Old Engine Sparks New Hobby

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Willard Giberson's Acadia make-and-break marine engine, built by Acadia Gas Engines Ltd., Bridgeport, Nova Scotia, Canada.
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This 5 hp engine was built by George B. Miller Co. Waterloo, Iowa.
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Willard at his workbench, consulting the source: American Gasoline Engines by C.H. Wendel. A long-time member of the Old Flywheel Guys, Willard says interest in antique engines is fairly strong in New Brunswick.
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This air-cooled 2 hp vertical International Harvester Famous gas engine is considered quite rare.
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A 6 hp Canadaian-built Fairbanks-Morse Model Z (left) and a 5 hp Empire Cream Seperator Co. engine, also built in Canada.

Standing in his hay barn in Bath, New
Brunswick, Canada,
Willard Giberson recalls his first engine. “Dad used a 6 hp International
dating to the 1920s. I helped him cut wood and thresh grain all over Carlton County. Nothing to it,” he says. “Hook
up a belt, turn her over and go to work.” But in the years following World War
II, newer power sources soon overshadowed the old hit-and-miss engines.
“Everything got faster, farm machinery got bigger, everyone got electricity
hooked up, and you didn’t need a big old engine thumping,” he muses. “The old
engine sat outside for decades. But in 1986 I decided to see if it would

Rx for old engine

After retrieving the old
engine, Willard almost immediately ran into problems. “Everything was seized up
tight. Old Dr. Lockhart here in town told me heat the engine up and then pour
cool water on it. ‘Holy smokes,’ I said. ‘It will crack to pieces! Cast heated
then doused in cold water?’ But I decided to try. Three times I heated that
engine up hot. By the third time I figured she’d shatter for sure, but I poured
on the water and hit it. The cylinder practically fell out! After that I was
hooked bad.”

Willard’s collection of 40
running engines is a good representation of this area of New Brunswick, where farming and forestry
are still a big part of the economy. As his interest in old iron grew, he
attended shows and his collection quickly expanded. The most common engines he
encounters are those built by International Harvester, but Willard has restored
everything from Cushman and Massey-Harris to Fairmont and Empire.

He finds many of his relics
through word of mouth. “Once people know you’re interested, the phone rings,”
he says. “You hear of an engine in a shed or on a lawn with a birdbath
attached. I’ve found a few sitting in the woods, abandoned, and traded with
other collectors too.” A well-worn copy of American Gasoline Engines by
C.H. Wendel lies on his workbench. “If the building was afire,” Willard says,
“I’d grab that old Wendel book on the way out!”

Wrong parts lead to rare engine

Willard’s most unusual
engine is a 2 hp International Famous vertical air-cooled (serial no. 1746)
used to pump water for seven homes at the end of World War I when many rural
residents in his area were still carrying water in a pail. A parts order gone
astray uncovered the engine’s rarity. “When I ordered a set of rings for it,
the wrong set arrived,” he says. “When I re-ordered, the guy on the phone said
it was a rare engine and he said, ‘don’t sell it.’ Apparently the International
Co. built very few of these air-cooled engines; I’ve had many chances to sell

Finding the right part for
an engine restoration can be very complicated. “So many engines are made up of
various parts, and the (serial number) plates are nearly always missing,”
Willard says. “Someone said the plates got removed and taken to the parts
counter. You’ve got to remember many of those old farmers couldn’t read or
write. So they’d pull off the plate when ordering and probably leave it in

Fifty-two years of neglect

Willard’s favorite engine is
a 1915 4 hp Gault (650 rpm). “This was used by a sawmill in Argyl to cut up
slab wood,” he says. “A fellow who worked at the mill told me about it and one
spring we tried to find it. The old mill was rotted away and the fellow had a hard
time finding the site. We found the engine with a big black spruce growing up
through it. The skids had rotted away and it fell over so the hopper was saved
from cracking. The saw blade was lying there and a piece of old belt was
attached. The mill owner walked away and left it sitting there: Can you
imagine? But what a job getting it out!” After installing new valves, Willard
claims the Gault started on the second crank. “I enjoy this engine the most,”
he says. “Fifty-two years of neglect and on the second try it starts!”

No collection from Atlantic
Canada is complete without a marine make-and-break engine from a fishing boat.
The Acadia Willard found was used to run a long driveshaft back to the
propeller. “This Acadia ran a little faster, I
believe, than a hit-and-miss,” he says. “This one was in tough shape. I never
saw one before. I didn’t know much about them and information was pretty
sparse. Only trouble I had was the first time I cranked it up, the darn thing
raced away until I got it shut off. Scared me half to death.”

‘A marvel how they last’

Willard enjoys the process
of bringing old engines back to life. “Working with these engines, getting them
cleaned up and running, is such a pleasure,” he says. “Picture an engine built
in 2013, left out in the weather, snow and rain, for years. Imagine the
condition it will be in, say, in 50 years. Some of these old engines have been
outside for decades, or maybe sitting around in a barn and never turned over
for a lifetime, but I got them running.”

He marvels at the
workmanship. “The cast is so smooth and not porous like other cast iron is,” he
says. “I mean, run your hand inside the sleeve: It’s just like glass. Now of
course it was a different process than they used making skillets. It’s a marvel
how they last. Engines today run so fast, they’re so high speed compared to a
hit-and-miss. At 450 rpm all day, you don’t hurt yourself. But the lasting
power and endurance, I think that’s what got me hooked on working with them.”

Cary Rideout lives in Carlow, New Brunswick, Canada,
on his family farm with his artist wife, Lorain.
Contact him by email at clrideout@xplornet.ca

Learn about Giberson’s other collecting interests in Old Iron Collector Has Diverse Interests in Antiques.

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