Antique Engine Cart Restoration Guide

The manufacture of wood carts for engines.

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by Peter Rooke

This article is an excerpt from Peter Rooke’s Gas Engine Restoration that describes the manufacture of wood carts for engines, although anyone with metal working skills will be able to adapt the principles to their own requirements. The construction of a cart is fairly standard as there are generally two longitudinal spars with two or more cross members. Occasionally you will find original engines mounted just on two planks of wood. Originally the cart was little more than a skid with the option to add wheels.

Normally there are plenty of photographs and information available on style and dimensions of carts, so this article will cover some methods to build them. Before starting, have a clear idea of the length and width of the cart and the position that the engine will take on it. Identify where the engine mounting bolts will be so the timber at that point will be substantial enough. Take care to ensure that no joints or securing bolts are located where there might be mounting bolt holes.

If you are designing a cart, ensure there will be adequate clearance between the flywheel and the cart wheels. Do not make the axles so narrow that there is a danger of the engine falling over when the cart is being maneuvered, left or right, over rough ground.

You will want a full lock on the front steering axle to assist in moving the cart. Consider the design of the cart and whether there will be sufficient lashing points for security on a trailer, as you will not want to tie ropes or straps to parts of your newly restored engine.

If you are making a turntable to make steering easier, allow for a locking pin so that the wheels can be locked in the straight ahead position. This will be useful when winching the cart and engine onto your trailer.

When an engine has a separate fuel tank or a cooling tank, it is best to have a trial fit by laying parts out on the raw timber. This establishes where cross members, axles and wheels will be to ensure that fixing bolts will not be in the same position as bolts holding axles, etc., and there will be adequate clearance for any pipe work.

Another important point to remember is to have some strong areas where a strap can be safely fitted to the front or back of the cart for it to be towed if it becomes stuck in soft ground. If you have pipe axles, this is not generally a problem as you can wrap a tow rope around the axles and they are strong enough to take the strain.

An important decision is what finish will be used for the timber. If the cart is to be painted (e.g. IHC M engine carts were painted black or the color of the engine), then the type of timber does not matter.

The original skid on an International Famous was made from a very dense softwood, but ordinary softwood was used to repair it as the grain and texture would not be seen. The replacement timber was coated in a mixture of old oil and creosote, to match the original and disguise the new wood. Having said this, do not use the cheapest softwoods, which have low density. If using carriage bolts through soft timber, remember the bolts will continue to compress the wood and will need constant tightening.

If you want a varnished finish, then a decent hardwood looks great, while modern softwoods have no feature in the wood and do not look nearly as nice. The best source of good softwood is to reclaim old timber from a demolition site. Once the nails have been removed the timber can be planed and cut to size.

Cross members

An engine can be bolted to the two long spars or to cross members attached to these longitudinal pieces.

Cross members can be fitted above the main spars and bolted in place or mitered into the side members and tie bolts used to hold in position (see Figure 1). Figure 2 shows a replica cart made for an IHC M using two side pieces and four cross pieces, three on top to mount the engine and one underneath to support the turntable.

Mounting wheels and axles

It is assumed that cast-iron wheels will be used for the cart in keeping with original fittings. If they are farm fresh, then the holes for the axles might need tidying up, as the majority of these wheels were cheap castings and a bit rough. In order for the wheels to revolve easily on new axles, the center holes need to be round and parallel.

Just drilling out the hole to a larger diameter will not solve an off-center problem as a drill will tend to follow the line of the old hole, so it needs to be bored out. To do this, use a single point boring tool in either the lathe or the milling machine.

When designing the front turning axle, either:

  1. The front wheels will have to be smaller than the back wheels so they can fit under the frame.
  2. The axles will have to be wide enough so there is plenty of side clearance to enable the axle to turn without the wheels hitting the frame of the cart.
  3. The rear wheels will need to have spacers fitted between the frame and the axle to compensate for the height of the turntable at the front.

The axle for the wheels can either be made from steel tube, steel bar or stub axles welded onto a plate that is secured to the underside of a wooden cross-member.

If the central boss of a cast-iron wheel is not big enough to bore out to fit a pipe axle, then spigots can be fitted in the end of the pipe.

Clean the inside of the pipe and turn a section of steel to be a close fit, the length depending on the strength of the tube and its size. In Figure 6, for 1-inch outside diameter pipe, the internal length of steel bar used was 3 inches, the external length being sufficient to fit the cast wheels and turned to a running fit diameter.

After turning the spigots, two 0.25-inch holes were then drilled through the pipe and the spigot, and 0.25-inch steel pins, 0.125 inch longer than the diameter of the pipe, were inserted and the ends domed over using a hammer and metal block to lock in place.

Before making the mountings for axles on a skid, carefully measure the center of both the front and back wheels. Adjust the height of the axle mountings on the skid, in order that the cart will be horizontal, when these wheels are fitted.


The basic concept of the turntable assumes there are two hard, matching surfaces that turn easily on each other around a central pivot. Therefore, if making a cart with wooden cross members the front cross spar and axle will need metal plates fitting between them so that they move easily against each other.

The size of the turntable plate and pivot depends on the size and weight of the cart plus engine, and must be sufficient to take the stresses and strains when it is pulled, pushed and generally manhandled, occasionally over rough ground. Figure 9 shows the plates on a wooden cart made for an Amanco.

A copy of the IHC M style turntable is shown in Figure 8. The pipe axle passes through a length of larger pipe, welded to the steel disc and the whole assembly is held in place by a pivot pin, threaded at both ends. A locking pin was added to prevent the axle turning when winching the cart on to the trailer.

The only other point to consider is the handle to pull or steer the cart. The handle needs to be fixed to two points as wide apart as possible in order to provide maximum leverage for steering. This can be fixed to the axle by welding or bolting, Figure 10, or as shown in Figure 9, a metal bracket fixed to the wood of the front axle. Alternatively each end of steel rod used for a handle can be bent in a loop around the axle tube.

Mounting bolts

A small detail that can spoil the look of an engine and cart concerns the engine mounting bolts. Do not use “just any” nuts and bolts; they must be in keeping with the rest of the restoration. For an old engine you should use square or large dimension heads and not the smaller modern equivalents.

Ensure that the mounting bolts are the correct length so that when fully tightened there are no more than two or three rows of thread showing and this amount is the same for all visible bolts.

This article is an excerpt from Gas Engine Restoration: A Practical Guide for Beginners and Experienced Collectors. Author Peter Rooke is a regular contributor to Gas Engine Magazine and wrote a follow up titled More Gas Engine Restoration: Restoration Techniques and Tips for Beginners and Experts.

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