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How to crank an old car


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I used to get free starts with my Model T maybe 3 or 4 out of ten times. FR4e starts only occur with a buzz coil ignition as far as I now. The old tale of thumb placement being the key to a safe crank start never made sense to me. The theory being that in case of a kickback the crank will break your thumb or even rip it off if you are careless enough to wrap it around the handle. The danger is having the crank kick back and swing back and smack tour wrist or forearm. Doctors used to refer to it as a Ford "Fracture". The story is. that a friend of Boss Kettering died as a result of a kickback and being struck in the face and dying from a subsequent infection. I wonder where his thumb was?

 

 

 

 

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26 minutes ago, CarlLaFong said:

I used to get free starts with my Model T maybe 3 or 4 out of ten times. FR4e starts only occur with a buzz coil ignition as far as I now. The old tale of thumb placement being the key to a safe crank start never made sense to me. The theory being that in case of a kickback the crank will break your thumb or even rip it off if you are careless enough to wrap it around the handle. The danger is having the crank kick back and swing back and smack tour wrist or forearm. Doctors used to refer to it as a Ford "Fracture". The story is. that a friend of Boss Kettering died as a result of a kickback and being struck in the face and dying from a subsequent infection. I wonder where his thumb was?

 

 

 

 

 

It was Henry Leland's good friend Byron J. Carter. He was injured and died later of an infection. Carter was the founder of Cartercar. He stopped to help a lady on the Belle Isle Bridge in Detroit who had stalled her car. While cranking her car he was injured. Leland then put up a reward for a self starting automobile. It was Kettering who worked for National Cash Register in Dayton Ohio who figured it out. Kettering realized that a started could be overloaded with current for a short time and survive. This was against electrical wisdom of the time. Mr. Kettering devised a system that took 4 6-volt batteries and put them in series through a finger switch to start the car on 24-volts. I have worked on this system and it is impressive.

1912-Cadillac-Self-Start.jpg

Edited by Brass is Best (see edit history)
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Years ago I got some advice about cranking a car which makes a lot of sense to me.  It's simple - use your LEFT hand.  I've done it.  I am right handed and my left arm is not as strong as my right arm is, but the few times I've cranked a car that way I haven't had a problem.  If it does kick back it pulls the crank out of your hand and it won't hit you on the back of the hand.

There were a few early cars with engines that ran CCW. The Brush was one.  I believe early Stearns did as well.  Apparently this was an acknowledgment that most people were right handed and doing this would reduce the possibility of Henry's fracture.

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8 minutes ago, dictator27 said:

Years ago I got some advice about cranking a car which makes a lot of sense to me.  It's simple - use your LEFT hand.  I've done it.  I am right handed and my left arm is not as strong as my right arm is, but the few times I've cranked a car that way I haven't had a problem.  If it does kick back it pulls the crank out of your hand and it won't hit you on the back of the hand.

There were a few early cars with engines that ran CCW. The Brush was one.  I believe early Stearns did as well.  Apparently this was an acknowledgment that most people were right handed and doing this would reduce the possibility of Henry's fracture.

Exactly what I was referring to. Thanks.

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The big stationary hit and miss engines, they roll them around once on the cylinder prime, then back the engine up to a few degrees past top dead center, then hit the spark. A guy I know outside Detroit has a whole collection in several buildings, some of them are enormous.

 

Ron

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My 1929 Model A has both hand crank and a starter for cranking. After retarding the spark, I pull the hand crank from about the 7 o'clock position to about the 10 o'clock position with a quick pull of the LEFT arm only. Once I get to the 10 o'clock position I pull the hand crank towards the front of the car. My car cranks very easily using the hand crank. I only use the hand crank after the engine has been warmed up a bit. I was told by a very knowledgeable Model A'er to never use the right hand to try to start the car. I haven't (knock on wood) had a problem with kickback.

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Only car I had with a crank was an MGA. No problem with the bumper, crank went through it. (Lucas electrics)

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On 2/12/2021 at 4:30 AM, Brass is Best said:

 

It was Henry Leland's good friend Byron J. Carter. He was injured and died later of an infection. Carter was the founder of Cartercar. He stopped to help a lady on the Belle Isle Bridge in Detroit who had stalled her car. While cranking her car he was injured. Leland then put up a reward for a self starting automobile. It was Kettering who worked for National Cash Register in Dayton Ohio who figured it out. Kettering realized that a started could be overloaded with current for a short time and survive. This was against electrical wisdom of the time. Mr. Kettering devised a system that took 4 6-volt batteries and put them in series through a finger switch to start the car on 24-volts. I have worked on this system and it is impressive.

 

That system is only on the 12's isn't it? By 13 they'd changed the system again? 

