After being abandoned to the elements for more than three decades, Mike Mahnke's vintage Famous engine was nothing more than a planter for an overgrown, volunteer shrub. But liberal amounts of elbow grease – applied over the course of 18 months – resulted in restoration of a classic engine.
For more than 30 years, the 2 hp Famous air cooled engine sat outside a garage. The property owner said the engine originally belonged to his father, but when his father had no more use for it, he abandoned it at the side of the garage.
When a friend of Mike's saw it – even with a tree growing through it – he knew Mike would be thrilled to get his hands on the engine. He asked the owner about the Famous, and the owner, happy to clear away what he perceived to be junk, gave it to him. Mike's friend, in turn, passed the engine on.
"He just called me, and gave it to me," Mike said. "Those things don't happen too often."
Mike set to work on the 1910 engine immediately.
"It was pretty interesting, a real challenge," he said. "It was probably in the worst shape of any engine I'd ever tried to restore."
The first order of business?
"I had to pick at it, dig wood out of it," he said. "Then I was able to really assess the damage."
After being abandoned to the elements for 30 years, the engine needed a bit of work.
"Being an upright, with an open crankcase, it's not a real strong engine structurally," he said. "The crankcase was broken in half, the top half of the block was broken, the piston was rusted in the hole – it was just a lump of rust – and we had to have a new sleeve made."
A daunting prospect, to be sure, but one Mike was well prepared for. For most of his adult life, he's farmed, and in the winters, run a repair service.
"I think I was born with grease under my fingernails," he said. "I've been fixing things since I was in grade school."
And he's been collecting engines nearly as long.
"I started in the mid- to late-forties," he said. "At one time, I must have had 100 to 150 engines. I finally decided I was never going to get them all restored. I lost interest in some of them, and I couldn't keep track of what needed parts."
He had used International Harvester equipment in his farm operation, so he decided to specialize in IH.
"I sold and I traded until I came up with a fairly good cross section," he said.
Today, a 32x68 building houses his workshop, and his collection of International equipment and memorabilia.
"It's everything from the little stuff to the big stuff," he said. From a vintage tractor and a power corn sheller built in the '20s, to paper collectibles and memorabilia (including a belt buckle from the last forging at the Fort Wayne IHC plant), he's built a collection that spans the company's life. His favorite piece?
"That little 2 hp Famous," he said, "or the 6 hp Mogul. They were both in pretty bad shape when I got them."
Mike is able to apply years of experience in restoration to such "basket cases." A certain amount of finesse, he said, can make a real difference.
"When you're working on cast iron, hide all your big hammers," he said. "Use heat as much as possible. Cast iron doesn't like too much hammering."
Every restoration project has its own surprises, and the 2 hp Famous was no exception.
"It has a pretty fragile cooling fan, made of tin," Mike said. "It sits up on top, unprotected. But through all that damage, it was perfect. It didn't even look like it had ever been bumped." Most of the small parts, too, survived the passage of time. It had been abandoned, but the engine was complete.
"The spark saver blade was still there," Mike said. "And the wood skids... they'd sat in the dirt all those years, but I was able to save them. It was pretty amazing. I got ahold of some reproduction literature that showed the original colors (there was no original paint left when he got the engine). It was just a matter of getting it back to running." Today, the engine runs well, and looks better than new. Mike's taken it to some shows, including one attended by the man who gave the engine to Mike's friend.
"My friend had told him that the engine would be there, and that he should come see it; that it would be running," Mike said. "Well, he came and looked at it, had his picture taken by it ... he kind of had tears in his eyes. He didn't think he would ever see it running again." FC
For more information: Mike Mahnke, Rt. 1, Box 38, Bessemer, Mich., 49911; (906) 663-4452.
The general specifications of this outfit are as follows:
Revolutions per minute, 650.
Diameter of fly wheel, 17 1/2"
Face of fly wheel, 2 1/8"
Capacity of gasoline tank, 2 1/4 gallons.
Length of skids, 38"
Width of skids, 18 1/4"
Weight of outfit complete, 327 pounds.
Height of outfit, 34"
–from "Gasoline Engines," published by International Harvester Company of America.