2019 Created by The Old Machinery Magazine

Headless Hit & Miss Witte Engine

August 27, 2019

Manufactured by the Witte Engine Works of Kansas City, USA and distributed in Queensland by Clark & Fauset of Brisbane where it received the 'Emu' alias.


This engine was originally purchased by my late uncle around 1915. Its early life was spent cutting chaff, milling grain and pumping water etc.

Side and rear view of Jack's restored Witte that was originally bought by his Uncle about 1915. Jack Thompson photos.

In 1945 I purchased it for £5/10/- ($11) and the engine continued its working life until 1954 when it was considered obsolete and replaced by more modem equipment. So it went to the dump. There was no thought of preservation and restoration in those times. Such items were numerous and considered 'junk'. Many old engines, tractors and horse gears, anything with cast iron was sold on the farm to cast iron buyers and went under the scrappy's 141b hammer
for generally £4- ($8) per ton gross weight.

However, this engine happened to be one of the lucky ones that missed being 'beaten to death' with the scrappy's hammer. It was left to rust and rot and was forgotten for 30 years.


In 19841 suddenly caught the 'bug' so off to the rubbish dump and there it was, surrounded by rubbish just waiting to be hauled out. The Witte was stripped, cleaned, repaired where ever necessary, re-assembled, a new fuel tank made and after a couple of coats of paint, it was set to go. The engine fired first time over compression and was ready for its first show.

According to CH Wendel's book on 'American Gasoline Engines', the 1916 Witte junior engine series included the cylinder and base in a single casting. This is not so with my engine which I think was made before 1916. Some of the differences are- it has two separate castings; there is no bevel on the piston skirt and it still has the original factory made exhaust valve that is made in two pieces. There is a hexagon nut cast with, and underneath, the valve head to hold the valve head while the stem is screwed into it.

This Witte has a 4 1/2" bore by a 7" stroke. It is hopper cooled and rated at 3hp and is hit and miss governed and 'headless' with the pre-combustion chamber containing the valves and spark plug bolted to the side of the cylinder with a small hole connecting it to the main combustion chamber. The intake valve is automatic while the exhaust valve is operated with a long rocker arm which connects with the cam gear and also the governor mechanism on the crankshaft via a sleeve and latch, to control the speed by holding the exhaust valve open. The governor weights are in the flywheel.

Speed is simply adjusted by turning the regulator knob a couple of turns (while operating) to give from 270rpm to over 500rpm that develops up to 4.5hp.

Originally this engine was fitted with a battery and buzz coil but was converted to a Webster oscillator trip type magneto which sits on a bracket attached with the extended sub base bolts.
It is operated by a pull rod and roller running on the exhaust cam. Lubrication of the cylinder and piston pin is by drip feed oiler, the main bearings have felt feed oil wells and the big end lubricated by grease cups and oil holes for the other moving parts. The carburetor is a very simple suction feed arrangement with a needle valve with an adjusting screw above and also a flap to adjust the volume of air.



I believe these Witte engines were produced in nine sizes up to 30hp and were virtually identical except for size. The starting method was by the 'back-kick' method. In simple terms, to prepare the engine to start, prime with gasoline and with the spark fully advanced and the ignition on, rock the flywheels forward and then backwards against compression and on reaching the point of ignition,the first explosion takes place and the engine starts in the correct rotation.




I have never seen an easier engine to start than my old Witte. Prime with petrol and pull it steadily over compression using the flywheels and it fires first time. With no load the Witte will idle away all day at 18 revs per explosion as regular as clockwork with 15explosions per minute at 270rpm. Its working speed is higher. However, it attracts great interest with one explosion each four seconds. A very fascinating engine to watch. I grew up with one of the same model and have had a life time's association with them.


Contacts Wanted

Are there many of this Witte models in existence? I would be only to happy to make contact with other Witte owners. *Jack Thompson




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