 

I doubt I'd be able to hand crank the 22 but I'm not sure it's designed to be either as the manual makes no reference to doing it

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You will have no trouble at all cranking up a start on your ‘22. FULL retard, a touch of hand throttle, bit of a prime, and with the described technique it should start on the first or second pull. In my deteriorated condition, I could not do it to save my life.    -    CC 

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7 hours ago, hidden_hunter said:

 

That system is only on the 12's isn't it? By 13 they'd changed the system again? 

 

I doubt I'd be able to hand crank the 22 but I'm not sure it's designed to be either as the manual makes no reference to doing it

 

Yes the 12 was a one year only system.

 

Any car with a crank hole is meant to be cranked. Here a couple where you need to pay attention:

 

 

 

 

 

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I will have to try the left hand idea. Always used the right hand, thumb out of the way. If it kicks back between 10 and 11 oclock (TDC), the handle moves away from your hand and arm, and just unfolds the fingers. Rotating the crank 360 degrees would be looking for trouble.

 

Of the many cars and 4x4's that I had to crank regularly, none of them had advance/retard levers. They were later vehicles and you just had to tough it out, and get the technique correct. Just a short movement over compression is all that is required in most cases. I have crank started the petrol Toyota Landcruiser under water more than once. (I found that the starter is uncooperative when immersed).

 

If it is not too far off topic, Dad had a Fordson wheel tractor with a P6 Perkins diesel engine. (6 cylinder). A big bear of a man who worked for him would crank start that thing regularly. I was mightily impressed. There was no way I could pull it over compression.

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3 minutes ago, Bush Mechanic said:

I will have to try the left hand idea. Always used the right hand, thumb out of the way. If it kicks back between 10 and 11 oclock (TDC), the handle moves away from your hand and arm, and just unfolds the fingers. Rotating the crank 360 degrees would be looking for trouble.

 

Of the many cars and 4x4's that I had to crank regularly, none of them had advance/retard levers. They were later vehicles and you just had to tough it out, and get the technique correct. Just a short movement over compression is all that is required in most cases. I have crank started the petrol Toyota Landcruiser under water more than once. (I found that the starter is uncooperative when immersed).

 

If it is not too far off topic, Dad had a Fordson wheel tractor with a P6 Perkins diesel engine. (6 cylinder). A big bear of a man who worked for him would crank start that thing regularly. I was mightily impressed. There was no way I could pull it over compression.

My older friend who has had many Model A's told me that if you used your right hand and it kicked back it could easily break your arm. I always took him at his word. My car doesn't take much to hand crank it nor, do I have to yank real hard on it.

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1914 American LaFrance 6 cylinder "T" head 14.7 litre engine : Retard the spark, Set the throttle, release the compression, full choke, pull up on the crank about 3-4 times (brings a good fuel charge up into the manifold) and finally, turn on the ignition to the Mag, and with one gentle pull up on the crank, it fires, and I flip the compression leaver back in place, open the choke.

1925 Franklin 6 cylinder Air Cooled engine: (When the battery is down) Retard the spark, full choke, set the throttle, spin the crank around through all 6 compression strokes to deliver a fuel charge to the cylinders, Then, turn on the ignition, and with one gentle pull up of the crank, it is running.

1947 Farm All Cub Tractor: 4 cylinder, and no battery or starter: Pull out the choke, set the throttle, run through the compression strokes, THEN turn on the ignition to the mag, and gently pull up on the crank... Always starts on the 3rd pull.

 To the original poster's question... I never have to pull up on the crank very fast, I just get the engine to "roll over" and that does the trick. 

* Never wrap your thumb around the crank handle*

I always use my right arm for cranking... but reading the comments about using your left arm makes some sense... I'm going to try it. 

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BTW... the first time I was taught to crank start an engine was when I was 13 on our farm... the machine was an early McCormack Deering Tractor with steel wheels.

 Once I had the hang of it... I was allowed to drive that tractor anytime I wanted to....  I'm surprised there was enough gasoline around to keep it running that first summer! I was driving a vintage machine and loving every minute of those very slow trips to the farthest ends of our farm property and back!  Ha Ha Ha

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There was a long discussion over on the MTFCA board a few years ago about how to crank a Model T.  
After reading it all I started cranking with my left hand, felt odd at first, but now feels very normal.   I was out at breakfast in my T once and as usual a crowd gathered when I was ready to leave. People always want to see it hand started.  My mind was distracted and I forgot to retard the spark, when it kicked back the crank spun at least 6 times backward , lesson learned the left hand no thumb wrap technique saved me I am sure.

