My interest in this specific engine was sparked while walking the field at the 2010 Coolspring Power Museum summer rally. A collector had recently imported a Crossley model KB from Buenos Aries, Argentina, and had it on display. Up until that point, I had never seen an illuminating gas-fueled Crossley with the combination of a belt oiler, low-tension ignition, an impulse magneto, a fly-ball governor, and a gasoline carburetor. After doing some research and talking with collectors here and abroad, I quickly learned the factory configured these engines primarily for offshore markets rather than the English homeland where they were manufactured. Interestingly, Crossley engines were not sold in the U.S. Coal gas, often referred to as “illuminating gas,” and oil were the primary fuel choices for engines in England. Because gasoline was more readily available in Australia and South America, engines were purposely marketed for these locations.
Crossley was a huge builder of high-quality internal combustion engines and had been in business since first introduced in the late 1860s. By 1900, Crossley offered engine configurations to suit virtually any application, operating on almost all available fuels and a variety of ignition sources. This model KB, made from around 1900 until 1915, was the specific engine version I sought.
Decoding the letter designation set forth by Crossley is done as follows: Nominal horsepower was expressed as a letter typically ranging from H to Y. H being their smallest offering rated near 1hp with a huge Y at 100hp depending on its specific configuration. Very often there would be a second letter that was used to indicate a specific fuel; in this case, it was the letter B signifying benzine. So with that in mind, the model KB was a size K, or 5hp, engine fueled by gasoline (benzine) with a 4-1/2-inch bore by 10-inch stroke. Additionally, standard equipment on this model included a German UH 6 magnet low-tension magneto, a flyball governor rather than the inertia type, and an elaborate bronze Longuemare carburetor built in Paris. A belt drive oiler was still standard equipment, a carryover from the earlier days.
Some of the KB engines (including the one I was fortunate enough to locate) were outfitted with a stout 500-pound, 38-inch-diameter, five-spoke flywheel. It was interesting to learn from my searches and discussions with other collectors that it appears about 15 or so of these benzene-fueled engines survive today, in any size.
Early on in my quest, it became apparent that the search would have to be expanded beyond the shores of the U.S. Other than the example I enjoyed watching run at Coolspring Power Museum, I could only locate two similar units of the benzine configuration in North America, both imported by the same collector and not for sale.
Over time, my search expanded to Europe and finally to the southern hemisphere where it appears most of these engines were ultimately sold. In 2011, with help from a friend in Australia, I was able locate a model KB in fair but restorable condition. The engine is labeled SN 62260. I later learned it had left the Manchester, England, factory March 6, 1912, for the distributor, A Cowan & Sons Ltd., Melbourne. I was fortunate enough to talk with a collector familiar with the original engine installation and learned that it powered a sheep shearing shed in the countryside just west of Melbourne. Without spending too much time contemplating this, a deal was struck, the engine was purchased, and the next chapter in this story was about to commence – getting it back home to the U.S.
A 10,200-Mile Journey
The first step in this multi-layered adventure was acquiring permission from the Australian Government (Department of the Environment, Water Heritage and Arts) to release it for export. They have strong laws in place protecting the removal of cultural heritage items from their country. The proper forms were filled out, a case made, and proof submitted that this was not the last one of its kind in the country. With the government now convinced a cultural loss would not result with this export, I needed to determine the best way to transport the engine from Australia around the world to Buffalo, New York.
This was an entirely new process for me, and, upon researching it, I realized additional resources would be required. A broker was chosen in Australia who specializes in global transportation, and that company made arrangements for the departure of the 4-foot-square wooden crate. This ended up in an accumulation of paperwork well over an inch thick. From the time money was wired to Australia to when the engine arrived at my door, two years had passed. It was quite the experience dealing with numerous customs questions, different government agencies, unfamiliar forms, longshoremen, and labor issues on the West Coast. All that doesn’t include paying for an unexpected X-ray of the container that had to be built with specially treated, bug-proof wood. And we had to contend with significant delays transferring the crate from the shipyard in Los Angles to the over-the-road truck, which almost lost the crate during the last 2,000 miles to Buffalo. Surviving all of that, the crate finally arrived at my house and the engine was uncrated in February 2014.
