Bringing an 1899 Oil Field Engine Back to Life
Howard Weaver's circa 1899 12 HP Reid, serial number 903, on the occasion of its first public showing at the Allegheny Mountain Engine and Implement Association Show in Port Allegany, Pa.
I had been wanting an oil field engine, and spying an ad in GEM for a 12 HP Reid in West Virginia I called the owner and made arrangements to stop and see it. I live in western Mew York, but since we were planning a vacation to Florida with our two sons we figured we could deviate our route to check out the Reid.
After studying road maps we altered our route home to accommodate a stop in New Martinsville, W. Va. From my first glance of the Reid I knew this engine would eventually be mine. Making a deal to buy the engine didn't take long, and before we knew it plans were made to get her home to Franklinville, N.Y.
The following Saturday my young son and 1 left home, well before dawn, with plans to make the trip to West Virginia and back in one day. After a five-hour drive it only took about 45 minutes to get the Reid loaded and secured. About halfway through Pennsylvania we pulled into a rest stop to take a break. A few minutes later when we went to leave the truck wouldn't even groan. For some reason the battery had shorted out. We finally got a jump for $10, and as long as I kept the engine revved up it wouldn't stall. I made minor changes to our route to avoid as many stoplights as possible, and as 1 pulled into the driveway my truck quit - but it didn't matter because we had made it home.
Never having had a hot tube, two-cycle engine before there was much to learn. Fortunately, even though it appeared the Reid had not run in many years, she hadn't sat outside for long, having last been used on a farm in Ohio to pump water off a natural gas well. She wasn't too rusty, wasn't stuck, but there was a freeze crack in the side of the water jacket.
The restoration process wasn't extremely difficult, just time consuming. First, she was degreased, then the 'stitching method' was used to repair the crack. The water jacket was drilled and tapped, followed by brass screws Loctited in to make a solid brass line where the crack had been. A little smoothing and a little JB Weld and the crack disappeared. I left two existing water jacket repairs 'as is,' because I think they give the Reid added character.
I removed both pistons, and, after many hours of tapping with a rubber mallet, all the rings loosened up and were reused. The bearings were fine, needing only a tightening up, and we made a 'Christmas tree' oiler arrangement for the crankshaft. 1 had a new leather belt custom-made for the governor. After wire brushing, a coat of Rustoleum primer was painted on.
Luckily, all the necessary parts like the cast oiler, chimney and hot tube had come with the engine. White oak timbers were sawed at a local lumberyard, and we slid her onto them using rollers. I studied other Reids at shows to make sure 1 had things right, and the rest of the parts were placed on the engine. Interestingly, the engine didn't have the usual pop-off valve on the front of the charge cylinder, or even a place for one.
Nearly a year had passed and finally it was time to try to fire her up. I couldn't - she just wouldn't go. The propane was hooked up, and after a lot of experimenting I got the hot tube burner to work correctly. I spent months attempting to start her, but nothing happened, not even a pop.
Finally, I went to the Flower Valley Museum in St. Mary's, Pa., where they have a 12 HP Reid, the people there were very helpful and agreed to teach me how they started theirs. I explained my problem and someone asked if 1 had checked every opening for mud dauber wasp nests. Hmmmm ....
Back home, ! pulled the chimney and hot tube off and sure enough, there was a nest in the passageway between the hot tube and the combustion chamber. A wire was run through and the debris was blown out. Putting things back together, I tried to start her again. After nearly a year and a half the Reid emitted her first week 'pop.' Even though she could be made to 'pop,' she was still too stubborn to run.
The Ferguson 20 tractor was called in to help (I'm not recommending this, as there are many dangers). The tractor was flat-belted to the Reid over a flywheel. While the tractor was turning her over I played with the intake valve adjustment. That was the ticket! The Reid started running, the tractor was put in neutral, and after a minute the belt was knocked off. Lo and behold, she kept going on her own. That adjustment has not been changed to this day.
I just sat there admiring her for a while until she started to heat up. A water-cooling tank had not been built yet, so I turned the gas valve off. But, before the engine had completely stopped, I changed my mind and the valve was quickly turned back on. Too late to catch the last revolution, the flywheel stopped and rocked back. POP! It fired and took off.
In that instant, a valuable lesson was learned about starting engines. You don't have to pull them through, just rock them backwards against compression, and away they go. This was great, just a rock or two and she was running.
Starting and running the Reid was fun. The more it was run, the more confident I became. I decided to try and speed her up - this nearly led to disaster. As the speed came up, she started rocking from side to side violently, nearly tipping over before I could shut her down.
After much head scratching and examination, I noticed that the flywheel counter weights were not lined up with each other. The left flywheel was on inside out! The clutch was on that side and it was evident it had been this way for a very long time. This probably wasn't a problem when she had been bolted to a concrete foundation.
Some people have told me this isn't possible, but it is when the keyway is 90 degrees from the crank throw. I removed the clutch, turned the fly wheel around, and now she runs smoothly no matter what the speed.
The final maroon color was sprayed on one day before her first public showing at Port Allegany, Pa. She ran flawlessly for both days and made me proud. It had taken nearly two years, much work, and many sleepless nights, but I had learned a lot about two-cycle oil field engines.
That was a few years ago, and the Reid has been well received at many shows since. This Reid has engine number 903, which I have been told dates it to somewhere around 1899 vintage. I send my thanks to everyone who helped me along the way.
Contact engine enthusiast Howard Weaver at: 170 Lakeside Blvd., Jamestown, NY 14701-2401.