 

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It is possible to set up a car that you crank to start, so it can NEVER kick back and hurt you. The process involves setting the timing so it only fires at one degree past TDC when on full retard. The inertia of the flywheel makes it impossible to kick back if it fires just one degree past. It takes time and skill to set the car up correctly. You need to be sure all the linkage is tight and doesn’t vary. I have my 15 T set up this way. I just kick start it on the down stroke......fires up every time. And no danger of injuries. On our P1 Rolls, I can shut down the engine with the choke on, and then turn on the ignition and swing the advance mechanism to fire the magneto.......starts up half the time even after a few hours. Lots of fun to show people on the field. They call this method a “free start.”

Edited by edinmass (see edit history)
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2 hours ago, edinmass said:

 Lots of fun to show people on the field. They call this method a “free start.”

I had a T that would usually give a free start even when first morning starts were primed properly. It never (well rarely) would do it when I was trying to show off! 

red t.jpeg

Edited by JFranklin (see edit history)
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The old choke-prime the cylinders with ignition off ,a revolution or so with 1/4 or 1/2 turns,then with ignition on, one good up pull from the bottom will usuall kick off any car in good tune, cold.

And as mention many cars will start with just the turn of the key to battery "on"after priming .If not then,then a spark lever manipulation ignites.

Goes with out saying proper handle grip and timing placement .

Larger cars you usually only get a 1/4 actual turn with a pull up.

 

One old timer I knew with light cars like Fords, used his left hand to crank so any kick back the handle pull out of the hand away from the thumb.

He with a wide stance, would pull the crank up to 7 or 8 O'clock with his left hand then grabed the outer edge of the left front fender with his right hand ,then pulled the crank handle swifty over past noon and step back, and its running.

 

Bumper and bars ,brackets and light bars sometimes  hinder many crankable cars and easily help strain the lumbar.

 

 

 

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On 2/14/2021 at 3:36 PM, George Cole said:

I've looked and looked and looked on line and can't find images of cranking with the left hand...in fact some of t hem showed cranking with both hands.

 

And cars were famous for breaking arms. I was taught the left hand method as the only safe way. I don't know when it came into being. Maybe later. Maybe much later. I did not live through those times.

 

Edited by Bloo (see edit history)
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"They call this method a “free start.”  - I thought that was "on the spark". (Said I prefer cars with AC, never said I didn't know about others).

 

Helps to be left handed, that's how I cranked my MGA.

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On 2/11/2021 at 12:30 PM, Brass is Best said:

 

It was Henry Leland's good friend Byron J. Carter. He was injured and died later of an infection. Carter was the founder of Cartercar. He stopped to help a lady on the Belle Isle Bridge in Detroit who had stalled her car. While cranking her car he was injured. Leland then put up a reward for a self starting automobile. It was Kettering who worked for National Cash Register in Dayton Ohio who figured it out. Kettering realized that a started could be overloaded with current for a short time and survive. This was against electrical wisdom of the time. Mr. Kettering devised a system that took 4 6-volt batteries and put them in series through a finger switch to start the car on 24-volts. I have worked on this system and it is impressive.

 

 

This story is often repeated, but is it true? You can read more here.

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I was taught at an early age to use my left hand with the thumb tucked back to crank an engine.  I learned on my dads caterpillar 22.  Thankfully it started easily on most days.   I then became the designated cranker for the neighbors  Cat 28? which was a bigger gas engined tractor.    I also volunteered at an antique tractor collection and started a Holt 45 by inserting a bar in the flywheel of the engine.  NOT FUN 

   My 1914 Ford T is obviously crank start and NO it does not have a battery, it is magneto ignition with the factory flywheel mounted magneto.  Ford magneto is nothing like the magneto used on other makes and works quite well hot or cold.    Of course add a battery could give me some free starts.

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On the Buda H motor, 4cyl 320ish ci, I fill the primer cup and spin the motor over a couple times, refill the cups and reprime, retard the spark and give it full choke & a little throttle and pull up and the thing is running like a brand new Lexus.  If it warm I just give it throttle, retard the spark and pull up.  Its a sweet running engine them Buda's.  It has one of those spring loaded magneto's that builds spring pressure as you cank and releases it all at once in a loud 'SNAP' - 'inertia starter' I think its called.   Big as those pistons are you don't forget to retard it after the 1st time, thats a fact.

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I think the correct term for the device which winds up the magneto before releasing and spinning it fast enough to create a spark is called an impulse.  At least when I contacted a rebuilder to order a spare mag and told him I needed an impulser he knew what it was.

 

On my 1913 Buick with a 201 cubic inch engine, it has never kicked back.  A few years ago a group of us stopped at a High School shop class and I had a line of teenagers try to crank start my Buick.  With my impulse device a child can start the engine if they can get the engine to rotate, any speed, when the impulse releases the Bosch generates spark and the engine runs.  The students were thrilled, their teacher was first and then supervised.  I would retard the spark for every start and advance it afterward for a smooth idle, shut down before the next student turn ( pun intended).

