turn the engine over. The bad
news was, it was turning the wrong direction! A quick reversal of
the field winding connections corrected that problem. On the next
attempt, everything worked to perfection. Engaging the contactor
after the engine came up to speed resulted in a constant twenty
five amp output as indicated by the ammeter. Success at last!

The power plant has since been mounted on a heavy duty hand
truck equipped with a battery rack containing three twelve volt
batteries. The loading platform on the truck was removed and
inverted. This provides room for the crank, if needed, and also
serves as a guard to keep people from bumping into the
flywheel.

It is difficult to describe the feeling of accomplishment that
comes when turning a five dollar basket case of old iron into a
smoothly operating piece of equipment, but those of you who have
been there know what I mean. My only regret is that I did not
undertake this project while Dad was still alive, so that he could
have shared in the joy of seeing another pile of rusty iron come
back to life again.

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