The Crossley KB was received virtually as removed from its Australian installation. A special Longuemare carburetor, original to the engine, had been long since been discarded and replaced with one from a Ford Model T. The cast iron pulley and crank guard were missing, and severe corrosion and structural damage was evident on the zinc die cast components of the UH low tension magneto. With many other big projects going on in the shop, I knew the restoration would be a long-term effort, likely spanning several years.
The first task immediately after receiving the engine was to locate proper replacements for the magneto and Longuemare carburetor. After a few years of searching through networks of collectors and online antique web pages for historical engines and automobiles, the proper carb was located. While the price was beyond what I was willing to pay, I figured that if I didn’t act then, I would likely miss out on the opportunity. Out of curiosity, I have kept my search active since that time just to see if another might surface. As I expected, none have.
The last big challenge was to locate a replacement magneto. It seems UH out of Germany did not make many of these. Six years of searching for a serviceable zinc or an earlier bronze body magneto of the proper size yielded no results. I was only able to locate a pair of well-used end covers that could be repaired, which I eagerly obtained.
Fast forwarding to 2021, I had some idle time in my shop so decided to take the opportunity and finally go through with the restoration. My first objective was to see if the magneto could be properly repaired in my shop, a key step in the restoration. With a few setbacks, and getting much more involved than I’d intended, I finally had a good working ignition source.
The next step was to build a wood-decked, steel-framed, display platform and sub-base for the engine. I always prefer building engines from the base up, thus providing a good foundation for the project. At this point, the engine was completely disassembled and all parts were inspected. Every machined surface was found to have moderate rust and pitting. Before any reassembly took place, a couple weeks were spent cleaning the rust, polishing the parts, making new fasteners as needed, and replacing parts too far gone to freshen up. The original paint was mostly weathered away with only a portion of the white lead primer remaining. Since the iron portions of the engine were for the most part rust free, I decided to remove the little paint and primer left behind and present it in the raw.
The rebuilt crankshaft being installed in the bearings.
Continuing onward, further examination revealed severe rust pitting on the crankshaft at all three bearing locations. This was unfortunate and required attention. The counterweights were removed and the crankshaft was sent to a commercial shop specializing in chrome repairs where the bearing surfaces could be reconditioned to new. Surprisingly, the piston and cylinder were not badly worn or rusted, and a decision was made to keep them after a thorough cleaning. The conical intake and gas cage valve springs were rusted beyond use. A custom winding shop was located and replacements were made using the originals as templates.
Spanning a several months, the restoration and assembly process continued with typical re-machining of worn parts in the shop. With the engine almost complete, it was time to put the whole assembly together on the newly made display base. A cooling tank with a shelf for securing the elevated fuel tank was fabricated and mounted to the platform. Fortunately, I was able to locate an original Crossley pot muffler and convinced a good friend/collector that I needed it more than he did. A size 1, iron-framed, Crossley gas bag was incorporated and piped into the fuel inlet manifold allowing operation with either gaseous fuel or gasoline. Piping was done with early style beaded fittings bought in England. The restoration project was finally completed the first week of July 2021.
After 11 years, the fully operational engine is scheduled to be on short-term loan at the Coolspring Power Museum where it can be seen in the Susong/Preston Foster Building.
Wayne Grenning has been collecting and restoring internal combustion engines since his high school years in the late 1970s. He has contributed numerous articles to Gas Engine Magazine on a variety of topics ranging from engine restoration to the history of early internal combustion engines. In 1989, he started building a variety of scale and full-size reproductions of historically significant engines including Otto Langen, Sombart, and Springfield. Wayne has published a scholarly reference book detailing the early history of internal combustion engines, when flame ignition was common. Currently, he continues research on early engine designs, performs restoration work on the side, and is a regular volunteer at the Coolspring Power Museum. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 716-316-8862.