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Onan: Some Thoughts About an Onan Generator

Leon N.

Registered
I've been thinking perhaps I could from time to time throw out for discussion some thoughts that have accumulated in my head that just maybe might be of interest to the relatively younger readers who are in the process of restoring and maintaining specifically a standby generator like mine shown below. I thought it might be of interest to know what I have accomplished and what has worked for me over the past 50+ years since I installed and continue to operate the specific machine shown below.

As many of you know, my philosophy was to stay genuine Onan simply because I felt the 1960's design was one hell of a rugged, reliable and dependable unit. I can only relate my experiences and will not judge other Onan products and certainly not modifications other users have made to the original Onan design. I know it is practically impossible to stay genuine Onan due to obsolescence so work arounds are required for which I hesitate to comment other than to give my opinion why Onan designed things the way they did.

So maybe in future discussions I can share why I think I continue to be fortunate to have the attached machine still operating so 50 years later. That's all I want to say for now. If there is little interest in this thread, I will just bow out gracefully and just offer my experience when asked.
 

Attachments

len k

Subscriber
Last Subscription Date
12/12/2018
Nice setup....typical of an engineer, good job.
Shed is a nice feature to keep day/night temp cycling condensation off gen (large cool thermal mass on humid mornings)
I like the built in chain fall...we're not getting any younger. Even I've stopped doing as much as I used to.

About only thing I might have done different is keep nat gas line near the wall, looks like it's in middle of shead.....trip hazard.
 

TLB01

Subscriber
Last Subscription Date
07/13/2019
Thanks for keeping it real, Leon.

As far as "younger" readers go, we are at a bit of a disadvantage so you have to bear with us as well as be patient. Many of us think because we "do that thing on the internet" for a living that we know everything. Spoiler: we don't.

There are other aspects of the younger crowd that might as well just be applied the label of "Those still in prime working years":

For starters, we are all (too) busy. Sometimes we are even productive but yah. You were blessed with having gotten to a comfortable retirement before the world went ape shit bonkers and work/life balance went clearly out the window. Keeping these machines going takes time. Money to a degree as well but if there is free time sometimes that makes up for a lack of money. Younger people have very little of both. So what you get is a perfect storm of not much time to listen to solutions that work nor money to even follow through with them correctly, combined with the hubris of believing we know all the answers anyway. Because: The Internet.

Also, many of us are still apartment dwellers or at the very least rent and most property managers don't allow ANYTHING that suggests you actually live there. Or we live in town, and the power never goes out. If it does, you just go out and find somewhere that has power and distractions. Point being the achievement of attaining the status of home/property owner, let alone with a work shop and neighbors far off enough to not bitch about engine noise is getting to be at an extreme premium.

I traded a younger friend (late 20's) of mine a 12 pack of beer for my MDJC project, so that maybe he could tinker on it. I was never going to have the time, money or patience and he was interested in the learning process in addition to the actual mechanics of it. So far it has sat for 2 years untouched. They have two little kids, want a third and already have a mountain of debt, bills and zero time. Last big storm we had, him and his wife seized up their Troy Bilt screamer, so there is still a ways to go on just why checking oil is important, let alone graduating to actual advanced topics of how engines work and how they spin to make electricity. He will get there, but probably not for another 20-30 years.

Its going to be interesting to see how the users of Smokstak in general evolve. Many of you got that tailwind of a nice peace dividend (which arguably could be said had ran its course by 1970) during your careers, along with everything being reasonably priced. Even the big ticket items such as vehicles, medical, housing and education were reasonably obtainable for just about anyone as long as they could hold a job. There was the opportunity to have an actual CAREER at one company, get a pension and retire to enjoy hobbies.

Now its just headwinds on every aspect of life. Retirement seems like a mystical land where the faster you run towards its borders, the further away they become.

Anyway, keep doing what you do, Leon. We young'uns might catch up eventually. Again, be patient with us.
 
Last edited:

Vanman

Subscriber
Last Subscription Date
06/10/2020
I sure do like to like to see a JB / JC without the little penthouse of darkness on top of the controller cabinet. :wave:

Keith
 

Onan Dan

Subscriber
Last Subscription Date
03/28/2020
Leon when DW Onan built your JB 7.5 he made it right i do not think with todays technology any one could build one to even come close to yours i know my JB 7.5 Magneciter vapor fuel Built feb 1972 it is 5 years since i bought it and it has got me through several power outages and it has never failed me just yesterday i started it and ran it for an hour had the house powered up with it i appreciate you for the help over the last 5 years and the manuals etc and your knowledge you have passed down to me :salute:
 

Zephyr7

Registered
It’s entirely possible to build as good, and even better, generators than back in the day. The problem is the majority of buyers won’t pay for the quality level required. Advances in engineering are often used to build products more cheaply. Things don’t wear out a few months after the warranty expires by accident — that’s actually good design with excellent quality control. It takes a lot to design something to last such a specific amount of time.

Personally, I prefer the quality route and less replacements. For us, that usually means older used equipment is the way to go. Good stuff IS out there, but it costs money. I get to play with truly good equipment sometimes at work in the telecom world where reliability is critical, but bean counters are always trying to get involved. The only difference is we can show the costs of downtime to keep the bean counters at bay.

Bill
 

Works4Me

Subscriber
Last Subscription Date
06/04/2020
I get to play with truly good equipment sometimes at work in the telecom world where reliability is criticaL
Bill
Had a tour of the Madison Central Office in Downtown Los Angeles few years back. Huge lead acid battery plant, saw their new gas turbine generator. The diesel generators took ten minutes to come on-line, the turbine took less then a minute. The starter motor was about $30K.
 

EICBob

Subscriber
Age
62
Last Subscription Date
06/15/2020
Thanks for keeping it real, Leon.
<snip>
Its going to be interesting to see how the users of Smokstak in general evolve. Many of you got that tailwind of a nice peace dividend (which arguably could be said had ran its course by 1970) during your careers, along with everything being reasonably priced. Even the big ticket items such as vehicles, medical, housing and education were reasonably obtainable for just about anyone as long as they could hold a job. There was the opportunity to have an actual CAREER at one company, get a pension and retire to enjoy hobbies.

Now its just headwinds on every aspect of life. Retirement seems like a mystical land where the faster you run towards its borders, the further away they become.

Anyway, keep doing what you do, Leon. We young'uns might catch up eventually. Again, be patient with us.
My retirement world took a beating when the stock market took its nose dive 8 or 10 years ago, and at least for me, the accounts have not recovered.
At 62 I have come to the conclusion that I probably never will be able to retire and enjoy life as I once thought I could.
Leon I enjoy your thoughts and ideas.
Thank you....

-BobC
 

HBSaunders

Subscriber
Last Subscription Date
07/10/2019
Leon, I also have a 7.5 JB sitting on the side that I really would love to get going and believe to be same as your model. Yes I would welcome repeats of your issues repairs and problems you've had that would benefit young and old(me) alike. I know I could chase down previous threads but repeat repeat repeat helps minds that really want to understand these durable over engineered wonders. I want to encourage you to just blurt it out cause you will have many who will be interested. Thank you for sharing tried and true results only experience can give.
 

Ray Lynch

Subscriber
Last Subscription Date
08/12/2019
Nice setup....typical of an engineer
So I guess if your NOT an engineer and your set up is good it'might be an atypical, almost surprising occurrence.
I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that having the sheepskin is no guarantee that everything touched turns to gold.
With all due respect for the effort involved to get an engineering degree, really?
Ray
 

Power

Registered
Thanks for keeping it real, Leon.

As far as "younger" readers go, we are at a bit of a disadvantage so you have to bear with us as well as be patient. Many of us think because we "do that thing on the internet" for a living that we know everything. Spoiler: we don't.

There are other aspects of the younger crowd that might as well just be applied the label of "Those still in prime working years":

For starters, we are all (too) busy. Sometimes we are even productive but yah. You were blessed with having gotten to a comfortable retirement before the world went ape shit bonkers and work/life balance went clearly out the window. Keeping these machines going takes time. Money to a degree as well but if there is free time sometimes that makes up for a lack of money. Younger people have very little of both. So what you get is a perfect storm of not much time to listen to solutions that work nor money to even follow through with them correctly, combined with the hubris of believing we know all the answers anyway. Because: The Internet.

Also, many of us are still apartment dwellers or at the very least rent and most property managers don't allow ANYTHING that suggests you actually live there. Or we live in town, and the power never goes out. If it does, you just go out and find somewhere that has power and distractions. Point being the achievement of attaining the status of home/property owner, let alone with a work shop and neighbors far off enough to not bitch about engine noise is getting to be at an extreme premium.

I traded a younger friend (late 20's) of mine a 12 pack of beer for my MDJC project, so that maybe he could tinker on it. I was never going to have the time, money or patience and he was interested in the learning process in addition to the actual mechanics of it. So far it has sat for 2 years untouched. They have two little kids, want a third and already have a mountain of debt, bills and zero time. Last big storm we had, him and his wife seized up their Troy Bilt screamer, so there is still a ways to go on just why checking oil is important, let alone graduating to actual advanced topics of how engines work and how they spin to make electricity. He will get there, but probably not for another 20-30 years.

Its going to be interesting to see how the users of Smokstak in general evolve. Many of you got that tailwind of a nice peace dividend (which arguably could be said had ran its course by 1970) during your careers, along with everything being reasonably priced. Even the big ticket items such as vehicles, medical, housing and education were reasonably obtainable for just about anyone as long as they could hold a job. There was the opportunity to have an actual CAREER at one company, get a pension and retire to enjoy hobbies.

Now its just headwinds on every aspect of life. Retirement seems like a mystical land where the faster you run towards its borders, the further away they become.

