Restoring a Lauson Gas Engine
By Bob Naske
The Lansing as found in the weeds. Good thing the surrounding vegetation wasn't poison ivy!
While rummaging around an engine friend's property, I happened to spot a broken flywheel among the weeds. I had already purchased a pair of complete and running Lauson-built antique gas engines from him - a 1-1/2 HP Alpha 'W' and an early-style 3-1/2 HP 'WB' - but wouldn't it be great if this Lauson parts engine came along with me, as well?
As soon as I grabbed the straight pipe that once was the exhaust, a swarm of bees made their displeasure evident to me. Seems they thought that straight pipe belonged to them! Miraculously, no one was stung, and a shot of carburetor cleaner removed the nest in short order.
After getting the engine home and removing the rodent nests that also came with it, I discovered more problems than just a broken flywheel. The engine was missing its magneto and bracket, it had a rusted-out gas tank, stuck valves, a stuck piston and a cracked and broken sub-base. It needed work.
Truth or Consequence
I knew the engine was a Lauson (casting numbers on the engine exactly matched a Lauson/Alpha engine I own that powered a De Laval vacuum pump) and a chain sprocket fixed to the crank led me to believe it once powered a cement mixer. The only clue to its identity was the 'Lansing Co.' tag on its hopper. An investigation through the SmokStak Internet bulletin board revealed that John Lauson Co., New Holstein, Wis., made engines for Lansing Co., Lansing, Mich., to power Lansing's line of cement mixers.
Although the engine's problems certainly relegated this common engine to 'parts engine' status, I did find a few nice surprises. The engine had the correct stamped-brass oiler, an undamaged original crank guard, an original and complete mixer, and the engine had no freeze cracks anywhere on the hopper or block despite sitting uncovered outside for many years. Even the original grease cups were still there.
The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that if the stuck piston could be removed without damage - and if the bore was okay - the only real challenge to restoring the engine would be finding a useable flywheel. The other broken or missing pieces are relatively easy to get, so why not tear it down and see what happens?
I stripped the Lansing to a bare block with the stuck piston still in place, placed it vertically and dumped a homebrew of 'Adirondack Mountain Penetrating Oil' into the cylinder on top of the piston. I let it sit for a few weeks, then I flipped it over and repeated the process from the bottom of the piston. I occasionally applied heat to the cylinder through the hopper opening until the homebrew bubbled a bit.
On a particularly hot day last July after the block had sat out in the hot sun for several hours, I gave the piston a few whacks. Three or four whacks on a hardwood block moved the piston a little. Once it moved, I knew it could be removed without any serious pounding. The piston finally came out, and both it and the bore were good - it only needed new rings.
More Internet research located a stripped parts engine with useable flywheels for sale within driving distance, so I was able to find a real 'parts engine' for my 'parts engine.' Turned out this other parts engine also had a good vacuum pump base under it, which could replace the broken base on the Lansing mixer engine. Since these engines have pressed-on flywheels, I thought it made sense to lift out the pair of useable flywheels still attached to the crankshaft and install it as one unit into the Lansing mixer engine. A fellow engine collector generously loaned me a magneto bracket as a pattern to cast a new one. At the time, the man who loaned me his bracket didn't know me personally, but we have since become good friends - yet another example of the kindness that's shown by many old-engine collectors to each other.
In all, the Lauson needed a new set of rings, a new muffler, a new gas tank (made by John Wanat, copied from an original), a new head gasket, a used magneto and flywheel, and a newly cast magneto bracket. To get it working, I freed up and lapped in the valves, and cleaned and lubricated everything else. I didn't paint the Lansing because a considerable amount of original paint still remained. Then, I was finally able to reassemble and start the engine. It runs well now, and the 'parts engine' I thought I was getting is now a running engine.
The question has already been asked: Why put time and money into a common engine when it was probably worth more as a parts engine? The answer is actually quite easy - for the challenge of it! And I'm proud to say the task was accomplished without getting poison ivy or any bee stings!