(By Greg Rourke) – Hit and miss engines…no, I’m not referring to the engine I attempted to build for the slowest dragster in the Midwest. I’m referring to some of the earliest gasoline engines, built at the turn of the 20th century.
Hit and miss engines were so named because they would only fire the fuel and air charge as needed. Large flywheels stored energy, the governor would keep the exhaust valve open until the engine slowed down enough for another combustion stroke to be needed. They produced a unique sound when running…”POP, whoosh whoosh whoosh whoosh POP”.
These engine were brutally simple, and would last forever. They didn’t use a carburetor, just a line running from the fuel tank with a needle valve at the cylinder. A check valve prevented fuel from flowing backwards during non power strokes. With the exhaust valve held open, there was no vacuum to draw fuel into the cylinder. The intake valve was opened by suction, and air intake was just a pipe elbow with a butterfly valve to regulate speed. The crankcase was usually not enclosed and moving parts lubricated by grease or an oil drip cup. They were water cooled by means of an open water reservoir cast right into the block. They were often started on gasoline, then switched to a cheaper fuel like kerosene or diesel.
As popular as these engines were, they fell out of favor by the 1940’s. Smaller, lighter engines from Briggs and Stratton and others did the same work. The 6 horsepower engine on your lawn mower? That baby weighed in at 1000 pounds or more in a hit and miss. Unfortunately many of these engines were deemed obsolete by farmers and others and were lost to scrap metal drives during World War Two. Fortunately a good number are still around and prized by collectors. Head out to the next farm tractor show or county fair and you’re likely to see some of these relics operating corn shellers, generators, or even ice cream freezers.
PRESS PLAY BELOW TO SEE HIT AND MISS ENGINES AT WORK – THE RED BEHEMOTH? YEAH, IT MAKES 5HP!