It struck me as hard as a lightning bolt from a summer Iowa sky. I was wandering around the Waukee, Iowa swap meet when I was suddenly drawn to two weathered, incomplete bodies. There was something about them - perhaps the fact they were laying on their sides in a heap discarded, unwanted, unloved, perhaps it was their unusual design, or perhaps it was because it was the biggest challenge I'd ever face in engine restoration. Whatever the reason, I knew I had to have them: two Chapman 2hp carcasses. Seldom had I ever had so little doubt about a purchase.
I decided to take the plunge, held my breath and wrote the check, then walked away pleased but wondering what I had done. How would I find parts for something I had never seen or heard of before? Between the two of them, there wasn't a complete engine. Plenty of external parts were obviously missing. This was going to be fun!
Of course, I got the usual "that isn't an engine, that's junk" upon my arrival home, but I knew better. First course of action - write to GEM (Gas Engine Magazine)! There has to be someone with a running example, or parts or drawings to loan me, or someone who knows someone.
I quickly hit the jackpot. Within days, I got letters in response to my questions. Not so amazingly, (since the engine was made in Canada) the two most important came from Canada. Edison Brown and Albert Denyer wrote not only with information, but also drawings and explanations of how the very complex-looking and missing fuel system worked. I had not only found the information I needed, but found two friends in the process. That alone made the engine worth more than money.
Writing back and forth takes time, but I was in no hurry. It took nearly a year of careful work to get it all apart without further damage. With the loan of the fuel pipes from a complete, working engine, I was able to duplicate the pipes and fittings. From the drawings and explanations of the Chapman system, I was able to piece together all that was missing and make it all fit together.
At some point years ago, the mixer had been drilled and tapped and holes plugged in an effort to make it a more conventional system. I had to undo all of this, plugging some holes, unplugging others, fixing minor cracks in the fragile, brittle mixer casting. It is amazing how much time - in this case, a full day and then some - can be spent on a single part. The head had been warped by incorrect tightening so badly that you could visibly see the corners pulled down, leaving an uneven surface. Working with a file, I carefully made it true.
Again with drawings and descriptions from my Canadian friends, I made the fuel float from a piece of balsa wood turned round, pointed on the end, and sealed with fuel tank sealer. The skid measurement and design were done by measuring a drawing of the engine on a photocopy of Chapman literature. Knowing the flywheel size already, I calculated the size of the skids and battery box and had a metal reproduction battery box made. (I have since received an *original* wooden battery box and restored and installed it. The size of my reproduction was within ¼" of the wooden original).
All the parts finally gathered, it was now time to clean and prepare for painting. First, soaking and scraping! Then, borrowing my neighbor's sandblaster, I spent hours of labor and bags of sand taking off years of rust and scale. The flywheel hubs were as deeply pitted as I had ever seen, but I decided that I would leave them that way as a reminder of its past life and to give it that authentic, old timer look. The rest was sanded smooth between several coats of primer. Color - well, what color was it? There was nothing left of paint when I got it home, and I didn't seem to get a decisive answer, and the only ones in existence were not all the same color. The only traces of paint that were at all recognizable were under the brass tag (which was the only part in good condition). After applying different solvents to see what color this faded paint could have been, the only one that came through consistently was black. Black, then, it would be an easy color to match.
We all know the excitement of hearing such a project produce its first pop in years. This was even more exciting due to the poor condition of the original engine and the fact that all of the parts I had produced from scratch fit and worked together. It took a fair amount of effort to finally get it running correctly; I first had to run it at full choke just to keep it running. After carefully checking all parts, all tiny holes and passages and consulting my friends to the north, I decided the hole in the vacuum pipe fitting was too big, allowing too much air to be pulled into the engine via the fuel pumping system. So, taking it apart again, I reduced the hole in the fitting down to 1/8 inch. After carefully refitting the float and newly restricted fitting back together, it was better but not good enough.
But we weren't finished. Just because you see a spark jump the plug gap when the coil buzzes does not mean it is as hot as it should be. Back to my junk drawer, I found another coil, one of those "just in case" items. Placing it in the battery box, I was rewarded with the pleasantest sound I have ever heard: a smooth-running, easy starting, mellow- popping Chapman, almost four years to the day since I swallowed hard and wrote that check.
Dedicated to Albert Denyer and Edison Brown of Canada - couldn't have done it without you, fellas!
See Chapman Engine Pictures here.
Chapman owners: Please register your Chapman engines by visiting the Chapman history page and completing the form, or contact me at: to add your engine to our registry of Chapman engines!