Troubleshooting the Gas Engine With Stan Read

By Staff
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Photo courtesy of William Bragg, Atwood, Illinois.

Learn about troubleshooting the gas engine with engine expert Stan Read.

To me, there is something fascinating about old things,
especially mechanical things. Having been a general mechanic and
machinist for many years, this interest usually turned toward old
automobiles until one day a friend gave me an old 12 HP Fairbanks-Morse hoisting engine built about 1899. While looking for
a magneto for it (which the engine didn’t use, I found out
later) another friend gave me a small Dempster engine and a search
of a local wrecking yard turned up a 6 HP Fairbanks built in
1920. Suddenly I was “hooked” on a wonderful hobby of
collecting and restoring old gas engines. I was amazed at how
little I really knew about them.

Every question answered introduced a dozen more unanswered.
Hence the purpose of this article. Over the years I have gathered
considerable information as well as over sixty engines.

If anyone has questions or problems about their engines that I
can answer, I would be glad to share any information I have in a
regular column in this magazine. And if I can’t answer your
problems. I’ll run the question in the column and maybe someone
else can. I’ll try to keep the answers as non-technical as
possible so that everyone may benefit whether he is a casual
collector or the completely overboard engine-nut such as

Future articles will probably deal chiefly with the mechanics
and operation of the gas engine, but to start the ball rolling
perhaps a short outline of how it all started:

Man had long dreamed of freeing himself and his work animals
from the backbreaking toil of his fields, mines, and the sea. As
with most great inventions, relief in the form of the internal
combustion engine did not arrive in any one single burst of
inventive genius. Rather, it was the work of many eventually
brought the engine into being.

As early as 1678 Christian Huyghens, a Dutch scientist,
suggested using gunpowder in a closed vessel, the resulting
pressure being used to do useful work. However, it never progressed
beyond a laboratory toy. John Barber in England in 1791 used coal
gas to propel a paddle wheel or turbine.

By 1794, another Englishman, Robert Street, developed a
gas-burning hand-operated pumping engine.

Lebon, a Frenchman, about 1800 made use of the idea of
compressing the fuel and air charge before ignition, a truly
remarkable advance that unfortunately was ignored for many

1823 saw Samuel Brown of England working with possibly the first
successful combustion engine used commercially. The burning gas
merely lifted the pistons and their weight and the vacuum created
by the cooling gasses supplied the power.

Many of the features of present day engines were first used by
Lene Etiene Lenoir of Luxemburg about 1860 in building the first
practical internal combustion engine. It utilized the crankshaft,
flywheel, slide valves, connecting rod, and had electric ignition.
While these items were not necessarily unique to this engine, it
brought them all together on one engine. It was double acting, that
is, fired in both directions of the piston stroke, but it did not
compress the fuel and air charges, ran excessively hot, and ran
quite inefficiently, but it was a beginning.

A most important step took place when Beau de Rochas of France
outlined the requirements for a successful internal combustion
engine about 1858.

Dr. Nikolaus August Otto (1832-1891) along with Eugen Langen
made up the firm of Gas-Motoren Fabrik Deutz, and about
1866-67 began building the Otto free-piston engine, a heavy, noisy
affair that ran more efficiently than the Lenoir engine and sold by
the thousands. Possibly its crude design may have been the result
of avoiding patent infringements. At any rate, working with Beau de
Rochas’ theories, Otto finally developed the “four-stroke
cycle” or “Otto -cycle” engine and exhibited it at the
1872 Paris Exposition. Thus the gas engine, practically as we know
it today was finally a reality.

Gottlieb Daimler, who directed Otto’s engine plant near
Cologne, about 1878 introduced a crude form of carburetor which
allowed the use of liquid fuels. Many more made their
contributions. It is remarkable how rapidly the gas engine then
developed. Economical fuels and practical lubricants became great
obstacles and a new industry was born to overcome these

My address is: Stan Read, Gunnison, Colorado. I have been troubleshooting the gas engine for years. Let
me hear what you’d like to know about your gas engines and
I’ll see what I can do. (Please send all questions to Stan Read — he can then send questions with answers to us to print. If
you send them here, we’ll just have to forward them. — Anna

This tractor is a 1917 Heider made by the Rock Island Plow
Co., 12-20 hp. It has a friction drive, also water injector and a
mounted three 14 foot bottom plow. It was bought out of a junk yard
near Peoria, Illinois. I restored it in 1962.

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Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines