Gas Engine Magazine

Little Wonder Lives Again

Adventures in gas engine restoration.

  • Manufacturer: Chicago Flexible Shaft Co., Chicago, Ill.
  • Year: 1920-23
  • Performance: 2hp, 750rpm
  • Bore and stroke: 3-1/2in x 3-1/2in
  • Flywheels: Two, 14in diameter, 37lbs each
  • Flat belt pulley: 6in x 3in
  • Cooling: Water hopper, 7-gal capacity
  • Fuel tank: Approximately 1 gallon
  • Weight: 325lbs gross, 250lbs net
  • Floor space: 17in x 21in
  • Ignition: Jump-spark high-tension Bosch BA-1 magneto
  • Governing: Hit-and-miss flywheel governor, exhaust valve timing linkage

Every year on Fathers’ Day weekend, the Eastern Idaho Chapter of Vintage Car Club of America hosts a popular car show and swap meet at the Idaho Falls’ City Park. Most years, several of us local rusty engine enthusiasts take the opportunity to display a variety of hit-and-miss engines, popping and smoking, turning the old-time equipment — pumps, burr mills, etc. The noise and smoke of these old engines is a popular attraction at the show. Curious folks gather around the safety barriers taking photos and videos. We rusty object nuts patiently explain to the onlookers what these strange and noisy contraptions are and what they were used for. We repeatedly answer, “No, these are not steam engines with the water vapor rising from the hoppers cooling the gas engines.”

In addition to the benefit of educating the public, particularly the curious youngsters, we invariable hear stories like, “My grandfather had an engine like that on the ranch or in his shed,” or, “I know where an old engine like that is sitting behind a neighbor’s barn, in the back field or along the creek bank.” Although entertaining, most of these stories lead to dead ends. Unlike this story of the Little Wonder discovery and restoration.

June 2019

At the car show, an older gentleman came over to me after observing the old engines chugging away and confided he had found and retrieved a vertical engine years ago from an abandoned mine in Central Idaho. He asked if I wanted to see it and, of course, I answered yes. Long story short, the next weekend I visited John Phillips in the small town of Dubois, Idaho, to see his engine.

John led me through the comfortably cluttered shed behind his home to a back corner and pointed to an old wash tub filled with rusty parts. “There’s the engine!” he said. “I took it apart when I found it and haven’t had the time to put it back together. Probably I will never get back to it. Maybe you can do something with it.” John generously donated the wash tub full of rusty parts to me. We later dug around his “bone yard” out behind his shed and finally uncovered two flywheels that once belonged to the old engine.

July

Once back at my shop in July, I tried to piece this puzzle together. I had never dealt with a vertical engine, and I couldn’t even identify it. Fortunately, Rick Thurman, a knowledgeable engine buddy of mine, looked at the photos of parts strewn across my shop floor, leafed through C.H. Wendel’s American Gasoline Engines, and identified my engine find on Page 96 as a 1920 Stewart Little Wonder 2hp engine.

August

After researching literature and online videos on the Stewart Little Wonder, I determined all the critical engine parts were there on the shop floor. I systematically cataloged all the parts and then took the bigger pieces to Ace Powder Coating and Sandblasting, a local sandblasting shop I have used for previous engine projects. After sandblasting, several pieces went over to Idaho Steel for welding repairs. I patiently waited in line with all the priority farm equipment needing repairs for several months (hobby projects are an appropriately low shop priority in a farming community). The biggest challenge was repairing the damaged, deteriorated water and gas tanks. It was 14 months before they could get to them in the welding shop.

Meanwhile I found and reached out to Rusty Brizendine, an old-time engine collector in Rosenburg, Oregon, who had collected two Stewart engines and the accompanying sheep shearing equipment over the years. Rusty provided me with several suggestions for restoring and operating these engines. He informed me of the need for the starting crank (he lent me his original that I used for re-casting two new crank arms). He told me how to operate the tickler pin to prime the gravity feed carburetor and said I needed an oil drip pan because of the open rod journals. He shared detailed photos of the original exhaust valve timing gears and linkage from parts of an engine he retrieved buried in the riverbank. In addition to an original connecting tab Rusty gave me, I fabricated a mounting tab, duplicating the photos to complete the exhaust valve timing linkage. When done (several trial-and-error iterations), it worked just like the original.

