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Need information on horseless carriage with tiller steering

Guest Rookie Restorer

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Guest Rookie Restorer

I live in the California central coast and I recently met a man who is restoring a few cars and is looking for some help with a horseless carriage with a tiller for steering. I am not sure of the year of manufacture (suspect it is 1890's), we are still looking for information as there are no names anywhere on the vehicle. The upholstery was redone by a prior owner in what appears to be Naugahyde. The front, and all fenders are also Naugahyde around a metal frame. The tiller is center mounted and the lever on the right side pulls on a leather strap around the outside of a metal 'brake drum" mounted in the center of the rear axle. How to start the engine is still to be determined. It looks like it might use a rope pull around the pulley on the clutch (TBD) visible in the picture below and in the picture of the clutch.


Here is what I know after briefly looking at the vehicle. The engine is an air cooled, single cylinder, laying horizontal under the front seat. It is stamped EUREKA. I would really like any information on this engine as I will have to rebuild it. I have not had a chance to really examine it but I think it is a 2 stroke.


The initial questions are, what voltage is the ignition system, what type of distributor (it can be moved by the driver to advance/retard the spark (I think), are there any drawings/manuals/info for the engine and carburetor?

Then there is the question of the clutch. This appears to be centrifugal. Pulling on the lever will bring the inside 'shoe' in contact with the outside drum.


I will likely have to machine a lot of replacement parts for this "car" so I will probably be coming back to this forum with more questions as the restoration proceeds. This vehicle has as much wood as metal. Even the frame has wood members with metal reinforcement so I need to proceed carefully, as it is our intention to make this drive-able (if you could see how poorly the steering worked you would understand my concern at that prospect).


And then there is always the wheels. Wood spoke with metal rim covered by a rubber tire. The front wheels are samller diameter than the rear and the rubber appears to be fastened on in different manner. Is the any information on the wheels bearings?


I appreciate any information you can provide. Thank you.





Edited by Rookie Restorer (see edit history)
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You won't like me. And I (or anyone) would need to see either much better pictures or look at it in person to be certain of anything. However, from what I can see in these photos. It likely was just a horse-drawn carriage that someone tried to make an antique "Horseless Carriage" out of at some point.

The Horseless Carriage Club of America, Antique Automobile Club of America, and the Veteran Motor Car Club of America were all founded in the mid to late 1930s. Interest grew slowly at first, both because real antiques (?) were still not very old, and there was the depression, followed by World War II. In the late '40s and through the '50s, interest in early automobiles grew. Cars were driven in local parades, and major club outings often made the local newspapers. A lot of people decided that they wanted to "join the fun!" Not fully understanding what the goal was, they got an old horse-drawn carriage, added a motor, and tried to make it driveable (steering and maybe brakes). That is what I think this car is.

There are several reasons for why I think this.

1: The motor and clutch look very much like some that were commonly used during the 1930s to run things like washing machines. I could be wrong here. Companies like Waltham/Orient and De Dion Bouton made and sold engines for automobile use around 1900 that are not much different. They have aluminum crank cases and fins around the cylinder and so forth. But they are a bit different in how they appear to be made. Again, it should be looked at closely by someone that really knows what they are looking at. If you can find a nearby stationary engine club? They may be able to help you.

2: The steering. It was found very early in automotive development that a "center-swing" type front axle and steering simply did not work. Yes, it was done, and tried. If I recall correctly, even the Duryea brothers' first attempt may have tried it. How your car's steering is modified and braced from what appears to be a horse-drawn axle simply would not work. Any sort of roughness on a dirt road would throw you into a lurch at even 2 mph.

Do not take what I have said as the final word!

Who am I? Nobody, really. Just a long-time hobbyist (about 50 years) that has wanted the earliest and crudest horseless carriage I could get. And I think I got one.

On the way to getting what I have, I looked at probably a couple dozen of those "modified during the '30s to '50s horseless carriages". A lot of them were built. What you are beginning to work on should be looked at very closely, by someone that knows a lot about really early cars and motors. It would be wonderful to find more early unknowns and bring them into the light. Even if they are unreliable and difficult to drive? They should be preserved and seen.

Something I found doing my research. More than four hundred individuals and small companies built from one to maybe four automobiles before the year 1900. None of these people became commercial producers. Those more than four hundred people do not include Henry Ford, Alexander Winton, Apperson, Haynes, the Stanley twins or anyone else that even two percent of us could name. Those more than four hundred people and small companies were experimenters, blacksmiths, businessmen, and just plain folks that figured the automobile was the wave of the future. And they wanted to try their hand at it. Most of them are listed in the Kimes and Clark 'Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942'. Some on my list are not in that book, the result of many hours researching other sources as well. Other than some local "Historical Society", most of those over four hundred people are not well known outside the Kimes and Clark book.

That is a lot of "unknown" horseless carriages that could be lurking around somewhere. Maybe what you are working on is one of them. However, the odds are against it.

Good luck!


