Air Meter Restoration
We recently obtained an old Eco Tireflator air meter, traded to us for other services by a friend who found it lying in the back of a gas station.
The station manager was going to throw it out because it no longer worked, so he gave it to our friend.
This story astounded us because, over the past several years, the value of these air meters has escalated to what we'd say are unreasonable levels. A quick check on Ebay showed that meters in "marginal" condition are going for hundreds of dollars and restored ones are now at the $1500 level. The fact that it's still possible to find one lying around in a relatively modern, suburban gas station in the Washington DC area simply floored us. The fact that it was going to be thrown away is nothing short of crazy.
Anyway, now we own it now and couldn't be more pleased. The overall condition is pretty good and it's a later Model 97 meter with a plastic front face and the meter body is attached to its original wall mount bracket. While we don't profess to be experts on these devices, logic dictates that at the end of the "free air" era (now you have to pay for air in most places) the Eco folks were doing minimal re-engineering of their older meters. We believe that when existing meters were being serviced they would be fitted with the plastic face to replace pitted chrome trim and broken glass.
We've decided to restore this meter for display, although a quick hookup to an air supply told us that it's working rather well internally - other than the fact that the crank wheel wouldn't turn. The meter is simply too valuable to install in the garage as an air pump, however so there's no reason to get it functioning and calibrated.
We've also decided to restore the meter on the cheap. That is, we're setting out to spend the least possible money to get a display meter that will light up (we need to put in a light bulb and socket) and be capable of turning the number wheels. Here are the plan's elements:
- We happen to have an old, very pitted, set of chrome trim from an old air meter. We hope to be able to sand off the flaking chrome and polish the base metal to a bright sheen, and then replace the plastic front with these pieces.
- We're going to create a crank handle from steel stock using our small lathe and welder. The plastic knob is just too ugly and uninteresting.
- We'll get the crank mechanism functioning to be able to turn the number wheels. We hope to only have to buy a reproduction meter face and glass window, plus some paint.
The goals in this project are to spend less than $50 and to utilize as many skills and techniques as possible to solve problems and accomplish the work. It will take considerably more time than simply replacing parts with reproduction pieces but, after all, we believe that much of the satisfaction involved in restoration is in the process itself.
First things first, and in this case that meant the removal of the wall-mount base and then the back cover. Once we could see inside we found that the condition of its parts was excellent.
Once we got the front cover off we removed the plastic face because we wanted to see if the old chrome trim pieces would fit. Our hunch was right, in that the correct attachment flange and holes on the front cover allowed the trim pieces to fit perfectly.
Turning to the crank mechanism, we quickly found the reason the wheels wouldn't turn. The pot-metal gears were too soft to move the upper and lower shafts once they lost lubrication, so the teeth simply ground themselves off and the whole mechanism froze in place.
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