September

Having experienced the long lead times in rebuilding magnetos in my past engine projects, I phoned and then shipped the original Bosch BA-1 magneto to Rudy Adrian’s Magneto Service Shop in Lancaster, Minnesota, after confirming he had the components and experience to restore this magneto to new condition.

My wife and I winter in Tucson, Arizona, so the engine project was put on hold for 5 months.

May-June 2020

I received the restored magneto from Rudy Adrian’s shop and it looked like new. Rudy always does a great job.

Repaired parts were received from Idaho Steel (except the water and gas tanks). I designed and built an oak hand cart for the engine with cast-iron vintage wheels. The engine components were primed and painted, and I began assembling the engine on the cart, from the bottom up.

June-August 2020

During this time, new cast iron piston rings, re-machining of the cylinder, refurbished connecting rod crown bolts, new wrist pin, new exhaust/intake valves with retainer clips, and new springs were completed with Troy Engine in Rigby, Idaho. Various trips to local hardware stores were made for miscellaneous items. I have always experienced top quality work with Troy’s engine shop. Good work takes time!

November 2020-March 2021

The carburetor was dismantled, cleaned, and re-nickeled — the re-nickel coating was done at Royal Plating in Tucson, Arizona. Also, delicate re-soldering of the brass carburetor float was done at Western Drawn Products in Tucson. Quality work was done at both establishments with reasonable wait times and prices.

Idaho Steel completed the repair and refabrication of the water and gas tanks and did a fabulous job. The priming and painting of the water and gas tanks was also completed. Final assembly of the Stewart Little Wonder engine then took place in my shop. Landmark Signs in Idaho Falls, whom I have worked with for all my engine projects, designed and made historically correct manufacturer’s label decals for the engine and cart.

Rick Thurman, my knowledgeable engine colleague, and I spent parts of two days in my shop fitting together the Stewart engine components, setting clearances, timing the Bosch BA-1 magneto and gears on the drive side of the engine, setting the flywheels, fiddling with the carburetor internal pins, clearing fuel passages plugged by sand-washing prior to re-nickel plating, and fabricating/installing a spiral, copper gas line (almost leak proof) between the fuel tank and the carburetor.

June 2, 2021 Initial Startup

After some last-minute priming adjustments, partial choking of the air inlets on the carburetor down draft column, and a minor adjustment of the air uptake (carburetor shut-off) collar, we spun flywheels and the Stewart Little Wonder engine popped and took off. It began quietly running again after more than 80 years of solitary retirement. Slow, steady, relaxed hit-and-miss chugging took off just like this little engine never missed a beat. The abandoned engine waited patiently for long years at a remote ghost mine in the Central Idaho mountains, was then stored in pieces in a back corner of a shed in the little town of Dubois, Idaho, for half a century more. Now this Little Wonder has found a home and lives again!


History of Stewart Little Wonder

  • 1905 The Stewart Little Wonder two-stand portable sheep shearing engine assembly was first produced by the Chicago Flexible Shaft Co., Chicago, Illinois. The Little Wonder engine and accompanying shearing assembly was made primarily for sale in Australia and New Zealand to power small, portable sheep shearing plants for wool farmers to manage small flocks in remote locations. This water-cooled engine was sold in Australia and New Zealand under the brand name Cooper.
  • 1907 The Cooper Little Wonder two-stand shearing engine assembly was introduced at the Melbourne Royal Show.
  • 1914 The early, solid flywheels were replaced by 14in spoked flywheels.
  • 1916 The Stewart Little Wonder engine, in that year and thereafter, sold as a stationary engine with a flat belt pulley without the shearing assembly.
  • 1923 The Little Wonder went out of production.

Brian Edgerton is a retired engineer residing with his understanding wife, Deb, in beautiful Idaho in the summers. In the winters, he retreats to Arizona to enjoy outdoor adventures in the sun. The self-proclaimed iron collector was raised in New England on an ancient family farm in the midst of old-time tractors, farm equipment, Model Ts, and stationary engines. He contracted the Rusty Objects Virus (ROV) early in life, and delightfully learned to live with this affliction much of his life. Brian is always looking for the next project. He can be contacted at (208) 520-9434 or edgertbg@gmail.com.

  • Updated on May 9, 2022
  • Originally Published on May 5, 2022
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