Ted Kalvitis - Far Muse

I’ve gotten myself into what the movie Brits might call a bit of a pickle or even a sticky wicket. I’m in need of flatheads, more specifically, inline flatheads. Before you imagine a marching column of catfish, let me explain what a flathead is.

“Flathead” refers to the valve configuration of an engine, usually a very old engine. Flatheads were once quite common in automobiles, trucks, tractors, motorcycles and even more recently, gokarts, minibikes, lawn mowers and rototillers.

Nowadays, the valves in virtually any engine are in the cylinder head. This design is said to be more efficient, especially the hemispherical or “hemi” arrangement. The effect, when looking under the hood, is that there’s always a sheet metal, cast aluminum or even plastic cover on the top of the cylinder head or heads.

Not so with the flathead. The flathead’s valves are down in the engine block so one sees the engine topped with often rusty cast iron and sparkplugs sticking straight up from each cylinder.

As for efficiency, I’ll have to admit that the jury is still out in my case. I recall some impressive gas mileage while cruising the cow paths in a 1953 Plymouth. Flathead engines always seemed to run smoothly, were well balanced and, unless the exhaust system somehow became abbreviated, were very quiet.

lathead engines respond well to modifications to increase their power output. These engines are legendary as songs like Hot Rod Lincoln and Little Deuce Coupe will attest.

However, much of what appeals to me about the flathead is that they seem more harmonious with nature. I’m thinking of the flathead engine on Dr. Todd Addis’ 1946 2N Ford tractor. Left to rust except for where oil and dandelion seeds have clung, the engine gives the impression that it grew there instead of having been made in some smoky, distant factory.

But, for my immediate purpose, I can’t use a tractor engine; it has to be in a truck. Here’s how I got into this mess:

We had a 1939 International D30 truck around the place for a few years (see “Joploca Japloogn,” Far Muse July 8, 2015). This truck sported a 6-cylinder “Green Diamond” flathead engine. I couldn’t provide indoor storage for the truck, and the 2piece louvered hood didn’t provide total protection from turbulent summer storms.

I’m not sold on the effectiveness of tarpaulins, especially the plastic type, and I find them ugly. The problem that I was having as a result were the recesses in the cylinder head where the sparkplugs thread in, filling with rain water and condensation. This only happened during the worst storms, and if I could remember to blow these recesses out with compressed air, everything would be fine.

So much for memory. When I found myself unreliable in these instances, I came up with the idea of wedging strips of heavy denim beside the spark plugs in order to wick out the moisture. The strips of denim were simply left in place so that any time the recesses filled, they would immediately start to drain. It worked like a charm. I sold the idea to Vintage Truck Magazine for my Back Roads Tech Tips column. However, having decided that the D30 project was just too large to fit into my life at the time, I found the old truck a new home where its chances for restoration were much greater.

The text of the article has already been submitted along with the photo captions. Vintage Truck pays a professional photographer for these photo sessions. See the problem? “All dressed up and nowhere to go” might well describe the situation. We need a flathead to photograph ... “Could we use yours?”

Since the article is in reference to trucks stored outdoors or under minimal cover, we prefer that the truck not be restored. A 1930s or ’40s truck would be ideal as the hood opens from the sides making a side view easier. We can, however use a 1950s truck if we have to. We can’t use GMC or Chevrolet trucks since they are all valve-in-head design. Except for the rare 6-cylinder flathead, we’re not sure we can use Ford’s product either. It would seem that water would not collect on a V-8, and Model A sparkplugs aren’t recessed.

So we’re pretty much down to Dodge, Fageol, Federal, FWD, Hawkeye, Hudson, Hug, International, Kenworth, Kleiber, Mack, Nash, Powell, Stewart, Studebaker, White and Willys from the 1930s and ’40s. Our publisher, Patrick Ertel, has a 1947 Dodge that would be perfect, except that he restored it. Moreover, Pat has a way of letting things go until the very last minute, which tends to worry the rest of us silly.

Here’s what we’ll do: on Sunday afternoon of either Feb 21 or 28 (Our photographer only works Sundays since she attends classes at Potomac State through the week. It’s none of our business what she does on Saturday.), our little entourage will arrive to take photos. We’ll have to remove the truck’s air filter for a better view. We’ll temporarily install the denim strips and get a few shots. We’ll partially fill one of the recesses with water and time how long it takes to drain, with before and after shots. (I hope it’s a warm, dry day. If not, we may have to use alcohol instead — that’s show biz. There always seems to be a chaos factor.)

What you’ll get; not much, really. We usually thank the owner of the “props” by name along with the machine’s make and model in the magazine photo caption. If you want to promote a business, I usually try to work that in as well, within reason. Memorials are OK, too. The magazine goes to every free nation around the globe so maybe it is a little of much after all. Of course, you get a free copy.

As for locations, Romney, Fort Ashby, Springfield are ideal but anywhere from Keyser to Middleburg, Va., is probably doable. Photos are due March 4; please help. Thanks.

First published Feb. 17, 2016 

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