 

Stay safe, Gary

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7 hours ago, cxgvd said:

I think the correct term for the device which winds up the magneto before releasing and spinning it fast enough to create a spark is called an impulse.  At least when I contacted a rebuilder to order a spare mag and told him I needed an impulser he knew what it was.

 

On my 1913 Buick with a 201 cubic inch engine, it has never kicked back.  A few years ago a group of us stopped at a High School shop class and I had a line of teenagers try to crank start my Buick.  With my impulse device a child can start the engine if they can get the engine to rotate, any speed, when the impulse releases the Bosch generates spark and the engine runs.  The students were thrilled, their teacher was first and then supervised.  I would retard the spark for every start and advance it afterward for a smooth idle, shut down before the next student turn ( pun intended).

 

Stay safe, Gary

Good for you Gary. If we don't try and get the younger generation interested in our hobby, it won't last. I hate going to shows where people rope off their cars in such a way that nobody can see it. I open my doors and if someone is interested in having their picture made while in my car, I encourage it. I have found that people are extra careful around the cars afterwards.

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Washington state has hundreds of miles of beautiful coastal highways and countless ocean side parks. It is a wonderful place to drive a old car on weekend outings.

Last summer I ventured into a local park on Joint Base Lewis McChord, which had been given to the military for assault landing training. Being retired military, I have access to the park, and upon arrival I saw a full contingency of army rangers, navy seals, and their massive landing craft on the beach.

Not thinking, I turned off the engine of my 1927 Willys Knight Coach, and began taking pictures. Of course, since it is illegal to take pictures of military operations I concentrated on making sure they knew my camera was aimed at the islands.

But, for the first time ever, when I attempted to start my Willys the battery was dead. So, I approached the Lieutenant Colonel who appeared to be in charge of the landing party and asked him if his men could give me a push. The Colonel  said there was nothing in the books, either pro or con, about his team pushing a old car as part of an assault landing operation.

The Colonel called about 12 of the scuba gear clad divers, complete with their belts containing explosive devices, and gave my Willys a push. It took only a couple of feet, and a single turn of the engine to start it. I thanked the Colonel, paused long enough for a few team members to take photos of my car, and drove off.

However, at the top of the hill, away from the beach, and well out of sight of the assault team, I pulled my old car to the side of the road facing down the hill. I remembered a part of the original restoration was to put tool boxes under the seats, which tilt forward to allow access to the rear seat. And as it was, since I finished the car, my crank was carefully placed in the box.

Curious to see if I had really done something dumb by asking a Lieutenant Colonel, and he is fully equipped dive team to push my car,, I inserted the crank and gave it a quarter turn.

The engine fired right up, and after carefully wiping the egg off my face, I drove back into Lakewood.

 

Edited by Jack Bennett
Delete redundant words. (see edit history)
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Critterpainter,

 

WOW, I had a Cat 28 too. Yours is the only other one I have heard of.

Mine was wide track with special "flotation" grousers. Very wide. It had an impulse mag in place of the Eisman and always started very easily with a bit of gas thru the priming cups

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1 hour ago, Jack Bennett said:

Washington state has hundreds of miles of beautiful coastal highways and countless ocean side parks. It is a wonderful place to drive a old car on weekend outings.

Last summer I ventured into a local park on Joint Base Lewis McChord, which had been given to the military for assault landing training. Being retired military, I have access to the park, and upon arrival I saw a full contingency of army rangers, navy seals, and their massive landing craft on the beach.

Not thinking, I turned off the engine of my 1927 Willys Knight Coach, and began taking pictures. Of course, since it is illegal to take pictures of military operations I concentrated on making sure they knew my camera was aimed at the islands.

But, for the first time ever, when I attempted to start my Willys the battery was dead. So, I approached the Lieutenant Colonel who appeared to be in charge of the landing party and asked him if his men could give me a push. The Colonel  said there was nothing in the books, either pro or con, about his team pushing a old car as part of an assault landing operation.

The Colonel called about 12 of the scuba gear clad divers, complete with their belts containing explosive devices, and gave my Willys a push. It took only a couple of feet, and a single turn of the engine to start it. I thanked the Colonel, paused long enough for a few team members to take photos of my car, and drove off.

However, at the top of the hill, away from the beach, and well out of sight of the assault team, I pulled my old car to the side of the road facing down the hill. I remembered a part of the original restoration was to put tool boxes under the seats, which tilt forward to allow access to the rear seat. And as it was, since I finished the car, my crank was carefully placed in the box.

Curious to see if I had really done something dumb by asking a Lieutenant Colonel, and he is fully equipped dive team to push my car,, I inserted the crank and gave it a quarter turn.

The engine fired right up, and after carefully wiping the egg off my face, I drove back into Lakewood.

 

Well, at least you got a good story out of it! I bet not many people can say their car has been started by a military dive team.

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