Starting and Running

Starting and Running An Engine


If you are new to this hobby and haven’t had the joy of starting an old flywheel engine, let’s just say it can be the most exhilarating or the most frustrating experience.  At engine shows, starting an engine always draws a crowd.  An obstinate engine will grab and hold the audiences attention for a good deal longer than an engine which is simply running.   However the obstinate engine proves a challenge to some, but is more likely to end up with the for sale sign.

All jesting aside, we make the daily dealings with these engines seem very simple, entertaining, and sometimes elegant, but these antiques are also dangerous.  Although these engines seem quite low in horse power by today’s standards, they are immense in torque, and even a 200 pound human is not going to be able to stop those flywheels once they start turning over.  Stories abound of the new grain elevator operators who were found imbedded in the ceiling or splatted on the wall because that old Fairbanks kicked.  Even if that old engine hasn’t gone after you, without good maintenance and a watchful eye, it can self destruct with relative ease.  Engine suicide is not only catastrophic for the engine, but also rather dangerous for those near by.  I have listed a few pointers to consider when starting an engine, either for the first time or for the first time in a season.

Point number one:  Know the engine.  If you can find the manuals from the time, they give some good guidelines for starting the engine.  Many manuals are on line and many more are available from reputable dealers.  If you can’t find the manual consultation over a chat line or bulletin board such as SmokStak can connect you with people who may have running versions.  Refresh this knowledge often.  Time has a funny way of changing ones perception in regards to procedures.

Along with knowing the engine comes point number two: Go over the engine regularly.  From transporting the engine, to starting an engine which has been sitting for a while, a good engine operator will check over certain points on an engine.  Such things may be structural such as checking the fly wheels for cracking or signs of stress or chips.   This is especially important after moving larger engines.  Checking the governors are moving freely and their linkages are secure and functioning is also important.  Ensuring that all tie points and cotter pins are properly in place and secure.  Checking the electrical systems are all in proper order as well as greasing and oiling all pivot, wear, and slide points.  An engine that has been sitting for a while may have stuck valves and they should be checked for action.  If your engine has been in the barn, checking for critters may be advisable as mice love crawling in open exhaust pipes, enclosed crank cases and other surprising places.   Greasing, Oiling and general cleaning will help you to know your engine better and know its particular peculiarities.

Point three:  Starting the engine carefully.  Starting your engine is fraught with issues that can cause bodily harm.  From fuel handling safety is very important as big spills can become big fires upon start up.  A good ABC fire extinguisher is absolutely vital to have on hand.

Some engines kick back and the unsuspecting can find themselves with broken limbs if they are not grasping the appropriate part in a carefully thought out way.  Handles can be thrown and become the equivalent of metal lawn darts.  Handles can also stick and not release becoming the perfect whirling object to whack you on the next flywheel revolution.  Some people on the discussion boards never use handles and destroy them at every chance they get.  Whether you believe in such destructive retribution or not, the fact is when properly used, they can be more of an asset than a hindrance and were the accepted mode of starting for the time.  Many people hold the air intake valve open while cranking and pull the crank as they release.  By this action full compression can not be achieved and there fore the violence of the first explosion of combustion is reduced.  Some engines have decompression valves on the side of the cylinder to achieve the same result.  (My Round Rod Galloway has such a device)  My DesJardin is a great starter when you lock the exhaust valve into open with the control lever, get those flywheels moving and then pull the crank just before you drop the lever into the run position.  Some flywheels have built in handles that are to retract upon release.  Ensure the springs on these are in good condition.  An old guy once told me to ensure I don’t grasp the handle with my thumb on the other side of the handle but to run it around with a cupped hand.  This ensured that if the engine were to take off one wouldn’t lose their thumbs.

If one is starting their engine by the flywheels, one should be careful of thumb placement as well as the proximity to pinch points.  Again thumbs can be grabbed by those spokes and torn off.  My T Eaton Waterloo boy has a fuel thank that is so very close to the wheel that if you didn’t release at the proper moment you would become wedged in between the engine and the tank.

Some engines have the propensity to start backwards.  This can be rather surprising if you aren’t expecting it and could become a huge issue if you get caught.  Most engines run  with the flywheel on the mag side running clockwise, however there are always the exceptions.  See Point one for more tips on this one.

It seems on larger engines to prime the fuel in the chamber, and roll the flywheel back on compression.  Such a technique is demonstrated by Bill Geyer in his YouTube video which headlines the education outline of this section.  

The final point I wish to make in this section is that of catch points.  Loose clothing and rotating flywheel keys make for very bad weekends.  Gloves are a definite no-no when it come to working with a running engine as it increases the risk of being sucked into the open gears and parts.  There are a few photos to be found on the internet where a person is minus his clothing (very lucky if you ask me) because the gib key tore it off him.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *