There was a time when at any harbor the only sounds you really heard where the chirp of seagulls and the tap of lines beaten by the wind against masts. The occasional foghorn and clanging bell buoy added to maritime music. Then along came the gasoline engine with new sounds. Waterman took to the idea of gas engine power from the start. From sailing Dories to Skipjacks, the conversion to gas powered engines made sense. Boatyards made good money converting sailing vessel to power. Skipjacks came up with the unique idea of turning their dinghies into little push boats. That gave them the advantage of a sailing vessel which was allowed a greater quantity of oysters then the power to get in and out of port quickly.
The “Make ‘N Break” engine became quite common and was favorite among watermen. Those mighty little engines were called putt- putts, hit and miss, Make ‘N Break and One Lungers. They were used on farms, in factories, as water pump and in lots and lots of boats. When Ole Evinrude invented the first practical outboard in 1907, the “Make ‘N Breaks” started to disappear. Fortunately, many of them have been preserved by people who love old engines. There are clubs, museums and magazines devoted to them. Gas Engine Magazine (www.gasenginemagazine.com) is devoted to old gas engines and the people who love them. It highlights events and stories about old gas engines.
I have fond memoires of a One-Lunger that once propelled the cable ferry that ran between Bloods Landing, New York and Chipman Point at Orwell, Vermont. Every summer my dad would bring his boat up through the Champlain Canal and into Lake Champlain. Just North of the marina was the cable ferry, I can remember as a young boy lying in my V bunk of my dad’s 36 foot Christ-Craft and hearing the sound of the cable ferry. I could tell from the sound when it was at the dock, starting out, slowing down, pulling hard on the cables against the wind and just idling.
In those days the water at the lower end of Lake Champlain was light brown. You could not see your hand if you stuck it in the water. Along came the Zebra Mussels and now the water is clear, thanks to the mussels or so I am told.
Their numbers are very few, but the “Make ‘N Break” engines that powered those ferries and so many fishing boats, are not forgotten. In fact, they are part of a very active hobby and featured at events and in several museum. What is so interesting to me about the old “Make ‘N Break’s is the simplicity. The old sturdy “Make ‘N Break” engines are really pretty simple, and they were very popular in small fishing boats, on farms and in factories. The “Make ‘N Break” is a very reliable and simple 2 cycle internal combustion gasoline engine. It features a set of contact points inside the cylinder. Linkages were used to open the points. When the points opened the collapse of a coil field made a spark. The coil was generally in a box stores next to the engine. Old timers tell me just about anything that will make a spark can work on a Make ‘N Break.When the contact points are opened the spark occurs. There is a heavy flywheel to keep things rolling and of course there is that unique sound that for many, is music to the ears.
The old gas engine hobby has really become very popular. There are events every summer in the U.S. and Europe where Make ‘N Break and steam engine enthusiasts meet to swap yarns and show off their highly polished and working engines.
And, they are delightful to hear. You can hear that special sound on YouTube where there are several good videos, particularly one by Max Clarke. One day I talked to and old Virginia oyster boat captain who showed me the engine on his vintage deadrise boat. It was a McCormick Deering engine with a water reservoir on top that had a large opening. You could see the water flowing. The watermen told me he used to boil eggs for breakfast on cold winter morning by putting them in a glove and dipping it into the boiling water. Other told of warming up the Vienna sausage that way and some even claim they would put their cold gloved hands into the hot water. I have been out with watermen on some of those cold winter mornings and I can tell you from personal experience there is nothing so bone chilling as the cold wind blowing across a choppy Cheaseapeake Bay in January.
Some of the bigger Make ‘N Breaks were used to power the winches at many an old Marine Railway. In fact there is a YouTube video titled Arcadia Make ‘N Break where an expert starts and runs and old 7.5hp engine that was used for many years pulling up boats on a marine railway.
The history of the gasoline engines we all know so well is a fascinating evolution. I have found lately a renewed interest I those old engines. Nostalgia for these old engines was evident when I have attended the Field Days of the past event in Rockville, Virginia. The major event is held in September of each year. (www.fileddayofthepast.net) The event has all kinds of engines from little “Make N Brakes” engines to massive steam engines, saw mill engines, tractor pulls and too many more to mention. There is a great magazine all about old gas engines. Gas Engine Magazine is a fascinating publication for anyone who loves old gas engines. The goal of the magazine is preserving the history of Internal Combustion Engines. (www.gasenginemagazine.com).
In my quest for more information about old gas engines and the old engine hobby, I discovered the Coolspring Power Museum located in Coolspring, Pennsylvania.
(www.coolspringpowermuseum.org) This is a very special place because it focuses on old gas engines. There are many wonderful museums that show old cars and those are worth visiting to learn about the subjects of your daily work. However, when it comes to old gas engines Coolspring Museum is the place to go. Check to see when they are open before you visit.
On the West Coast there is a museum called there is a museum called the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum , Inc. ( www.agsem.com ) 2040 N Santa Fe Ave. Vista, California. They are on You Tube and other social media sights.
In Nova Scotia there is a great museum known as The Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic (https://fisheriesmuseum.novascotia.ca). It hosts the Make and Break Club , 68 Bluenose Drive, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Their goal is to create a space where like-minded individuals with passion and knowledge of “Make ‘N Break” engine enthusiasts come together to share their stories, to educate and identify resources in a heritage-based niche community. Essentially what they try to accomplish is share historical information about old engines, educate and assist their members, operate a data base to help members find parts and information relative to “Make ‘N Breaks” engines and to sponsor activities to support the preservation of those grand old gas engines
This museum has several examples of the “one-lunger” engines that was extremely popular with watermen. The Atlantic was manufactured at Lunenburg Foundry in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia starting in 1910 and was built for about 90 years. The sturdy little engine and the Acadia were favorites of watermen in the U.S. Some enthusiasts claim there are still many in use in daily use. Certainly, there are many “Make ‘N Break” engines owned and shown by museums and enthusiasts.
If your space is limited, and you would like to fool around with a Make ‘N Break or a steam engine, there are actual toy working models of both available on order online.
The “hit or miss engine” is similar. Itis a type of internal combustion engine that is controlled by a governor to only fire at a set speed. They are usually 4-stroke, but 2-stroke version were made. Several companies produced this engine in the late 19th century built by various companies from the 1890s through approximately the 1940s. The name comes from the speed control on these engines: they fire ("hit") only when operating at or below a set speed, and cycle without firing ("miss") when they exceed their set speed. This is as compared to the "throttle governed" method of speed control. The sound made when the engine is running without a load is a distinctive "Snort POP whoosh whoosh whoosh whoosh snort POP" as the engine fires and then coasts until the speed decreases and it fires again to maintain its average speed. The snorting is caused by atmospheric intake valve used on many of these engines.
The Make ‘N Break engine has been a very important part of the heritage of watermen around the word. It is gratifying to see that its role in the development of maritime propulsion is appreciated and being preserved for generations to come.