4307 5th Street Riverside, California 92501
I live in Riverside, California but was raised on the farm in
Minnesota. About four years ago, my brother-in-law in northern
Minnesota told me he had been given an engine that I could have if
I came and got it. Two years ago I went and got it, a 3? HP Witte,
Serial #B-39693. It was first sold to Mr. Tom Griffiths in Ashland,
Wisconsin in 1926 (as per National Oilwell’s T.G. Johnston). It
has already been restored and runs fine.
Now, the real kick-in-the-pants. The first day back at work
after picking up the engine, I was talking about it at the
‘coffee clatch’ before starting work and a co-worker, Bob
Arroyo, says ‘You want another one?’ Seems his dad had one
that had been sitting ‘out back’ for at least twenty years.
Even he didn’t remember when he parked it back there.
Fortunately, it doesn’t freeze around here, only rains in
the winter, and in that area where ‘Pop’ lives it blows
sand pretty regularly. This engine was (would you believe) another
Witte, 2 HP, Serial #B-38325, manufactured February, 1927 (as per
Mr. Johnston again).
Also, it was mounted on a framework of angle iron and was a
walk-behind garden tractor, and the entire assembly was absolutely
frozen solid! (‘Stuck’ wasn’t the word for it!)
To reinforce R.W. Doss’s article in February, 1990 issue,
page 5, and his statement, ‘toys are still out there and closer
to home than you think,’ this tractor was within the city
limits of Riverside, two miles from where I live and one mile from
where I’ve worked for 35 years and not over 200 feet from a
busy four-lane street and visible from the street!
‘Pops’ and I cut our deal on first visit and I got it
home a few days later. My wife’s parents come out in the fall
from Minnesota and spend the winters with us. He is a shade-tree
mechanic like me, so his winter project was to get this thing apart
and freed up. Would you believe that not a single piece was
broken!? It took about three months of Liquid Wrench and gently
working one piece at a time, but he got it.
It took three weeks to get the piston moving. Fortunately, the
piston was all the way forward so the real bad pitting was in the
area between the top of the stroke and the head.
We poured the Liquid Wrench on top of the piston, let it soak a
few days, poured it off, smacked it one time with a wooden block
the size of the piston, turned it upside-down, poured the back side
full for a few more days, poured it off, smacked it once and back
the other way again. Finally one day it moved a freckle and the
rest was easy.
The magneto, a Wico EK, was one immovable mess. Grampa got it
apart and even unstuck the contacts and, so help me, it still had
‘zip’ in it and it ran the engine. I don’t doubt ye
olde Reflector’s opinion of them is quite correct, but I
thought this one upbeat note might encourage those of us that are
stuck with them. Why that much magnetism stayed in it those 20
years is anybody’s guess.
The valves were very badly deteriorated, so I didn’t even
attempt to use them. We went to an automotive engine rebuild shop
and bought what they called ‘blank’ valves. They come in
different size stems and this engine has two different sized stems;
the head of the blank valve is about the size of a silver dollar.
You grind it down to whatever size and shape you want. First we had
the seats ground out to a clean surface and the valves ground to
fit. The stems on these valves are 6-7 inches long and also
‘blank’, so the machinist threaded the intake and cut the
keeper slot in the exhaust just like new. The valves cost $ 11 each
and the machining free. I have friends in the right places!!
The head bolts were completely rusted away, so Tony drilled them
out and tapped them to ?’ N.C. and also re-cut the concentric
circles in the head and mating surface of the block.
Grandpa (father-in-law) said that when he first looked at this
rusted hulk that the differential looked like a Model T, and (sure
enough) every gear and bearing in it has the Ford logo on it. The
wheels on it are ’35 Ford, but I suspect they may have been
21′ wheels to start with.
After complete disassembly, we hauled it over to Swede’s
(another Minnesota farm boy and a friend in the right place) and he
sandblasted it for the price of the sand.
Then a quick coat of Rustoleum and we reassembled the engine.
The rings came out in one piece, but were very badly pitted on the
edge, so we ordered new ones from Petersens and used the old ones
to clean the grooves with. The cylinder walls we honed out, mostly
to remove the rust and hopefully to help the rings seal.
Anyway, it was getting toward spring and time for them to head
back to Minnesota for the summer, so we put the engine together
after getting everything freed up and clamped it to a sawhorse and
cranked away and it started!
We ran it a total of about 30 minutes over the next couple of
days, then reassembled the tractor parts to the engine (before we
forgot how it went).
This is where taking lots of pictures paid off. We were having
no luck at getting the tractor frame attached to the engine until
we got out the pictures we took before taking it apart and while we
were taking it apart. TAKE PICTURES !!
They went home for the summer and I let it sit until they came
back this fall, and we fired it up again. Now we are to the
‘buttoning up’ stage and I have lots of questions.
1. Mr. Johnston has no record of Witte making a garden tractor.
The castings that the wood handles attach to the frame with have a
number imbedded into them. The left side is ‘A-201’ and the
right side is ‘B-201’. I suspect it was either a small shop
putting together one at a time, or a kit and plans. Can anybody
help me with that?
2.There are some parts missing up near the handle grips to
manipulate the clutch. What was there?
3. Color. The whole thing was sort of ‘safety orange’
(what was left after 20+ years of sand and rain). Witte engines are
green. Originally, what color was the whole thing?
4. Since the differential is Model T, were the original wheels
21′ Model T instead of 16′ ’35 Ford, or is the entire
assembly put together long after the Model T differentials were
obsolete and cheap to come by (in those days)?
5. Now a question on restoration. Looking at a lot of the
restored engines in GEM, the finished product looks as smooth and
shiny as a new car. The castings of this engine are rough as a cob.
Do these restorers ‘Bondo’ these rough areas and then use
many coats of paint, or are looks deceiving and they aren’t
really that smooth and shiny?
6. Attachments. Did it come with various attachments or did you
make things to fit as the need arose? There is a 2′ hole
through the above-mentioned handle castings, presumably to
accommodate an attachment or even adjustable rear wheels to control
depth. There is also a swinging drawbar that attaches to the front
of the tractor on a pivot and comes back between the handles. I
need lots of help here.
One final question. Although I have the brass nameplates with
serial numbers on both engines, I have looked for the number
stamped in the end of the crankshaft and even on the flywheel. I
can’t find any trace of it (see ‘Readers Write,’ August
1989, page 91, article 24/6/27B). What am I doing wrong?
I have since bought a Witte log saw (sight unseen) back in
Nebraska that I’ll pick up this summer on vacation. The guy
says it’s stuck also and the head is cracked. That’s okay,
I have friends that can fix the crack and Grampa will unstick
I’ll write about that one too, if you’re interested. As
for the above questions, I promise to acknowledge every letter that
you readers write me, and maybe even answer their questions.
We live in a 1906 2-story Pennsylvania Dutch style house we are
restoring, so these toys go along with the carriage house we built
that matches the house. Our next project (after the log saw) is a
1933 Plymouth engine and trans that was given me for coming and
getting it (30 miles away), or it was going to the junkyard. This
thing is complete, including the ooga horn.
Don’t know what to do with it, except watch it run. Might
make good trading material. The wife and I collect all kinds of
things like dolls, old tools, music-making machines, player piano,
roller organ, that kind of stuff. Who knows? Might run across a
1933 Plymouth that needs an engine and trans and we’ll be on
our way collecting cars!!