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The Apparent Art of Engine Rationalization

Written by Tim Claremont

After being in the hobby for any amount of time, it becomes common practice to peruse the classifieds in a quest for more stuff. At first we tell ourselves that we are only looking for that one last part to complete our current restoration project.

Remember when you had just that one engine that was practically worthless because it needed the doohickey that holds in the muffler bearings? What a waste to let it sit there and allow its molecules to coalesce any further! Remember thinking that if you could just locate and install that $10 part the engine would be worth thousands?

Now that you have talked yourself into the small repair that will reap these massive rewards, you start to scan the classifieds. You’re not totally sure exactly what the part is called, but if someone is offering up parts for the same brand as your engine, it will probably work, right? You call on every ad that mentions your make of engine. Then your eyes start to catch the ads that offer similar engines to our own because “that one will have the part I need…and a bunch of extras...and the price is not much more than the cost of the part I need…and it isn’t located too far away.”

In the beginning the ads that pique our interest are fairly close to home, to keep shipping in mind. As the natural progression continues, it becomes entirely possible to retrieve engines from even further away because certainly Joe in West Bumble knows someone who can carry it to Coolspring, where Fred can pick it up and haul it back to East Gibblefritz where you can schedule a day trip to grab it next fall. Perfectly rational, as long as you’re not trying to rationalize it with the wife, right?

Now, in the course of three months, you realize that you have accumulated three more engines, four oilers, two mufflers, a torn copy of the owner’s manual, two carts with broken wheels, and a pickup to carry it around in. Also note that the very part that initiated this quest is still nowhere to be found.

Eventually the wife catches on and starts to realize that the family car doesn’t quite fit into the garage as well as it once did. She thinks that the answer is to clean the garage. You think the answer is to buy a smaller car. Marriage counselors call this “dissention”. Engine hobbyists call this “stage two”.

In time, a burst of energy will encourage you to start the restoration of that parts engine you bought, because it is just too good to relegate to “parts only” status. I mean, it only needs a little clean up and lubrication. You decide to “tear it down”.

“Tear it down” is a technical term. It means to “skin your knuckles on every conceivable part of the engine”. You start by grabbing the gator-grip which you purchased on that infomercial last June to remove the easy stuff. 13 seconds later you break the gator-grip and strip the threads on the part and slam your hand into the sharpest part of the engine and come to realize there is no easy stuff after 65 years.

Although the staff at the emergency room is very nice, they just can’t figure out how you did this, either. Looks like you are going to need “specialized tools”. $467 dollars later you have exactly what you need, and $450 worth of stuff you have absolutely no use for because it was a package deal and a great “bargain”.

Six weeks later the engine is apart. Some of it is in the garage. Some of it is in the parts cleaner. Your neighbor has the broken parts and is going to weld them back together during that night class at the local high school. One of the fittings is sitting next to the $1,500 computer you bought so you can describe it to your on-line friends who have feigned enthusiasm for the last four hours. Yup, the restoration is well under way.

Now it is time to reassemble. Was that thunder I just heard?

As soon as you have part “A” and part “B” in your hands, and you bring them together, a strange cosmic force causes you to have a brilliant thought. You have just entered… “The Midas Well”.

Another technical term, this is the condition that tells you that you “Midas Well” paint the individual parts while they are apart. It is called the “Midas Well” for good reason. Namely, a king’s ransom will be required to get this project completed because you Midas Well replace the bearings. And you Midas Well buy a sandblaster. And you Midas Well have that crankshaft turned. And you Midas Well buy another engine. And you Midas Well buy a Winnebago to travel to every engine show in the hemisphere. And besides, what else are you going to use to tow that 18-foot flatbed trailer you picked up last week?

Finally, three years and two months later, the time has come. The last part has been torqued down. The timing is set to factory specifications. The addition to the garage is half done. The engine cart is stained just the right color. You call your neighbors, as well as your friends in the emergency room. You roll the cart into the driveway. Nothing left to do but give the flywheels a yank.

Gently you give it a tug. Nothing. Probably have the bearing caps a little too tight. You pull again. Nothing. Probably need to prime the carb. You pull again. Nothing. Probably got the spark plug too wet. You pull again. Nothing.

By now the razzing from the peanut gallery is getting kind of loud. The crowd is starting to disperse. Your muscles are worn out. And the fact that the sun went down an hour ago doesn’t help any. You call it a night.

At three a.m. you wake up out of a sound sleep and exclaim something about spark plug wire continuity, or some such thing. You “Midas Well” get dressed because there is no way you are going back to sleep.

You rush to the garage, replace the plug wire with one of the extras that you found inside the engine compartment of the wife’s car, and wheel the engine into the driveway just as the sun crests over the horizon. It would be really rude to start this thing at this hour of the morning, so you wait four minutes until your bout of consideration fades.

Calmly, you prime the carb. You twist the grease cups. You open up the oiler and round the corner to the back of the engine. With a flick of the wrist your passion has come to fruition with a bang as the engine fires under its own power for the first time in half a century!

You are brimming with pride as your friends and family and two very nice policemen gather around to express their, umm, appreciation for your fine work. It is hard to understand what the officers are saying because the engine is a bit loud, but nothing could top the personal satisfaction of this labor of love.

Agreeing to try to lower the decibel level, you adjust the choke a bit and turn the gas valve down. This becomes hard to do because the vibration is now causing the cart to begin rolling down the driveway. Being the quick thinker that you are, you plop your foot in front of cart wheels in an attempt to bring it to a stop. Good thing your wife had your emergency room friends on speed dial.

You cringe as the left flywheel glances off the side of the Winnebago. You shudder as the cart progresses into the street. Finally, the roller coaster ride is halted as the head of the engine comes to rest against the police cruiser.

The next day, some other poor soul is perusing the classifieds and comes to your ad for a “barn fresh” engine that “ran at one time”. -- Tim

Archives... FORUM (December 2001)

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