All of this recent buzz about the bullet-proof dead-reliable Ford roller timer has spurred me to post these photos in hopes of sorting out my ongoing timer problems...
The photos show two timers (the roller of one, the housing of the other, but both rollers and timers looked roughly the same) that each wore out within 500 miles on a 1,500 mile run last year in my '24 Speedster. It is not obvious from the top picture, but both covers had worn insulator segments (bumpy ride for the roller).
Both timers were new, both reproductions, one from a swap meet and the other, I believe, from Ken Meeks in June 2011. I don't know any more than that about their manufacture.
The engine was recently rebuilt and I think I got the timing cover pretty well centred, as I do have the proper tool for that. I've had this car for 20 years, and while it hadn't seen much use for the 8 years prior to the rebuild, I don't recall much timer trouble.
Both these timers were oiled after installation but I may not have re-oiled at least one of them over the 500 mile period. As a side note, I have tried a handful of grease in my '26 touring roller timer and even after the initial very hard starting it never did seem to run all that smoothly.
Please forgive the plastic connector in one photo — this is a 20-year-old harness and after all this timer trouble we lost a couple terminal ends. And then, like an angel descending from heaven, this telephone service gal stopped to take a photo of the car and she happened to have a whole drawer full of just the connector we needed to get back on the road.
Maybe I got two bad timers or should have oiled them more often, but when two failed in quick succession perhaps there is a problem with the timing cover or...??
My first impulse answer would be lack of lube but those roller ridges throw me completely. I read your post as this happening twice with two different timer/roller set-ups?
Just some observations over my experiences,
The front plate may be offset on your engine, that should be checked first. The timer case could be running off center.
The camshaft bearings may be worn allowing the cam to 'wobble' a fraction. That lets the roller run off center.
The new reproductions , least expensive of the roller type timers aren't made with quality materials. Wear can occur quickly, on the plastic and metal contact surfaces.
Any mechanical timer will wear over time, think of the speed that roller or flapper rotor goes around when running..lots!
This Anderson had the special high strength spring in the flapper contact, and you can see the wear in 3,500 miles. The high strength is for the Montana 500 guys and gals to reduce 'float' at high speed, since I'm not a racer, changed it back to std spring on the flapper
Charlie, it was two timers, both new, both worn out in less than 500 miles. Yes, the ridges are a real puzzler.
Thanks Dan. I too wonder about the timer cover — but even if it is not quite centred what, exactly, caused the fast wear-out? I can see rough running from inconsistent timing but wear? The camshaft and pre-fitted bearings were purchased from Chaffins about 1,800 miles earlier. I ran an Anderson in my '26 touring for about 3,000 miles and the flapper showed similar wear to your first picture.
If only someone would come up with an electronic gizmo to replace the timer...
I don't see centering causing that. Lack of lube or poor quality seem more logical. Of course, that is just speculation.
There was a time when certain repops used the wrong insulator material and it just wiped itself down. You say new repop, but...how old in the box? I forget the color, but something tells me brown and possibly red were good...beware of the rest...someone have a better recollection? It was definately some color...
That roller is interesting...life of me have no idea why it might ridge like that...everything else also makes me think there is too much spring, but it could be something else. Dan is right...have front camshaft wiggle, weird things do happen as the timer becomes the centering device...or at least trys to.
Thanks for the photo's Dan...I have a new Anderson in a box that I do want to try, wanted to try this previous season, but I was chasing another sort of whacky timer issue and stayed with a real new old Tiger I bought decades ago to see if it ridged up like the previous one did. I likey 3500 miles...for me that would probably mean it becomes someone elses next change....now...next question...did you oil it every day or pack it in that special lube they sell for Andersons?
I can't think of a way to constantly lube these things short of an oil line to the case and a small hand pump you hit occasionally. Oil flies off and grease carves a cavity and runs grease free relatively quickly too. Since the case has to move it probably makes a seal very hard to accomplish on the case so an oil bath (filled with oil) set-up is out. Beyond grease and occasional oiling permanent lubeing doesn't seem to have ever been addressed by the dozens of different timer types over the years. Do you feel mis-alignment is Chris's problem Dan? The wear seems even though excessive.
Are you running on mag or battery?