Edited by wayne sheldon (see edit history)
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<!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <w:WordDocument> <w:View>Normal</w:View> <w:Zoom>0</w:Zoom> <w:DoNotOptimizeForBrowser/> </w:WordDocument> </xml><![endif]--> I agree with Wayne that the vehicle is a carriage that someone made into a horseless carriage. The engine was most likely from a drag saw’


The engine is 2 cycle hand start with the wheel attached to the crank shaft. The wires are attached to a set of points designed for a buzz coil ignition. It looks like the engine needs to be geared down with a jack shaft to turn the back wheels. That being said, you could have a fun project making it run. It is definitely unique and people would be interested in it.

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Guest Rookie Restorer

Thanks for the replies. I am coming to the same conclusion that Wayne did. The Engine appears to be a 1940's drag saw engine (I looked at the link wjguthrie sent - thank you) and it is the same engine. I still cannot find any real information. I am searching machinist and gas engine forums for additional info, but not finding anything yet.

The steering is an issue. Thanks for the confirmation of my suspicions that it is not a great design. Are you aware of any modifications that would make it more stable and still keep the center tiller? I think there needs to be at least 5 degrees of caster in the wheels and the parts need to be redesigned to allow some amount of toe out. What I am not sure of is the leverage from the center to the tie rods. I think that is the real weak link.

Thank you again.

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Guest Rookie Restorer

Well I have looked a the carriage a little closer. This is definitely a home made job, and not the best quality. So there is little collector value. Its value is to show what people did in a time when cars could not be bought on every corner.

The engine is an aluminum 2 stroke 'drag saw' engine that appears to have been made in Eureka, CA. These were used in the days before chain saws. This thing has exposed points with manually adjustable timing from the drivers seat (used for a throttle as the carburetor is fixed). The coil appears to be a wooden boxed Ford 'buzz coil'. The clutch will have to have a lever installed to engage the chain drive. By the way, the chain has a cotter pin in each link. I have never seen a chain made this way. It does make it easy to separate!

The front axle was locked so it would not turn (as a horse drawn carriage, the whole axle turned pivoting in the center), then a turn buckle was added connected with a bent bolt in the front axle and a piece of chain to the frame. This was presumably to stop wobble but it has the axle slightly nonparallel to the front cross leaf spring suspension.


Then there is the steering! I agree with Wayne that it likely will not work. At least as it is.

I think I can make it functional enough for slow speed (5mph) touring, but I am not sure. All turning elements are loose, so I will be machining a lot of bushings to tighten things up. I think I may have to build a new pivot for the front axles to allow for caster adjustment. I will have to modify the tie rods to set toe-in/out. If I can set the caster and toe-out properly, I think I will have a chance. I am also thinking I may need to increase leverage to control the wheels.

So all of the steering improvements are based on getting it running. The existing engine will turn over so there is a hope.

I will update this listing as time goes on. All comments, suggestions and information are welcome.

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Whatever it really is? It has potential to show people what some early automobile efforts were like. And that is something that is not shown often enough.

It sounds like you are on a good path, good luck!

Drive carefully, and enjoy, W2

I agree with Wayne wholeheartedly but be aware that in a practical sense, this is nothing more than a very unsafe motor vehicle. Be sure to protect yourself from liability.

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Guest Rookie Restorer

Well I got the body off the chassis.


This is a real interesting homemade vehicle. Although there are some examples of good engineering, there are also many examples of poor workmanship. Here is the chassis and how the engine is hung;


The center member of the frame is wood with a steel bar bolted to it for strength. This looks like the standard horse drawn carriage construction. The engine, clutch and gears I estimate at around 75 pounds. They are attached to the right side of the center frame member with 2 metal straps that are approximately 1 & 1/2" wide and 3/8" thick. There are 2 more metal straps that attach the right side of the engine to the body. So with the body off the engine swings a lot.

The engine is in really good shape and I think it will run if I put some gas and electricity to it but I need to find a way to hold the engine before I try that. This engine is a hoot. It has a carburetor that I cannot figure out completely. It is mounted to the crankcase (gotta love 2 stroke engines - we don't need no stinkin' valves). There is an opening in the bottom with a screen on it that is about 1" square. There is no throttle control (that is done with timing advance/retard lever in the driver area). What is odd, is the bowl on the left has no float and only one opening (1/8" hole) in the bottom for fuel to enter or leave so I think it is a overflow holding tank. The right bowl is the mixing bowl but has only one jet that is externally adjustable (the lever on the right). I assume it operates on vacuum as there is no fuel pump.


I have separated the chain, removed the back wheels and pulled off the fan, fan belt and shroud from the engine. I have not been able to get the clutch off. I have used my bearing puller but with no luck so far. The next steps are;

  • getting the engine to run
  • getting the clutch off
  • removing the front wheels (access to the huge square nut is limited)
  • disassembling the rear gear and brake
  • then comes a lot of disassembling of parts, clean up and painting

The plan is to have this done by November 2015. I might make it :-)


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