Leon Ridenour restores a 1910 Standard 25 hp marine engine.
Manufacturer: Standard Motor Construction Co., Jersey City, NJ
Year: Circa 1910
Serial no.: NA
Horsepower: 25 hp @ 600rpm (est.)
Bore & stroke: 4in x 5in
Weight.: 465lb w/ starter
Ignition: Spark plug w/high-tension Bosch AT4 magneto
Some 20 years ago, vintage tractor, auto and engine collector Bob Engle got a call from a local auto shop after a young man, driving from Vermont and passing through Florida on his way to who knows where, had ended up at the shop on the end of a tow truck, his own truck broken and in need of repair. The young man didn’t have $750 to pay the shop bill, but he did have an old engine he’d trade.
The shop owner wasn’t interested in the engine, he just wanted to be paid. Knowing of Bob’s interest in old iron, he called Bob, who paid the young man’s bill in exchange for the engine, a circa-1910 Standard 25 hp 4-cylinder marine. Bob took the engine home, and started assessing his new project. “He disassembled it, but it just sat after that because he found cracks in the cylinder and he had no way to repair them,” friend and engine restorer Leon Ridenour says. “Bob found another collector who expressed interest in the project, but backed away when he saw the cracks and – perhaps more challenging – the missing helical drive gears for the magneto, jack shaft and camshaft.
About 10 years ago, Bob found someone at the Portland engine show who was able to repair the freeze cracks in the front cylinder casting (the 4-cylinder, water-cooled engine features two castings of two cylinders each) using nickel spray welding, a process that required heating the casting up to almost cherry red and would have minor ramifications later on. The engine sat for another eight years or so, and it was in the interim that Bob and Leon, who both hail from Tennessee, struck up a friendship after meeting one another at engine shows.
A retired nuclear technician at the National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and now retired, Leon had taken up metal work – mostly lots of lathe work and milling – as a hobby. Leon’s quick to point out he’s not a machinist, simply “experienced” at running a lathe. “You get a lot of experience by making a lot of scrap,” Leon says. Leon’s machining and engine interests aligned nicely, and about 14 years ago he decided to make a working replica of the “Kitchen Sink Engine,” Henry Ford’s first gasoline engine, a little single-cylinder, maybe 1/4 hp engine Ford built out of scrap parts in 1893 and famously clamped to his kitchen sink to test it with his wife, Clara.
That replica spawned a mini-business providing plans and instruction to other engine enthusiasts – many in the U.K. and Australia – interested in building their own. About two years ago Bob, appreciating Leon’s abilities, asked Leon if he could make a main bearing cap for the Standard to replace the missing the cap at the flywheel end. “I said, OK, I can do that – and it was just a slow immersion after that: It got deeper and deeper,” Leon says...
Leon successfully tackled the missing main bearing cap, using an existing cap (it’s a three main bearing engine) as a pattern to get a new one cast, then attending to the machining and babbitting of that bearing. The original main bearings were all bronze, but given this engine’s future as a show engine a babbitt bearing was easier and perfectly adequate. The other two are the original bronze bearings.
Leon also had to tackle making new crankshaft connecting rod oilers, as two of the four were missing. The oilers are cast brass rings that bolt to the crank throw for each connecting rod. They’re perfectly round except for a raised locating ear and have a channel on their inside edge, forming a trough. Lubrication on the engine is by drip feed from a Detroit oiler stroked by an eccentric off the end of the camshaft. Oil is drip fed to the oiler rings where it collects in the troughs. As the crankshaft spins, the oil is pushed against the inside of the trough and circulates. The securing bolts for the oiler rings are counter-drilled, intersecting the oiler ring. Oil passes through the bolts to the connecting rod journal and then to the bronze connecting rod bearing. It’s a total loss system, of course. “It’s oil bath lubrication,” Leon notes. “If you are near the running engine, you get a bath! I saw a picture in a marine museum of one of these engines, and all around the floorboards it was just black. Even what little we run it, the floorboards on the trailer get soaked.” The oiler rings have to be installed with the crankshaft out of position, with each one snaked around the journals until it’s in the proper position and ready to be bolted in place.
The biggest obstacle to restoring the Standard was replacing the missing helical gears for the magneto drive, the jack shaft and the camshaft. “There was a lot of discussion about the gears,” Leon says. “They were totally missing. What was the ratio? How many teeth? A helical gear is like a science itself.” Finally, they located a fellow in New York who could do the calculations and provide drawings. “The gears at the drive end, at the crank and at the magneto, they’re all 12-tooth gears, but each one is a different diameter. It just blows my mind. Helical gears are way beyond my pay grade.” With drawings in hand, Leon and Bob took the gears to Rhino Gear Mfg. in Painesville, Ohio, who did all the machining for them. “I did the shaft,” Leon says, adding, “It’s just a piece of 3/4-inch shaft.
With the helical gears cut, Leon could turn to assembling the engine. He’d already machined the missing main bearing cap, and with the oilers installed he polished up the crankshaft and installed it in the Standard’s stanchion-base crankcase. “The crankshaft was cut from a single piece of 3-inch x 8-inch x 40-inch steel – it was literally cut out of a big slab of steel. You can still see the planer and band saw marks, and the center main bearing run out is 0.002 inch!” Leon marvels. The camshaft was fine, and Leon notes its interesting construction, with paired cam lobes for each cylinder that slide onto the camshaft and are then keyed into place. Leon had to wind all new valve springs, but otherwise used the original valves and valve gear.
The pistons were in good shape, but during reassembly Leon discovered that the heat applied to the cylinder casting for spray welding had mildly distorted the cylinder bores in that casting. Fortunately, they were able to have the bores honed round without having to have them bored or sleeved. The connecting rod big ends are bronze and were still in good shape, requiring only re-shimming to be put back in service, and the little ends, also bronze, were fine.
The electric starter is an interesting touch, a later addition by a previous owner as, according to Leon, this engine wasn’t offered with electric starting (most of these big marine engines were air started). The challenge, and somebody accepted it many years ago, was machining the original flywheel. “The flywheel was originally smooth,” Leon says. “Somebody had to cut the teeth for the starter; it’s not a slip-on ring gear.”
Remarkably, most of the brass plumbing and hardware was complete and usable, although the primer cups for the cylinders were missing. The magneto, a Bosch AT4, is not original to the engine, and represented some of its own challenges. Leon had to reverse its direction, but the real issue came after they got the engine running. “I learned a hard lesson on magneto drives,” Leon says. “I had metal-to-metal on the drive on the mag, and that impulse coupling acts just like an impact wrench. It would shift the timing, so I had to go back and pin both ends of the drive gear and the driving element of the magneto, and then I installed a shock-absorbing coupling that I made out of an old roller skate wheel.”
The engine now runs well, and Bob and Leon will be taking it to numerous shows this year, including the annual engine extravaganza at Portland, Indiana. Looking at the photos, I asked Leon about the slick-looking individual chrome exhaust pipes. “That’s a funny story,” Leon replies, laughing out loud. “Those are highly customized pieces: They’re actually drain waste arms, like you have under your sink. They were the perfect size – 1-1/2 inch with a flange. All I had to make was a gasket and a ring to retain them to the cylinder.” That bit of inspired sourcing extends to the engine’s fuel tank, a repurposed Chopin Vodka metal bottle. “It’s just something I had on hand, a small container that we could attach and didn’t take up too much space,” Leon says.
Leon doesn’t say if he personally emptied that bottle, but after the work it took to get this engine running, we’d say he’d be justified if he had.