How much current are your coils drawing?
Just wondering if it's an electrical issue that's causing the problem.
For constant oiling, methinks the original felt seal is the way to go.
Yep, the ridges are mystifying. I haven't run a test, but I would think a New Day, with a flat brush running on a flat surface, would be less subject to wear. One caveat I got from Glen Chaffin the other day is that the current repro brush is too hard and should be replaced with an old generator brush filed to fit in the rotor.
Grooved metal is an indication of soft metal! Herm.
The tricks some guys will try just to meet a telephone service gal
That ridge wear indicates to me that some grit or metal debris worn from the contacts lodged in the surface and cut grooves in the roller rotor.
Could be an off center front plate would put too much pressure on the spring roller at one side, it should seem. Can't tell if the ridges go deep on one side or the other on the case contacts.
If they are concentric rings worn same depth all around, then the material of the case is suspect to easy wear from dirt, debris, which contaminated the oil or grease, and left suspended in the oil or grease, these particles caused the rapid wear on soft metal contacts.
I would suspect the low quality, low price timer.
The flapper Anderson is hardened steel on the contacts, a bit of grease helps anything spinning in contact Cleaning the shell from time to time is a good idea, you know...but me too, that flapper runs so good, never do look at it
On the last install,did add a swipe to the flapper of the solid grease supplied with the flapper.
I believe you are correct on the "color" of the original Tiger's having a dark maroon colored insulator ring being superior compared to the orange colored ones as are on the current repros(I believe) and as shown in Chris' photo above.
The excessive wear & ridges on the roller are quite perplexing but I would suggest a timing cover centering exercise with the proper fixture - the large one that fits snugly into the commutator rim area - not the small diameter one that fits into the felt cavity.
This is really driving me nuts. (it's a short trip). 2 different timers/rollers. What's the same? vibration? contaminated lube oil? Something is inherently wrong. Something that wasn't affected by replacing the parts.
Do the two timers appear to be of the same manufacturer? If so, and one was of poor quality, I could believe an identical one would also be of poor quality. If they do not appear to be of the same manufacturer, then I am as baffled as the next guy.
I got the impression that they were of different makes. He'll have to chime back in.
I'm looking at the roller picture and the axle rivet looks different. Do you think it's possible that some one was dumb enough to use a screw as the axle? If the roller was running on threads it could produce the ridges shown as the roller bounced along the threads. A very long shot, I know.
My first comment would be lack of adequate lubrication. If you use engine oil, the timer needs to be oiled every day or every 50 miles, whichever comes first.
Grease. Only a few greases are satisfactory for a T timer. Some are too heavy and insulate enough that they result in misfires, sometimes a lot of them. They can also cause late firing. Some greases contain conductive elements which can result in cross firing as well as misfiring.
The only two greases I have ever used were Lubriplate, a white grease, which may not even be available anymore. And Sta-Lube white. I thought I still had the can even though it is nearly empty. I hoped I could give the product number. But I just looked and couldn't find it.
I have heard that a common red grease works well but have not tried it yet myself.
Given the right circumstance, lack of lubrication can result in that sort of ridging.
Drive carefully, and enjoy, W2
Chris & everyone:
Wonder what Royce has to say about these failures ?
I'm still waiting for the roofing tar comment.
I think Herm is right, the metal is soft. If you can't find a good used Ford roller timer then you can buy a reconditioned - absolutely better than new - one here:
I never recommend anything other than a good original Ford roller timer or a good old original New Day timer. They are extremely reliable.
The Ford roller timer works best when filled with grease. The grease needs to not contain anything like Molybdenum or graphite, so in general the cheapest grease is the best. Read the label.
I use Mobil #28 aircraft grease, but the equivalent automotive red Mobil grease costs about $10 a can at the local Pep Boys. Like this:
Man, those ridges in the roller look soooo uniform! Like a real pattern!
I'm working on a theory that a piece of crud got into the timer and got pushed around by the roller long enough to make ridges in the insulator and contacts, then it went away and the ridges got transferred to the roller.
All things considered, that explanation seems perfectly bo-o-o-o-o-o-ogus!
(Yeah, I just finished listening to Car Talk. Didn't you?)
