Stationary Engine List

By Staff
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What seemed a promising discussion for both this column and a
future, dedicated article in the magazine came up on the ATIS
internet mailing list recently. A young collector heard about a
flywheel engine on a nearby property and asked for advice on
retrieving it. The only problem was that the engine in question was
believed to be down a well! As usual the list rose to the
challenge, and list members were full of information about possible
dangers, such as poisonous gases or lack of air, what organizations
could help and safety precautions to take. It was a great
disappointment to all of us, not least to the young man himself,
when he discovered that a house had been built directly over the

Well, that ended that story, so as an alternative, we present
the following thread of discussion, one that literally covers the
world of engine collecting. It originated in Australia, where a
collector has just completed the restoration of a 12 HP Root and
Vandervoort, and, having run it successfully at one of his local
shows, was confident enough to make some adjustments to its
running. His victorious e-mail to the list prompted discussion
about the preferences for engine running speeds in different
countries, the stresses which can be placed on an engine and
methods by which an engine can be slowed.

As ever, the following comments reflect a variety of opinions
that surfaced during this discussion.

After talking with a fellow R & V collector in the U.S. the
other night, I thought I might try his method of slowing the R
& V down. So I went outside and simply took the main governor
spring (the one between the weights) off the engine. Started up the
12 HP R & V and now it is running real slow at about 80-90 rpm.
At this speed I have to get the fuel/air mixture just right,
because if it missed a fire the engine will not get through the
next compression stroke. You could go and make a cup of coffee
between the mighty bangs now

You might find it may get more reliable once the rings seat in a

What’s the ‘standard’ in Oz for running engines at
shows? Here in the States we tend to do what you’ve done,
namely tinker with ’em to get ’em to run nice and slow. And
usually it’s just the engine running and not belted up to
something ‘working.’ In England, the standard tends to be
just the opposite; an engine running flat-out at full nameplate
rated speed, often belted to a piece of equipment.

There’re pros and cons to both approaches, and it really
comes down to what pleases the owner. Personally, I like the look
and sound of a hit-and-miss running nice and slow. What’s most
common is Oz?

The thinking exhibitors mostly go for a speed below the rated
one for the engine when it was new. We realise that iron gets
tired, too, and should not be stressed more than is required. Of
course, there ARE those who think they should be run as fast and as
noisily as possible to get them to go. These people are avoided by
anyone with half a brain or more, as an explosion or similar IS

On the other hand, I’d bet more engines have been wrecked by
the huge stresses of slow running than by doing a light day’s
work after loving restoration.

I would think the same thing. Running slow would create more
stresses on the drive train and flywheels, etc. Kinda that inertia,
momentum thing.

I fully agree that an engine running at almost stalling speed
puts a horrible strain on the crankshaft. However, I did say that
running BELOW the rated speed is, in general, a good thing. I did
not advocate a speed so low as to cause needless stresses on the
main components.

We are in total agreement then! It seems to me that running an
engine at such low speeds that one has to resort to way retarded
ignition and holes in the piston, etc., is a travesty. By the way,
Petters produce spots regardless of speed!

What of the anomaly of the largish 2-stroke half-breeds and some
of the hot-tube engines running in the sub-40 zone? You saw them at
Portland -Barnett’s Reid and that red Bessemer. They come up
real sloooow and SQEEEEEZE – and barely poot over compression (just
barely), and push off with just enough inertia to get over top a
second time (repeat as necessary). Intuitively at least, that
doesn’t seem to put much strain on things.

Running a hit-and-miss ’till it almost dies is too slow, it
does jar the wheels and keys. You can tell when it’s too slow,
though. They seem to be fighting the wheel.

Bill Cooper’s 8 HP Famous H & M runs about 50, and
unless you put your ear against the engine or feel the stack, you
can’t tell when it fires.

It seems there’s no ‘standard’ running speed here in
Australia, and I think the funniest thing at rallies is when you
ask the owner a ‘tech’ question (like running slow) you
get, ‘I dunno, that’s the way it was when I got

In our great Aussie laid-back style, those words kinda say it
real neat!

Now that I have proven that the R & V can run slow, the
spring is going back on. I was happy with the speed the engine was
running, but I had to satisfy my curiosity. I personally think the
engine is under less stress at a moderate speed than at a very slow
speed. The forces at work taking an engine from almost stopped to
moving again are enormous, so I think a little quicker will be
better. Another good reason is that at its usual speed, the
governor looks really cool through the spinning spokes!

I don’t think there is really a standard in running engines
here in Oz. Most of the engines running something seem to be
running below the rated speed, as most are running something that
is well below the HP of the engine.

I think the ‘she’ll be right mate’ attitude extends
to engines, and people just do what they feel like. You don’t
tend to see engines running dead slow like in the U.S., or engines
running at their rated speed. I think we have chosen the middle

Many of the engines at shows here are hot-bulb engines
(Australs, Black stones, etc), which you can run very slow, except
for one little problem: If you run them too slow they cool off, and
if they cool off too much, they stop.

I’d agree that if the engine is not belted to any load, then
seeing it run nice and slow is what most of us in the States
prefer. What I like is seeing a slow running engine that barely
makes any noise. Last weekend at the Bottimore swap meet there was
a 15 HP Ingeco side shaft engine for sale. The owner was running it
off a propane tank. He started it by priming it with gas, and after
the first few bangs on gas he’d switch it over to propane. On
propane it just ran nice and slow, and hardly made a sound. I love
watching engines like that run. Unfortunately, at $12,000 it was
out of my price range.

I’ve seen a fair number of vertical F-M T engines with the
electric flywheels at shows, and more often than not they are
running slow and have no load. However, if you see one hooked up to
a generator like it was intended, it is something else.

I have no personal experience being around these old engines
when they were being used as work engines, but I’d guess that
for people that were around them, the working sound and speed is
what they remember and for them, that’s what they’d like to

I think a good show needs a mixture of both. The slow-running
engines are enjoyed by the general public because slow running
makes it is easier to see what is happening. The slow-running
engines are also enjoyed by the collector that understands some of
the challenges of getting a engine to run real slow and quiet, as
well as being able to better see the mechanical workings of a
particular engine.

The working speed engines are also needed so the general public
knows what the engines were really used for. Otherwise, they may
think it was just an old-time entertainment device that people
stood around looking at! Then of course there are collectors that
just prefer the sound of an engine working.

I think that running slow with the original timing for running
fast (advanced) would give the sharp report and thus the stresses
you mention, but most engine operators set the timing WAY retarded
so that the firing is more like a fart half way down the power
stroke (no stresses there).

Take care of your old iron and make the most of what’s left
of the restoration season – we’re already well on the way to
the 2002 show season!

Engine enthusiast Helen French lives in Leicester, England.
Contact her via e-mail at: Join the ATIS
mailing list at:

‘There’re pros and cons to both approaches, and it
really comes down to what pleases the owner.’

‘I personally think the engine is under less stress at a
moderate speed than at a very slow speed.’

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