Economy Saw Rig Comes Back to Life
The finished Economy saw rig at its first show. A real crowd
pleaser, rigs such as this give people a better idea of the kind of
work these old engines could perform.
I’ve been reading GEM for quite some time now, and I greatly
admire the magazine as well as the many tractors, engines and proud
owners that are featured. Over the years I have done respectable
restorations of a Ferguson TO-20, a Case SI and a John Deere B, as
well as a number of small engines and implements. My most recent
project, however, has given me the most satisfaction, and I am
eager to share the results with others in the hobby.
The story starts in September of 2000 when I went with a buddy
to look at some antique tractors and gas station memorabilia that
were for sale about 20 miles from home. There was some interesting
stuff, including a rare Fordson road grader, a Jaeger cement mixer
and a nice wooden-tank spray rig. What really caught my eye,
however, was a neat Economy saw rig that looked to be in good
condition. It consisted of an Economy engine with clutch, belt
tensioner, saw arbor and table, all mounted on a nice drop-center
truck with steel wheels. It looked complete, and I could imagine
what a great working display it would make at the local shows.
After some dickering with the seller, we were able to agree on a
price. After some explaining to my wife I was able to convince her
it was a good investment. The result was that I became the nervous
new owner of the old saw rig. But there were major questions to be
answered. Would it run? Was there any internal damage? The next few
weeks would reveal whether my purchase was wise, or not.
I loaded up the rig on my trailer and brought it home for a
closer inspection. The first step was pressure washing to remove
the years of accumulated grease and dirt. To my pleasant surprise,
the cleaning did not bring to light any serious problems. The
engine nameplate revealed that I had bought a 1918 7 HP
By belting the engine to my John Deere B, I was able to start
the engine and confirm that it did indeed work. I did, however,
notice a clicking sound coming from the cylinder whenever the
engine slowed down to idle speed. The next step was disassembly to
check the parts and prep for painting.
Painted base, with cylinder, head, water hopper and
crank/flywheels ready to follow. Note the brace rods between the
flywheels to prevent accidental bending of the crank during
Engine in position on frame. After securing the engine it
received another coat of paint time the frame was painted.
To my pleasure, I only found a few things needing work. The mica
bushings in the bracket for the Webster magneto were in bad shape
and needed to be replaced, the cylinder head cooling passages were
packed with rust and needed a thorough cleaning, the priming cup
was missing and the piston rings were the wrong thickness and were
rattling in the ring grooves on the piston, causing the clicking
noise I had heard earlier.
A few phone calls to advertisers in GEM got me all the needed
items in short order, plus some good advice. The head on this
Economy has a drain plug that should be removed every time the
engine cooling water is drained – opening the cylinder drain cock
is not sufficient. Some water is always trapped in the head, and
the head can crack during a freeze if the coolant water isn’t
drained out via the drain plug. This is an important point
that’s not emphasized enough in the Economy owner’s manual.
I recruited my son, Jim, who also happens to be a machinist, to
check the engine bore for taper or out-of-round. He found it to be
in excellent shape. That done, I started the process of putting the
rig back together.
The finished Economy saw rig with modified, vertical exhaust
pipe to keep exhaust and noise intrusion to a minimum. Kirk also
fabricated a new tongue to replace the wooden, non-original one,
which was in sad shape.
Since I take my equipment to a commercial sandblasting outfit, I
blocked all engine openings and protected the bearings and other
sensitive parts. I also spent some time repairing the tongue on the
truck, since it came with a wooden one that did not appear exactly
original and was in bad shape. Also, there was a broken casting on
the belt pulley and clutch mounting. I was able to repair the
casting by splicing in behind it and replacing the missing
One remaining item needed attention: the clutch operating wheel
was missing. I was able to find a close match at the local water
utility supply house, a cast iron valve-opening wheel of just the
right size. I made a collar for the wheel, which fits the hub and
groove on the engine clutch, and I was back in business.
After a lot of wire brush work and a little grinding, the rig
was ready for sandblasting. The commercial outfit did their usual
good job of sandblasting and applying a marine primer, and after
that it was a pretty routine, but time-consuming, task of masking,
priming and painting the rig in red and yellow with black
After putting everything back together and mounting the magneto
(with its new mica bushings), I spent some time checking the gear
timing and going through the magneto adjustment procedure. The
Webster and Economy manuals, which are available as reprints from
several GEM advertisers, have good illustrations on how the mica
washers and bushings look installed, and they have step-by-step
instructions for doing the magneto setup. A little grease in all
the cups and some oil in all the oil holes and the engine was ready
to fire up.
I belted the Economy to the John Deere once more, and this time
had the advantage of a working clutch to help start the engine. The
Economy fired up right away, and I had the pleasure of seeing all
my time and effort rewarded by the sight of those whirling
flywheels and the sound of the lovely hit-and-miss exhaust
Another view of the Economy saw rig before final restoration.
Kirk likes to get basic mechanical issues sorted out before he
launches into final finishing. When this picture was taken he had
just taken the Economy through its first start up.
I have already taken my pride and joy to one show this season,
and no doubt I will be taking it to many others in the future. It
is a colorful complement to my green, orange and gray tractors, and
a real crowd pleaser, too.
I think the reason that I really like my Economy saw rig is that
it is complete, original and authentic (except for the exhaust pipe
– I had to give the engine a little something to attract an
audience). I have compared it to pictures of Economy rigs in old
Sears catalogs, and it appears to be just like in those old
After spending a lot of years restoring this type of old
equipment, I have drawn a few conclusions about what works for me.
I don’t care for basket cases – hunting for parts all over the
country and paying outrageous prices for them is not my idea of a
good time. I would rather get my hands on something complete and
spend my time dismantling, cleaning, repairing, adjusting,
reassembling and painting to get a smooth running and good looking
result. I don’t mind supplying an occasional grease cup, zerk
fitting or drank cock, and there’s nothing wrong with replacing
a spring here or a cotter pin there, but I’m not quite ready to
search for a replacement magneto and bracket when I know it will
cost me more than the engine did.
Another thing that really completes a restoration for me is to
have some of the printed material that relates to the engine. An
operating manual, repair manual, or sales literature helps me
understand how the unit works and who and what it was intended for.
You can also find out about accessories for it you never imagined.
And sometimes, finding our the original sales price is a startling
Of course, in this hobby you are never quite satisfied with the
way things are. My next engine is going to be a really big one –
maybe an oil field engine. I’m already making plans.
Contact engine enthusiast Kirk Unzelman at: 4635 130th Ave.
SE, Bellevue, WA 98006.
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