High-tech circuitry and complex metal-alloy parts surround Paul Flick every day. As a controls engineer who uses advanced technology to program and maintain electrical schematics for material-handling robots, the Indianapolis collector is firmly in the fast track of technological advancement. Paul also moonlights as an old gasoline engine buff. In fact, Paul’s father, Bruce Flick, is vice president of the Tri-state Gas Engine and Tractor Association, which hosts a show each year in Portland, Ind. As an impressionable child, Paul first encountered and fell in love with old power at the Portland show, unaware that he’d learn to fix both gas engines and robots in due time.
‘I work on robots now, but I was always very mechanical,’ Paul recalls. ‘As a kid at the Portland shows, I loved the large engines when I went there with my dad.’ His old-iron upbringing and high-tech career converged in October 2002 when Paul decided he needed an engine of his own. A friend had just purchased a 15-hp, four cycle Evans oilfield engine. As luck would have it, Paul’s pal soon decided that he needed a home more than an engine. Paul quickly seized the opportunity and purchased the engine from his friend. With a 10-inch bore, 14-inch stroke and 5-foot fly wheels that weigh a total of 4,000 pounds, the Evans wasn’t just an armchair-collector’s purchase. Never having done a restoration alone, and not knowing anything about the Evans engine company, Paul rolled up his sleeves and started at the beginning.
‘My dad delivered it to me in Noblesville (Ind.) where I work at Cim Systems Robotics,’ he recalls. Paul asked his boss if he could restore an old engine in the shop. ‘My boss asked how big, and I said 15 horsepower. He said, ‘sure,’ but he just about had a cow when my dad pulled up at the shop with it on the trailer! I don’t think he realized the horsepower-to-weight ratio. I couldn’t have done it without the generosity of my boss, that’s for sure.’
The antiquated engine looked entirely out of place with all the new, hi-tech robots around, he says. It was the first thing people asked about when they came into the shop. Paul felt lucky because the engine was in decent condition. The only thing the previous owner did was install a new set of rings.
The four cycle Evans originally fired with a hot tube ignition, but it was also capable of running on a magneto mounted on a pad next to the timing gears. The ignition was actuated by a rotating cam and a spark plug screwed into the side of the block. ‘I run it on the hot tube right now,’ Paul says, ‘but I am working on being able to run it on a buzz coil in the future so on windy days I won’t need to worry about the hot tube blowing out -and it should cut down on propane usage.’ Currently, Paul heats the hot tube with a 40-pound propane tank, enough to run the engine for about 14 or 15 hours.
Not much is known about the Evans engine, which was manufactured by the Butler Engine Co. of Pennsylvania, but it was originally powered by natural gas that emanated from the oil well where it worked. Although Paul doesn’t know its year of manufacture, he believes it was produced in the early 1900s. Four-cycle oilfield engines, Paul has learned, were used in areas with limited natural gas reserves because four-cycle engines consume less fuel than two-cycle models. He’s also been told that the small wheel on top of the engine is called a ‘drill wheel.’ The operator could remotely control the engine’s speed by lassoing a rope around the wheel, pulling back and forth on the rope to adjust the amount of natural gas the engine received. Another valve on the opposite side of the head controls the air flow.
The engine’s relatively good condition put Paul at ease. ‘A lot of people have to repour the main bearings, get the stuck piston out of the cylinder or have vital pieces missing that they have to find to finish the project,’ he says. ‘Considering those cases, my restoration project was easy!’ Aside from the routine cleaning, painting and detailing, Paul only had to machine a few parts. Garnering assistance from a mechanical engineer at his robotics shop, Paul manufactured an exhaust plate to bolt to the bottom of the head and a mounting plate for the water pump (although the pump wasn’t original). He uses the water pump in order to run a screen cooler on the engine. ‘It’s not a necessity,’ he admits, ‘but people like to see things work and move.’
The worst part of the restoration came next. To clean the engine down to bare metal, Paul first power-washed the grimy engine in the parking lot to remove the grease, oil and dirt. Next, he used angle grinders with wire wheels to scrape away old paint. ‘The grinder worked well on the large areas, but I had to remove all the smaller pieces and bead-blast them to get the paint and rust off,’ Paul says. When all that painstaking, meticulous cleaning was completed, a good layer of primer on every exposed surface followed. After a quick trip to the paint store, Paul chose rainforest green paint for the main body and black paint for the trim. ‘I couldn’t find much information on what the colors were supposed to be, so I painted it the colors I like,’ he says. Two primer coats and at least two paint coats on each piece completed the restoration’s paint phase. Paul’s daughter, Brittney, helped him strip the engine and also paint some of the trim and lettering.
Paul needed a frame to sit the engine on, so again he turned to the resources at his robotic shop. Wanting something clean-looking that wouldn’t detract or steal attention from the engine’s appearance, he selected square steel tubing that he thought would look nice and welded it to fit the engine’s base. Paul bolted down the tubes from inside, then bought 6-by-6-inch end caps to seal the tube end. He didn’t weld the tube ends closed in case he wanted to access the hold-down bolts in the future.
The cooling hopper is actually an old Tennessee whiskey barrel, Paul says. To use it for his restoration, he cut the top out, sanded it and then applied two coats of linseed oil to the exterior. ‘I didn’t want to get too much black pipe on it, and I wanted something that would go well with the colors of the engine, so all my cooling lines are 1-inch copper that I polished and coated with crystal-clear enamel to protect from tarnishing,’ he explains.
Surprises abound in any restoration project, ‘but even the most-menial tasks take on epic proportions for a first-timer. For instance, Paul realized that painting the engine wasn’t an open-and-closed case. ‘If you want it nice and neat, it takes a lot longer than usual,’ he admits. Just trying to picture how things would look on the completed project was difficult, he says. The numerous avenues and possibilities for each solution seemed overwhelming. ‘With the little things along the way that would pop up,’ he remembers, ‘it seemed like I would never get it done.’
Besides the hard work, it was his first restoration, and Paul sure hopes it’s not his last. Currently, he has his eye on even bigger engines, such as a 25-hp Superior or maybe ‘a couple smaller ones that are easier to haul around,’ he says. Hauling that big Evans engine around may be the engine’s biggest drawback. Paul’s only been to a handful of shows with the engine so far, but it’s a sure bet that he’ll be at the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Association Reunion in Portland, Ind., Aug. 20-24.
Paul may seem like a paradox because he works with robots during the day and moonlights as an old engine buff at night, but he’s really just an inquisitive tinker with an easy-going attitude. ‘My advice to anyone wanting to get into this: Do what you like and be yourself when you do it,’ he advises. ‘Everyone is different and has their own way of doing things, whether it’s getting an engine and painting it up nice and pretty or getting an engine and leaving it greasy, oily and rusty. Either is fine. Just do what you want to do.’ FC
-To learn more about Paul Flick’s Evans-made oilfield engine contact him at (317) 502-6158.
Paul asked his boss if he could restore an old engine in the shop. ‘My boss asked how big, and I said 15 horsepower. He said, ‘sure/ but he just about had a cow when my dad pulled up at the shop with it on the trailer! I don’t think he realized the horsepower-to-weight ratio.’