The Reo Runs Again

By Staff
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2507 S.W. Rockhouse Road Madison, Alabama 35758-4415

My story begins years ago, in 1986, when I was attending a local
car show. I was exhibiting old engines at the show and as usual
talking to spectators and answering questions. The car show had a
good attendance with people from all over the area and even other
states. During one conversation with a young fellow, probably in
his twenties, he mentioned a Reo engine in his hometown. When the
Reo name is mentioned, most people normally think of a lawn mower
engine such as a Briggs & Stratton. Well, that is exactly what
I was thinking until this fellow told me the engine was
disassembled and scattered all over the empty corn crib, but he
remembered it had a big flywheel just like the ones on my hit and
miss engines. By now, my ears were wide open to what he was saying
and then I was the one asking questions and getting directions to
his home in Tennessee about a hundred miles away. Knowing that I
needed to follow up on this, my wife and I decided to make the trip
in the next few days. The young man had given us good directions as
we made it without mishap, although his place was out in the hills
and off the main road. Of course we had contacted him and arranged
a time before leaving home. After greeting him and his family, we
were taken to a small barn out back. The crib part was empty except
for scattered iron and various old engine parts. The flywheel and
main engine casting were the biggest parts I could see. After
getting together on the price, he told us to load all the parts
which we felt were part of the engine. We could not locate the
carburetor, clutch parts, water pump, and a few other things that
seemed to be missing. After loading, we headed home but had to make
one stop. My wife had noticed a shoe store in the small town and we
just had to stop for a few minutes. A few minutes turned into about
an hour and two pairs of shoes for her. Well, I guess I needed to
pacify her since I had spent money for the old pile of scrap iron.
Well fellows, that’s the way it is sometimes, every hobby has
unexpected costs!

We made it home and unloaded the scrap iron. I tried to piece it
together in my mind but without any pictures, sketches, diagrams or
information of any kind, I turned to Gas Engine Magazine and as you
know, it takes some time to get information.

In the meantime my wife was diagnosed with an incurable type of
cancer. This really put a damper on my engine hobby. She loved a
hobby we both enjoyed and could share together, Indian artifact
hunting. When she felt like it, we walked the river banks and
fields picking up arrowheads. After about a year and a half,
sharing every moment together that we could, she passed away. For a
good while after the greatest loss in my life, I put engines on the
back burner. This is partly why the Reo sat so long without being
restored. Also, other engines needing restoration were put ahead of
the Reo until a good friend saw the Reo and encouraged me to fix it
up. I still didn’t have much information on the one cylinder
Reo but had a sketch or drawing of the two cylinder opposed Reo

I mounted the Reo on a frame to hold the engine and make it
easier to work on. My friend and I closely checked to see what the
direction of rotation was. We determined it to be counterclockwise.
We had trouble finding out which opening was the intake and which
was the exhaust since the carb was missing and no pipe was attached
for a muffler. The engine seemed to be timed for the spark to occur
at or just ahead of dead center. I used a car battery (6 volt)
coil. The spark seemed to be weak. After cleaning all contact
points in the firing system, sparks still seemed weak but we
decided to put fuel in the intake and crank the engine to see what
would happen. We only got one small explosion and decided to wait
for another day as we were tired of cranking. A day or two later,
another friend came by and we were looking at the Reo when he
remarked that the rotation may be wrong. The timing and valve
action seemed to be okay even with the rotation changed. We also
noticed a bigger spark, so we decided to try it. After locating a
crank to turn the flywheel in this direction, we sprayed fuel in
the opposite side since we now determined this to be the intake. By
now you are probably thinking these seasoned old iron lovers are
nuts. Well, I can tell you this engine is complicated and
different. Also, we had no operating instructions, just a sketch of
the two cylinder.

With fuel sprayed in the intake, firing system in order, and not
knowing what to expect, we gave it a crank. What do you know! It
started and ran a few revolutions before running out of fuel. We
cranked again and sprayed fuel in the intake to keep it running for
a couple of minutes. My friend looked at me and smiled, and
that’s when I remarked, ‘The Reo runs again.’

Now, I have adapted an ‘A’ model Ford carb (Zenith) and
have it running very well. I mounted a temporary fuel tank and plan
to install a cooling system soon.

In checking serial numbers, my Reo is a 1908 model. The single
cylinder Reo was used in the small Reo Runabout car and would go
about 30 m.p.h. The two cylinder opposed Reo engine was put in a
four passenger Gentleman’s Roadster and would go about 45

From my request in Gas Engine Magazine, I received some sketchy
information from several people, but one person, Mr. Walter Sanborn
of Chichester, New Hampshire, was very helpful. The following are
his exact words to me:

‘R.E.O. built single and twin engine cars from about 1905
through 1910 and then went to four cylinder cars. Ransom E. Olds
started building cars in 1900 with the famous car called the
‘curved dash Olds’ as it was a carriage with a curved dash.
He built several thousand of them until 1904 when he sold his
company. He, however, stayed in the automobile business but, of
course, had to change the name of the Olds car so he adopted his
initials of Ransom E. Olds and named his car the R.E.O.

‘My car is a single cylinder 1907. I would guess your engine
to be about 1909-1910 but I do not have serial numbers available.
There is a Reo Club and I expect they might have a list available.
I have an instruction book on a two cylinder Reo which isn’t
much different than a one cylinder except a two cylinder has one
opposite the other so if you disregard the rear cylinder, the rest
of the engine is the same. You may have some problem getting it to
run not being mounted in a car chassis. There should be a small
brass water pump on the end of the crankshaft, on the end opposite
the flywheel. This water pump circulates water to a tubular
radiator at the front of the car and back to the engine for cooling
so you will need a radiator. The timer is on the end of the
camshaft and is a brass timer similar to a one cylinder marine
engine. I expect this is on your engine. It works with a buzzer
coil. The problem with the spark timing is that on the car it is
connected by linkage with rods to the steering column next to the
steering wheel so you will have to adapt some type bracket for
spark control. There is also a pedal on the floorboard that works a
compression release on the engine in order to allow easier cranking
for starting. It is almost impossible to crank over without the
compression release when the valves and rings are good. The spark
control on the steering column cannot be fully retarded until the
foot compression release is set. The gas tank is up front under the
hood and is gravity fed to the carburetor. I doubt if you can find
an original carburetor, as I have never seen one except the one I
have. They are a very crude carburetor, and I am told they never
did work well. My car has been adapted to run on a Model
‘A’ Zenith and it works okay. The original has a screen
with a black cloth over it and I don’t use it.

‘From your picture, I can’t see what is beyond your
flywheel, but the shaft extends to hold the planetary transmission
and sprocket for the chain drive to the rear end. Beyond this is
another babbitt bearing bolted to the frame to support this

‘Many of the engines have been frozen and welded as they did
not drain water very well from the cylinder head. I guess this
wouldn’t be a problem in the south.’

My Reo engine has been frozen and welded as Mr. Sanborn

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