Anyway, keep doing what you do, Leon. We young'uns might catch up eventually. Again, be patient with us.
I've been thinking perhaps I could from time to time throw out for discussion some thoughts that have accumulated in my head that just maybe might be of interest to the relatively younger readers who are in the process of restoring and maintaining specifically a standby generator like mine shown below. I thought it might be of interest to know what I have accomplished and what has worked for me over the past 50+ years since I installed and continue to operate the specific machine shown below.

As many of you know, my philosophy was to stay genuine Onan simply because I felt the 1960's design was one hell of a rugged, reliable and dependable unit. I can only relate my experiences and will not judge other Onan products and certainly not modifications other users have made to the original Onan design. I know it is practically impossible to stay genuine Onan due to obsolescence so work arounds are required for which I hesitate to comment other than to give my opinion why Onan designed things the way they did.

So maybe in future discussions I can share why I think I continue to be fortunate to have the attached machine still operating so 50 years later. That's all I want to say for now. If there is little interest in this thread, I will just bow out gracefully and just offer my experience when asked.
Leon. I see you also believe in putting battery on wood blocks, not directly on concrete.
 

Vanman

Subscriber
Last Subscription Date
06/10/2020
I sit my batteries right on the concrete. :hide: It's not a myth, but the fact that it is rooted in comes from before battery cases were made of plastic. It did matter then, but it doesn't now. :salute:

Keith
 

HBSkirmit

EMAIL NOT WORKING Maxine1@tds.net
Age
76
Leon, I'm 76 years old, but still feel young at heart anyway. Like your setup and ability to keep it running with your vast experience with generators.
My old 30EK was built in 1976 and is 44 years old. I've owned it for over 25 years and managed to keep the old VR21 board & engine repaired up until 6 months ago. I've had to replace printed circuit runs with 22 ga wire, replace resistors, caps and transistors on the board. It finally got to the point that it had a problem I couldn't fix, so I went away from factory and added the SX460. To last all the years, Onan had to be quality built and by workers that were proud of their work. Onan has built a legacy that would be hard to match.
Henry
 

I like oldstuff

Registered
Last Subscription Date
11/09/2015
We all appreciate the simplicity and robustness of the older equipment compared to the hope it'll work microprocessor controlled junk of today.

I've told the story here many times. I had a 6-8 hour power out in winter about 8-10 years ago and seeing my breath was fearing that the house would freeze up.
From that I built up a 15kW Kohler on nat gas. Of course since that event the power hasn't gone out for more than an hour in the last 8 years.
Haven't powered the house with it yet.
 

Attachments

Ben Cowan

Subscriber
Last Subscription Date
12/07/2019
Go Leon, those who have a magneciter can absorb good info. Those who don’t may learn to appreciate some quality dw Onan equipment. Luck, Ben
 

len k

Subscriber
Last Subscription Date
12/12/2018
Interesting thing is I can roughly see how to design a new magnaciter. Bit of a pain to wind the coils and get then on the laminations though....and tril and error tweek number of turns. I've got a bunch of MW oven transformers that could be used for lamination cores.
 

luc102

Registered
Thanks Leon for keeping us up and straight ... looking forward to reading your posts again and again..

What shames me the most after discovering such magnificent generators is to be forced to get generic or chinese crap parts on them
as onan decided that they were obsolete.. people keep asking for thechnology and companies keep on supplying it..

I shure dont envy the future generations.. many cant even change a light bulb already ....yes everything is becoming more reliable or at least some stuff but the more you rely on electronics the worst it gets as an EM pulse could stop the entire planet in a jiff..even from the sun

And if that day should happen the guys in the space station looking down at us will see just a few lights here and there and say... where are those lights comming from theres no more power on earth and is partner is gonna say... what you dont have an old ONAN .. i do

Keep on postin leon and we will keep on readin...thanks
 

Zephyr7

Registered
I sit my batteries right on the concrete. :hide: It's not a myth, but the fact that it is rooted in comes from before battery cases were made of plastic. It did matter then, but it doesn't now. :salute:
It didn’t matter then, either. The old myth was that concrete would suck the charge out of batteries and drain them if they were at in concrete. In reality, this can’t happen — there is no electron flow through the case (the “jar”) of the battery. New batteries usually use plastic for the jar material, old batteries used glass, and sometimes rubber lined wood. Regardless of the material, the jar was always an electrical insulator and has to be for the battery to function. The metal-cased batteries were just a metal box around the actual battery jar material which would be an insulating material.

“Batteries die if placed on concrete” was a myth back then just as much as it’s a myth today. What many of us who deal with batteries commercially think happened is that batteries “left on concrete” were also not maintained, no trickle chargers, so batteries would die over time. The battery would die the same on wood blocks if not maintained. The myth likely came into being because batteries stored on concrete with no trickle charger would die over time. Batteries on racks or stands would probably be actively maintained, so they wouldn’t die. That’s our industry guess at the origins of the myth anyway.

I’ve used batteries on concrete, but I usually do place them on some type of rack or stand. The reason is that if there is any problem with the batteries, the mess is easier to clean up this way. There is no difference electrically either way.

Bill
 

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