WESTERN GAS ENGINE

By Staff
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Closeup of Western mechanicals showing igniter, mixer, valve box and actuating linkage.
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Illustration from a Western manual showing igniter, external valve box and associated hardware.

The Western Gas Engine Company of Los Angeles, Calif., was
formed in 1905 from what was previously named the Western Iron
Works. This original company had roots going back to 1887, and as
early as 1900 the company introduced the reversible-style gas
engine model. This model was also referred to in the literature as
an eccentric model. It apparently had no timing gears, nor did it
have any semblance of a governor or timing devices for ignition and
valve opening. How it actually worked is somewhat of a mystery, as
no known examples or detailed descriptions are available.

In 1905 the geared model was introduced. The single-cylinder,
early-style 1905 engines were built in sizes ranging from 7 HP to
100 HP. The hoist models ranged from 7 HP to 60 HP1, and
all of them were of hit-and-miss design. This design was considered
an obvious improvement and incorporated a timing gear and an
eccentric/cam for controlling ignition timing and exhaust/intake
valve operation. The design also utilized a unique, combination
fuel pump/water pump that operated off the eccentric. The valves
were contained in an external valve box and both were mechanically
operated.

The mixer arrangement was similar to that used on the Charter
engine, and the design for the water injection technique was
patented by Western in 1906.2 The primary benefit of
this design was its claim of providing smoother and more efficient
engine operation when using kerosene as a fuel. It’s
interesting to note here that an assumption might be made
concerning Western and Charter and possible sharing of designs, as
both companies’ larger engines shared many similar design
features.

Basket Case 7 HP

In April 2001, I purchased a basket case 7 HP Western Gas Engine
from Don Meakin of Arizona. A 1905 model, most of the serial
numbers on the engine are 678, while the timing gear and governor
parts carry serial number 407. At the time Western followed a
practice similar to that of early steam engines, in that most parts
built for an engine were not mass produced, nor were they generally
inter-changeable. Each engine was built to operate as a final
assembly, and many of the parts were ‘gunsmithed’ to fit.
This meant stamping serial numbers on many of the individual parts
to prevent any mix up during assembly or repair, as the engines
continued to be maintained by the factory for years after they were
purchased.

The name plate on Mike Tyler’s 7 HP Western, showing serial
number 678. Many pieces on this engine actually come from an
earlier unit bearing serial number 407.

Many of these engines were returned to the factory for repair,
re-boring, etc., and factory repair cards documenting repairs and
when they were carried out are still available for many Western
engines. Engine number 678’s card was lost, but the card for
number 407 indicates that engine was originally sold as a hoist
engine on Dec. 4, 1906, to Con. Union Grand Copper Co. of
Wickenburg, Ariz. The last entry on the card for engine 407
indicates it being owned by Y.M. Martin of Aguila, Ariz., with
repair work performed on April 25, 1921.3 It is
theorized that both serial number 678 and 407 were hoist engines,
and further that number 678 suffered some type of accident that
damaged the governor and timing gear parts. Engine number 678 was,
evidently, repaired by utilizing parts from 407. Engine number 407
was probably discarded as being worn out.

When Meakin acquired this engine a hoist bearing serial number
407 came with the deal. The hoist has since changed hands and is
understood to be somewhere in New Mexico. It would be nice, should
the hoist ever be located someday, to marry it up with the
engine.

After I bought the engine, an inventory of the parts revealed
several key components missing; brass water/fuel pump, igniter,
brass eccentric strap, igniter rod, brass inlet valve lever hook,
and of course the unique brass oiler and remote drip oilers.

As many of us know from experience, these items are commonly
missing from old engines. Fortunately for me, Ed Cooksey, a friend
and a fellow engine collector, had recently restored a 7 HP
Western. He was instrumental in helping me with the fabrication of
missing parts and in the restoration of the engine.

In the process of this restoration I became sufficiently adept
at fabricating custom bolts and nuts, as most were either missing
or too corroded to use. The original crank guard was in place, but
it had been modified to make room for a magneto adaptation. A patch
was fabricated from a piece of cast iron and brazed in place to
fill the hole. The brazing was then dressed with a sander. A new
fuel/water pump was made by utilizing another pump as a pattern,
then making a cast from that for final machining. Internal to the
pump are two ball check valves. Additionally, the main oil
lubricator had to be fabricated from red brass cast parts since
none could be found. Again, an original one was borrowed to copy.
Custom piston rings were purchased from Niagra, and heavy skids
were fabricated from California oak. A fuel tank was ordered from
Gale Rhoton and mounted on the skids.

On Aug. 7, 2001, the engine was started and ran beautifully.
Recent research indicates there are six known surviving 7 HP
Westerns of the 1905 Model, all presently located in California. I
am confident that another of these engines will be discovered in
the future, and it is a true pleasure to run and own such a fine
example of early California engine history.

Contact engine enthusiast Mike Tyler at: 320 S. Locust St.,
Ridgecrest, CA 93555, or e-mail: tylermn@earthlink.net

References:

1.  ‘The Western Engine Lists,’ compiled by Terry
Hathaway
2.  Patent No. 822,172, May 29, 1906.
3.  ‘A Western History,’ by Terry Hathaway 1989.

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