But nothing else I can think of seems to make any sense at all.
Electrical action makes no sense to me.
Soft metal on the roller seems to make some sense, but then how does that carve ridges in the insulator and contacts?
I'd sure like to see pictures of the 'other' timer, to see if the pattern of the ridges is close to the same.
And I'm sure we ALL want to know the answer to this Puzzler!
(Yeah, I just finished listening to Car Talk. Didn't you?)
From a engineering point of view you want to run a hard surface on a soft surface. Which would imply that the roller should be hardened. I am going to guess that the roller and the timer contacts are the same material which in my book would explain the wear.
Perhaps you could take the timer and the roller to someone who could check the hardness of each. I know a couple of guys in Calgary who could do it.
We have a person in our area who rebuilds the roller assembly using 2 sealed bearings that are the same width and dia., as the steel roller and rivetted in place.There have been no complaints with wear or length of service.
Can any one add their 2 cents worth on this type of roller ?
Here is a quote:
"The idea, of converting a roller to a pair of sealed, ball bearings, came out in one of the T club magazines, I say, 25 to 30 years ago. I tried it at that time and it didn't seem long before the car was running rough.
Here's my take on the ball bearings. In theory (and I don't think this is too far from actual), each of the balls (what are there 10 to 15 balls per roller....times 2 rollers) has a "point" contact. Multiplying that out...15 balls times 2 rollers, times 2 points of contact (one on the inside of the ball, one on the outside), times 0.002" worth of contact (way more that it probably really has), gives 0.120" of contact at best. I really think it is a lot less than that. Think about it....are all the balls touching sufficiently enough to make electrical contact? My guess is, not really.
A regular T timer has a roller about 3/8" wide. It does not have a "point" contact but rather a "line" contact. Let's theorize it is .001" wide "line". That gives 0.375" area of contact as compared to 0.120". Three times as much with a standard roller. A brand new, out of the box, Anderson timer has a contact area similar to a roller, even more area when it is worn. The New Day timer has a large area also.
Why didn't the ball bearings last long? I clean my standard T timer roller every 50 to 75 miles. It lasts for years of driving when this is done. Each time I pull it apart to clean it, there is lots of oily black soot (or whatever you want to call it). It's burned oil from the arcing that takes place. I clean all of that off it's back to purring like a kitten. I use just a drop of oil to lubricate the moving parts. There isn't any way to clean the sealed ball bearings. The idea of ball bearings sounded good at first but, in looking back, probably not the best. Of course, the other thing I didn't mention was how much contact there is between the pivot joints...but that's another calculation.
That's just my take on ball bearing rollers. I'm interested to hear how long others have ran their ball bearing rollers.
Kind of makes sense to me.
Here is another from a previous thread with some discussion about roller bearings:
This is a long shot but I wonder if one or more of the condensers in your coils are going bad. Weak condensers produce heavy arcing on the contact surfaces. This could have caused the roller to pit and start forming the grooves.
The way the roller is grooved, may be it didn't have enough clearance on the pin, and it was intermittently sliding. It sure did dig up some filings, I wouldn't think it would do that if the roller was turning all the time, just a thought???????? Herm.
Does the roller, and the I.D. of the case have enough room to work, and not bind against the two surfaces when running????? Herm.
"The tricks some guys will try just to meet a telephone service gal "
Did she get your number?
The E-Timer won't wear out.
My experience of a roller commutator is this...
Using an original Ford unit that has been machined smooth in a lathe, with either an original roller, repro or roller bearing converted one proved very satisfactory PROVIDED YOU OIL IT EVERY DAY.
I think they specify 200 miles in the manual? That's close enough to every day for me. A quick wipe with a rag to get rid of the grey stuff, enough oil to sort of fill the commutator while it's turned up in your hand, then slap it on with as much oil remaining in there as you can.
Using a pair of roller bearings for a roller was quite good except eventually you end up with a ridge created by the gap between the two bearings.
I managed to extend the service intervals by installing a thin "o" ring in the timing cover, reducing the retainer spring tension, and filling the commutator with more oil. This works best with a cast casing that has a wider cross section for the "o" ring to sit against.
