Two years ago, I discovered a 10 HP United make-and-break housed
in an old boat shed on Great Cranberry Island (just south of Bar
Harbor) off the coast of Maine. The engine powered a humungous wire
drum winch that hauled a 40-foot sailboat from the water into the
winter storage shed. The boat shed housed the boat, cradle, engine
and winch, not to mention a complete maintenance facility. Over 20
years ago the United was rendered obsolete by the installation of a
smaller electric winch.
I tried, through a caretaker, to buy the United, but it turned
out the caretaker also had designs on the engine, so my offer to
purchase never got off the ground. The next year the engine’s
owner sold the whole property – including the shed and its contents
– to a Cranberry Island summer resident, Creighton Murch, who wants
to store and maintain his boats in the shed.
Hearing of this, I prevailed on Creighton, through a mutual
friend, Dick Avery, to allow us to have a crank-up and see if we
could get the United running. If we could get it running, I hoped
Creighton might catch the ‘old iron bug’ and use the United
for its intended purpose as installed so many years ago. More than
that, I was hoping he might be inspired to keep the whole
In late July of this year, my wife, Dottie, and I sailed to
Cranberry and entered ‘The Pool’ on the high tide. Two
Cranberry friends of ours turned 70 that day, so the evening was
devoted to celebrations. The next day, 20 or so people showed up to
witness the crank-up of an engine I had only seen through a window
– an engine that hadn’t been run for 20 years. Now I’m
The 10 HP United was in remarkably good shape, needing
relatively little work to get running again. Close inspection shows
a chain running from the right side of the engine forward to the
The first thing we did was tend to the fuel system, which was,
not surprisingly, pretty dirty. We first tried to flush the fuel
tank of varnish -no luck, it was crammed full of sediment.
Compressed air, courtesy of David Stainton’s Cranberry Island
Boat Yard, only stirred up more sediment in the tank, plugging the
lines. We removed the tank entirely, shook it with bolts and a
chain inside to knock out the sediment, and then flushed it
repeatedly. We blew the sediment from the line, and then attacked
the solid brass mixer. The mixer on this engine doesn’t have a
butterfly, but it does have a fuel restrictor, which will slow the
engine to a degree.
Following that we blew the accumulated sludge from the drip oil
tube so that oil could reach the piston. The engine’s magneto
had been removed, but I noticed that the battery/coil hookup is
exactly as drawn in the United manual as shown in SmokStak
in the July 2003 issue of Gas Engine Magazine. With that
article in hand, I hope to return at a later date and reinstall and
time the magneto, but at that moment, 2-1/2 hours into the cleanup,
I had to try for Fire in the Hole or I’d lose the cranking
Our first attempts at starting the engine produced only
occasional, inadequate sputters. While I waited for the crankers to
regain breath, and for my self-confidence to return, I debated
removing the igniter. I was replacing the hot shot with a lantern
battery when suddenly a new voice echoing from the depths of the
shed said, ‘When I was five years old, my job when they stahted
thet thing was ta get undah thet engine and clap my hand ovah the
cahbretta ’til she stahted, then get the hell outa of the way,
’cause that flywheel’s right next ta my right eah!’ It
was the former caretaker, Lynd Colby.
Fire in the Hole
Like a flash it hit me: In all the excitement I had forgotten
the choke, but it didn’t have one! Always yield to experience,
I say, so as I was bid I clamped my hand over the throat of the
carburetor and the crankers pulled her through again in earnest.
Two strokes, a roar, a belch of smoke and we had Fire in the Hole.
We closed the compression release, and in a few minutes – and after
a few mixer adjustments – the governor latched out for about 10
revolutions and then it fired again, finally settling down at about
An obviously happy John Farrar after getting the United running.
Note the fuel tank attached to the wall at John’s left and the
igniter coil below it.
Well, I’ve seen excitement before, but seldom as I saw it on
that day. Dick Avery, yelling over the engine’s roar,
announced: ‘The first guy that forgets this day loses!’
Directing a question to no one in particular, I asked, ‘What
modern engine could you keep next to salt water, unpickled and
unheated for 20 years and expect it to start again in perfect
running order?’ I felt sort of foolish, but Dick and I had
tears in our eyes. Creighton was just plain hooked.
I had just shut her down to make sure lubrication was adequate
when David Stainton, who had arrived late, said, ‘Why’d you
shut it down. I haven’t had enough!’ There was no lack of
hands to pull her through, and this time she virtually threw her
starters across the shed. Once we finally shut the engine down we
spent the rest of the day freeing up the reduction/reversing
clutch, the winch and the 500 feet of cable spooled on the winch
Later on, the caretaker told me the engine wasn’t quite
right, that it didn’t sound quite as he remembered. Looking at
the governor, I saw that it was missing a spring. We looked around
and found the spring on the floor, with one of its hooks broken
off. We heated it up, bent a new hook, put it back on and fired her
up. The engine settled in at around 300 rpm this time, and the
caretaker announced it was finally running right. What a
I’ve recently spoken with Steve Spurling (who at 85 is the
island’s oldest resident), and he remembers the shed once
housing a very long but narrow steam-powered yacht. Further, it
turns out that Lynd Colby’s father, who went by the name
Tinker, was the skipper of the Red Bermuda, the 40-foot sail boat
that was once stored in the shed and lifted by the United.
I’m still curious about the clutch, which was made by Snow
& Petrelli Manufacturing Co. of New Haven, Conn. The clutch
handle has the words ‘Joe’s Gear’ cast into it. I’d
like to know if anyone has any knowledge of this company or its
As I finished this article I received a call from Dick Avery,
who’s setting up yet another crank-up party. Here we go
Contact engine enthusiasts John and Dottie Farrar at: P.O.
Box 51, Brooklin, ME 04616.
Engine: United Engine Co. Lansing, Mich. Type A, 10 HP Serial
Winch Clutch: Joe’s Gear Snow & Petrelli Manufacturing
Co. New Haven, Conn.