Dave Bush and his refurbished Briggs & Stratton FEO 505 engine
Nestled in the middle of the Susquehanna River south of Harrisburg, Pa., Hill Island is only accessible by boat. The folks who live there prefer it that way. A few roads and vehicles are now scattered across the island where electricity wasn't available until the mid-1960s. Prior to electrification, stationary engines and gasoline-powered appliances performed essential tasks on Hill Island. From mowing grass, pumping water to washing clothes, internal-combustion engines pulled their weight on the island.
Many of those power units were retired to the proverbial back shed when electricity finally reached the island, while others were sold or scrapped. Luckily, more than 70 engines were discovered in a shed in the late 1990s by an island resident who at the time was a machinist for the Bethlehem Steel Co.
The machinist told co-worker Dave Bush of Dillsburg, Pa., about the newfound engines on the island and initially offered them all as a gift to him. Dave, who prefers antique tractors, declined the offer. 'I had no idea what to do with that many engines,' he admits. Within a couple weeks, the machinist scrapped all the engines except one, which he placed in the bed of Dave's pickup truck. 'I really didn't know if I wanted the engine, but it was unusual, so I bought it because I couldn't just accept it as a gift,' Dave recalls.
He identified the engine as a Briggs & Stratton FE series, but the old engine wasn't like any other Dave had seen. The engine sports a large cast-iron fuel tank base, larger than on most FE engines. A brass priming cup is plumbed into the intake port of the head - another unusual feature. The engine isn't an orphan like many odd, turn-of-the-century engines because the parent company still exists. Yet, it's a model unlike anything the old-iron collector had seen - and it can't be traced to any known Briggs & Stratton product line.
When Dave brought it home to Dillsburg, the engine wasn't stuck, but it had no compression. He oiled the motor and put it on a shelf where it sat for a year. 'I brought it home, but really I had other projects going, so I forgot about it,' he remembers. In July 2001, Dave noticed that the Gratz Area Antique Machinery Association show in Gratz, Pa., was featuring Briggs & Stratton engines.
'That was all of the motivation that I needed to take a closer look at that unusual engine,' he says.
Dave's engine has a flywheel on each end of the crankshaft. That may not be unusual, but one flywheel is made of aluminum with fins that double as the cooling blower. The magneto is connected to the backside of the blower. The heavier, cast-iron flywheel includes a PTO pulley.
Like all FE series Briggs & Stratton engines, the intake valve is actuated by suction from the piston as it moves down on the intake stroke. A cam-driven push rod activates the exhaust valve through a rocker arm. Once the head was removed, Dave discovered the piston's seal was still intact as he turned the flywheel with one hand tightly clamped on the cylinder opening. The cylinder wall was smooth, but the engine had a compression leak, which meant the valves weren't seated properly. After thoroughly cleaning and lightly lapping both valves, he reinstalled the head and the engine's compression was perfect.
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