Restoring Model E Hercules Engines

By Staff
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Glenn's dad, Jack, begins the final phase of restoration: painting.
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With advice from Glenn Karch, the Hercules engines were painted a dark 'hunter green.'
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Both engines have been sandblasted and various holes and spots filled before painting begins.

Restoring two engines at the same time has never interested me, but I had two Model E Hercules engines that had been sitting in the shop for years. I found the 1-1/2 HP at the Portland, Ind., engine show about four years ago. It’s serial no. 198845, and sports 18-inch-diameter, 1-1/2-inch-face flywheels. The 3 HP engine is serial no. 223591 and has 22-inch-diam-eter, 2-inch-face flywheels. I found it in the little Indiana town of Blairsville about five years ago. I knew I’d get around to restoring them one day, but never really gave a thought to when. It was just one of those things that I figured I’d do at my leisure.

Then I learned Southern Indiana Antique and Machinery Club’s Classic Iron Show of Evansville, Ind., was featuring 90 years of Hercules and 95 years of Economy engines at the Vanderburgh 4-H Fairgrounds the second weekend of June 2004. I had been on the board of directors off and on from about 1996 to 2002, so I rethought my priorities and decided the Hercules engine work might as well come sooner than later, and it just seemed right for the engines to be at the show.

I started the restorations in November 2003. My dad, Jack Miller, and I started on the task of disassembling and sand blasting both Hercules engines. Upon inspecting the condition of these engines, there was both good and bad news. The good news was that all the major components were still intact, such as the bearings and cylinder. I did have to send out the cylinder head to have it machined and also sent out the magneto for work, but that was just standard maintenance. The bearings also needed shims, but that was no problem. The bad news was that whoever the guys were that had owned these engines, they didn’t know much about the right way to fix them, and they hadn’t seen the best attention in their day. They got just what they needed – and no more. The only maintenance they underwent was just enough to keep them running in their heyday. In fact, the little 1 -1/2 HP had bobby pins substituting as cotter keys for holding on a number of parts. The connecting rod had been welded at the crank end and also on the piston end. The gas tank was patched with a piece of old license plate! Whoever had previously owned the old 1-1/2 HP Hercules engine sure had a funny way of keeping it running.

The 3 HP had its own past. I wouldn’t have believed someone would replace the crank shims with pieces of 1/8-inch oak wood and thin pieces of cardboard, but sadly that was the case. The casting on the cylinder head that holds the rocker arm pin had broken and been addressed with a similarly sized inside-diameter nut placed in the same position with a 1/8-by-1-inch steel strap that wraps around the nut and screws to the rest of the cylinder casting. If this engine could only talk …

As repairs were made and the primer sprayed, it was exciting to see Dad spraying on the DuPont enamel paint. We painted both engines as closely to the original colors as possible by contacting Glenn Karch, Gas Engine Magazine’s resident expert when it comes to all things Hercules. They turned out to be a deep ‘hunter green,’ and the results look real nice.

Now the engines were ready for the show – just in the nick of time. After the restoration, my mom, Rita Miller, looked at the engines and said, ‘They sure got just what they needed.’ I had restored about 10 to 12 engines before these, so the restorations were not too difficult since nothing was stuck and all of the major components were usable. The little problems, such as the wooden shims and shoddy repair jobs, really surprised me, however. I couldn’t believe someone would use a part of a license plate to repair an engine!

Both engines got a good reaction at the 2004 Classic Iron Show in Evansville. Although there were plenty more Hercules engines than just mine, it was great to show mine right along with everyone else. Thanks to Gas Engine Magazine and their suppliers for the help.

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