Minnesota man uses old iron to bring the past to life.
Ray Smith has a clear understanding of antique gas engines. He knows what makes them run, he knows how to get parts made and he knows how to coax them back to life. He also knows how much the antiquated relics mean to an old timer.
And that’s what prompted him to load up a pair of engines he’d just restored and pay a social call on an elderly friend. But before he went to the door, he unloaded the engines onto his friend’s driveway and started them. Then he rang the doorbell and helped his friend out to the driveway, where the other man could see and hear engines that had once been his, running again.
“He was getting up in years, and wasn’t able to get around too much,” Ray says. “So he really appreciated what I’d done.”
Ray, who lives in Nicollet, Minnesota, has been around old iron much of his life. His uncle used an International Harvester Model M to pump water and his dad had an IH LA on an elevator.
But his first restoration project was a battered and burned Harley-Davidson motorcycle. At 15, Ray spotted the frame of a Harley leaning against a corncrib. The motorcycle — a 1935 Harley-Davidson 74 — had caught on fire and burned, but it looked like a prospect to Ray, who bought it and took it home.
When he began working on the Harley, all he had available was a 1912 Harley-Davidson single-cylinder engine. But it didn’t have enough power, so Ray gave the motorcycle’s original engine a second look. “The fire had melted the solder out of the gas tank,” he says, “but it didn’t destroy the engine, so I put that in.”
Eventually, Ray sold the Harley, on condition that the new owner would not make it into a chopper. He’s kept tabs on the motorcycle and says each new owner has added to its restoration. “The first owner painted it green,” he says, “and the last owner repainted it blue with all the pinstriping as it was originally.” The Harley was Ray’s restoration debut. Next up: antique gas engines.
“When I first moved onto the place where I now live, I saw that a neighbor had a Waterloo Boy in his grove,” Ray recalls. “I got interested in seeing that thing run again. I’ve always liked to put something that’s out of commission back into running condition again, so I talked to him about the engine.”
The neighbor wasn’t ready to sell then, but two years later he changed his mind. “At the time he also had a 2-1/2 hp Cushman engine in that grove,” Ray says. “He had used it to pump water years before. He told me if I got the Waterloo Boy — a 1918 2 hp model — running, then I could have the Cushman, too.”
Ray got to work. “The magneto had been removed and it had been bored out and a spark plug put in,” he says. “The bracket for the magneto was there, so I put an igniter and magneto on it and loosened one stuck piston.”
Because the engine had been sitting outside for years, the gas tank was rough but salvageable. “The bottom had rusted out, so I used some tin and soldered it,” Ray says. “But it wasn’t at all dented.”
The gas tank makes Ray’s Waterloo Boy unusual. Though it’s a 2 hp engine, the engine’s gas tank is the same size as the tank on a 5 hp Waterloo Boy. “I’ve seen a number of these Waterloo Boy 2 hp engines and they all have the small tank,” he says. “I’ve never seen another one like mine. I’d say the gas tank on my Waterloo Boy is 2-1/2 to 3 times as big as those other tanks.”
Once Ray finished restoring the Waterloo Boy, he returned to his neighbor and bought the 2-1/2 hp Model 25, Type WH Cushman engine (serial no. 1127) dating to the late 1920s. “It’s a headless Cushman and the 2-1/2 hp size makes it a little rare,” he says. “There are a lot of Cushman Cubs with heads around, but I’ve never seen another one like this.”
Getting the springs right for the trip on the magneto proved to be Ray’s biggest challenge. “I worked on that for quite a while,” he says. “It had to be just perfect or it wouldn’t trip the magneto.” The piston was stuck, too, presenting a problem on the headless engine. “Because it has no head, the piston is in a blind hold,” Ray says, “so I couldn’t get ahead of the piston and drive it out. I soaked it in oil and rapped on the flywheels until I got the piston to move a bit and just kept working until it came loose.”
The cast iron reservoir is over the cylinder, typical of many engines of that era, with a throttle governor and a high-tension magneto with a spark plug. “It’s on a truck that came with it,” Ray says, “but otherwise it looks just like an overgrown 1-1/2 hp Cushman. I’ve never seen another one this size.”
When Ray started collecting engines, his brother, Arnold, and his father, Robert, got interested in collecting too. “Dad was born in 1913, so he grew up with the advent of gas engines,” Ray says. “His father bought a brand new 5 hp Waterloo Boy that we still have.”
After Robert’s death in 2010, Ray and his three siblings inherited their dad’s old iron collection of more than 30 gas engines. Among the standouts are a water-cooled Maytag gas engine, built by Maytag Co., Newton, Iowa, and an Enduro engine. The Maytag is very rare, possibly a prototype. “Dad said he had heard that there was another one out there somewhere, but we’ve never seen or heard of it,” Ray says. The 1-cylinder engine appears to predate Maytag’s later 2-cylinder models. “At that time they were adapting that engine to a lot of situations,” Ray says. “Maybe they were thinking about using it as an outboard engine. We don’t know. We haven’t been able to find any literature or information on it.”
The engine itself is no help with its provenance, as it does not have a tag (though most Maytags didn’t). This one comes with a long base; some Maytags had a shorter base. “The tank, flywheel and carburetor are all Maytag,” Ray says. “It has a water jacket head on it, with no fins, which is different.”
The 1/2 or 3/4 hp Enduro engine was originally used to provide power for a sewing machine in a harness shop (and Ray also has the sewing machine it was used with). “That one was a challenge to get started and run, because you had to hand-crank it with the flywheel as there wasn’t a crank,” Ray says. “That was tough to get to run at times.”
A fan built into the flywheel blows air onto the engine. “Some of the fins were partially broken so I patched them,” Ray says. “It was a bit of a challenge because they had a curve to them. Then we cleaned it, painted it and got it to spark.” Little is known of the manufacturer; Ray has been unable to find any information on the Enduro company.
Ray says it’s a nice feeling to have some of his dad’s workmanship on those engines nearby. “He’d buy junk engines and always seemed to get them running,” he says. “He spent a lot of hours restoring them. I think in the same way: Take something that’s junk and get it to work.”
Finding parts for antique gas engines can be difficult, Ray says. “Sometimes you have to have parts cast,” he says. “It’s always a challenge to find somebody who has an engine exactly like yours, and then ask them if they could remove that part so you could use it as a pattern for your own part. The gas engine world is great about making reproduction pieces if you can come up with a pattern.”
The easiest way is to use the original part as a pattern. But even new castings take a bit of work. “When you get the casting back, it won’t have the holes in it that you need,” he says. “You’ll have to drill holes in it or do the tapping, because the casting doesn’t provide the holes for, say, pivot pins on rocker arms or an adjusting screw hole for clearance. You have to do that yourself.”
But for Ray, none of it is really work. He enjoys tinkering with engines and taking them to shows. “It is a joy when we get one, work on it and do everything necessary,” he says, “but the big joy is when you can fire it up and hear it run.” FC
For more information:
— Ray Smith, 43920 St. Hwy. 99, Nicollet, MN 56074-4340; phone: (507) 232-3568; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; email: email@example.com.