I have tried grease and found it wholly unsatisfactory. First start on a cold morning or with a fresh load of oil is enough to case a misfire with the roller skating on the oil, so grease is far too thick. That said my Dad used grease many years ago and had few problems.
What I's really like to do is machine a timing cover with a recess for an "o" ring to seal it, then remove the rest of the casting so that the commutator was completely open to engine oil, not unlike the early veteran ones where the oil filler WAS the commutator case. Those early engines used so much oil they would have been well lubricated in any case;)
Anyway that's my 5 cents.
I never have tried a tiger...
We have been in driving rain storms, hot Tucson 115 degree days, 10 below zero at the Bethel Ohio Christmas parade with my cars and their Ford timers full of grease. Always runs great.
I've been using it for decades, My dad used it for the last 80+ years in his Model T's (he is 95 and still driving) and I bet my grandfather did the same thing.
I don't know what kind of grease you are using, but it must be the wrong kind because it sure works great for everyone around here with a wide variety of brands of grease.
The Tiger timers have a stamped sheet metal contacts in the timer case and smaller diameter rollers so they are not tolerant of much wear. Nonetheless, several people in the local club are using them with success. I believe most if not all of them are using grease in the timer.
That is the way my Dad taught me also Royce, fill the timer housing up with a good bearing gun grease, or what we use now in a light wheel bearing grease, that hot, or cold does not effect, DX brand. Never have any problems may be for a year, and have to clean it out, and repack. Herm
Herm, You are right, you should use a light grease. Oil just runs out. As I have stated before I use Vasoline and I have never had a timer failure of any kind. I fill the timer cup just like Royce's picture above so the roller has constant lubrication.
Vasoline's not a bad idea. Some thing that will "come loose" with a little heat instead of getting pushed aside and staying there. White Lube, I imagine, would do the same thing.
I haven't found a thing to use White lube on, it dries in to Gray crud! I greased a Dremel cable with it once, 3 minutes, of running, the cable was so hot, you couldn't hold it with your bare hands. I then cleaned cleaned it all out in gas, and used light Wynn's gun grease, and it was back to normal. I put it in a timer one time, in a month, it was a gray crud, and would build up on the track, and wouldn't ground out all the time, never again for anything. Engine bearings, it really mess's up, it will turn hard in the oil passages, on pressure engines if not used right away! Herm.
OK. Never tried it in timer's or cables but I guess it's out.
My first thought was a heavy electrical draw and since the roller is the ground, maybe the roller is internally arcing itself into a dragging condition and not rolling as it should.
Thanks everyone for all your interest comments. I've been on the road for a couple days or would have posted earlier.
In reply to the questions raised that I can answer: I believe these timers were of different manufacture — see the new photos below. I run coils (fresh, from Ron P) and magneto. Mag meter indicates mid-20s VAC at cruising. My greased timer experiment used the Red Ram heavy waterproof grease that I generally use on wheel bearings, chassis lube, etc. This grease is thick and gooey — from what Royce and Glen posted it looks like the wrong stuff for this application.
Here are more detailed photos of the two timers. Note that the roller in the "brown" timer closeup is upside down — the ridge at the top (front) of the roller corresponds with the race at the bottom (front) of the timer.
Timer wear is usually uniform across the face of the roller and contacts. The pin hole of the roller also wears oversize on the pin. But the grooves shown hear have to be caused by external metal particles in the lubricant. A soft roller would never wear that way.This is a highly unusual wear pattern and not the fault of the timer. Yes, timers wear but not like that.
Thanks, Glen, and to everyone else. Based on the various comments, I'm going to attribute my timer failures to poor maintenance and likely poor reproductions.
The car is still in storage awaiting the end of winter and a replacement low-speed drum (I got a nice used one from Chaffin's last month). There is a third no-name timer on it now.
I will lubricate the current timer with a dollop of Vaseline and order two rebuilt Ford timers from Lang's — one for this car if/when the no-name wears out and another for my '26 Touring.
Chris, Don't just use a dollop of Vasoline, Fill the case with it and smear a bunch on the roller before installation.
The heavy spring seems quite a bit more substantial. Guess you're right about lack of lube. The wear on the lighter one is totally different.
Thanks, Glen — actually the Canadian Dollops, like our gallons, are bigger than American ones. I was figuring to put a similar amount to Royce's photo above. But since you say fill it, I will.
