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Final Wrap: History Lesson

Retired engine builder and mechanical engineer Bill Hancock sent me a curious picture the other day, one that points out how far we’ve come – and, how we may not really know what we think we do about this industry.

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Retired engine builder and mechanical engineer Bill Hancock sent me a curious picture the other day, one that points out how far we’ve come – and, how we may not really know what we think we do about this industry.

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“Years ago, as a newly graduated mechanical engineer, I got recruited to go to Detroit and work for Chrysler Corp.” Hancock says. “Soon after my arrival, I made friends with others, and in casual conversation I remarked that we used to grind crankshafts while they were still in the car. Being from the South, my credibility and engineering credentials were naturally somewhat suspect, but this statement put my new engineering friends over the edge. While some admitted that, potentially, the mains could be ground, grinding the rod journals in the vehicle was clearly a physical impossibility; it could NEVER be done they said. I insisted that we had done it often and quite successfully in the small gas station garage where I had worked in rural Virginia in the late ‘50s. The argument ended with cries of ‘Bull$8#%.’”

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Hancock says that many years later when he owned a racing engine business, he was skimming through a used equipment bulletin from AERA and there, listed for sale, was an in-car crank grinder. “I immediately bought it! It arrived and I quickly mounted it on a spare block and put a worn out crank in the block and, you guessed it; invited all of my distinguished Northern cohorts over for a history lesson. Admittedly, the quality of the job was very dependent on the skill of the operator, but back in the ‘50s when you had an old beater and needed to get a few more months or years out of the engine before you could afford a rebuild or replacement, this repair method served the purpose quite well.”

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Do you remember this piece of equipment? The crankshaft grinder model was called “In The Blok” and made by “WI-TO-CO,” a trademark of The Winona Tool Company. Hancock explains that they were sold in the ’50s to dealerships and repair facilities.

“When I used the ‘In the Blok’ crank grinder, I was just a teenager working nights in a gas station-garage, fascinated by engines, cars and racing. I was trying to learn anything and everything about engines. At the time, I thought what the boss did was the pinnacle of precision. We did mostly flatheads and a few inline sixes. He referred to a micrometer as a ‘Measurin’ C-Clamp.’

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Hancock says he would watch the boss set up the grinder, grind the pins until most of the “corruption” was gone, then remove the grinder and retire to the back room to meet with George Dickel and Jim Beam.

“Meanwhile, I had to hand polish the journals with an abrasive strap, until they shined, then flush the inside of the crankcase with Varsol to flush the grinding dust away so I could reassemble the engine,” Hancock recalls. “When I was done, I would fill the crankcase with ‘reprocessed oil’ –  I still remember him telling me to always use ‘Some of the thick oil’ to fill the crankcase. He would tell the customers to drive it slow for a few months until it was ‘broke in real good.’”

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Today, Hancock suggests, we would look at anybody who tried this repair as a shyster or at best “backward” – and probably rightfully so. But we also let our kids grow up playing outside with sticks until the streetlights came on, so…

“In many third world countries this piece of equipment would be valuable and useful to this day,” Hancock explains. “I have kept my grinder as a symbol of how our industry has progressed and as a constant reminder to never say never.”

Thanks for the trip in the Wayback Machine, Bill. You’ve brought back memories to half our readers…and created confusion in even more! ν

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