PS: I just previewed this post and apparently "Dollops" passes muster with our Spellchecker. Goodonya, Chris.
PPS: But "PS" and "Goodonya" don't.
Just a thought on using ball bearings as a timer roller. I did so once, and found that the outside of the bearing wore through the hardening rather quickly. The outside of a ball bearing is meant to be stationary. It is not designed to roll and the hardening is not up to the job. Using them as a timer roller is a mis-application.
Allan from down under.
It sounded like a good idea when I first read about it but I've soured on it since there are many minus conditions stated in Forum postings. They are (at least) no better than the standard roller making their use moot in my book. Also the item brought up concerning making electrical contact through the balls just introduces many more contact points. It's like adding parts to the system. No need to do that!
I think electrical contact through the balls is the real issue with using ball bearings but, not for the reasons stated. At first, they're probably a plenty good enough conductor. However, I suspect arcing between the races and the balls soon erodes both, making the bearing sloppy and a poor conductor. In a way, it's almost like EDM'ing the balls and races, if you're familiar with EDM machining. The same appears to be true of the bearing outer diameter as Allan describes above.
When I tried putting grease in as per Royce's photo, the engine wouldn't run period, not a fart or anything 'till I cleaned the grease out. All I succeeded in doing was wasting a whole bunch of time and grease and getting frustrated.
Another case of using the wrong type of grease I would bet. I've done this probably a hundred times, never had a miss or a fail to run anything except perfectly, from the first pull of the crank. What type of grease did you use Ken?
Gee, isn't grease, GREASE ???? Now there's the right one to use ??
"Gee, isn't grease, GREASE ???? Now there's the right one to use ??"
No Bob, there are as many types of grease as there are engine oils and they all have a specific operating temp range. Some are conductive and others are not.
Royce mentioned using Mobile 28 (or the automotive equivalent). Certain types of grease are conductive and would not be a good choice for this application. Mobile 28 or vaseline would work fine in this application. Thick fibrous wheel bearing grease would be a poor choice for instance.
Where in the Model T Manual does it state to fill the commutator with grease ?
Grease, it keeps metal from wearing
"Where in the Model T Manual does it state to fill the commutator with grease ?"
When I answered your question previously I didn't pick up on the fact that your were just looking for the opportunity to climb all over somebody. This is why I took the time to explain that differing greases have different properties.
You question about the manual is another trolling expedition looking for a fight.
Do you really want to go there? The manual states to fill it with grease on the same page where it has you install an E-timer (bottom paragraph). Cheers
Actually the 1911 manual suggests vaseline as an alternative to oiling every week for the commutator, but neither the 1921 or 1926 manuals repeats that suggestion:
The 1921 manual has advice for cold weather:
"Does cold weather affect the Commutator? Answer No. 66
It is a well known fact that in cold weather even the best grades of lubricating oil are apt to congeal to some extent. If this occurs in the commutator it is very apt to prevent the roller from making perfect contact with the contact points imbedded in the fiber. This, of course, makes difficult starting as the roller arm spring is not stiff enough to brush away the film of oil which naturally forms over the contact points. To overcome this, as well as any liability of the contact points to rust, we recommend a mixture of kerosene with commutator lubricating oil, which will thin it sufficiently to prevent congealing, or freezing, as it is commonly called. You have probably noticed in starting your car in cold weather that perhaps only one or two cylinders will fire for the first minute or so, which indicates that the timer is in the condition described above and as a consequence a perfect contact is not being made on each of the four terminals."
This suggestion isn't repeated in the 1926 manual, I would guess the lubrication properties (and disappearing act) of kerosene diluted oil was so bad as 200 miles between oilings vas much too far?
At what amount of concentration would the internal arcing set off the kerosene? Ever had a commutator fire? Probably not enough oxygen, still, fun to imagine.
According to Wikipedia, the flashpoint of kerosene is between 100F and 150F. I could believe the inside of a timer could easily exceed that, so your concerns are certainly not unfounded.
I suppose. Consider though when "Hollywood" shows someone flicking a cigarette at a car gas tank with the cap removed and it goes BOOM. Well it doesn't happen in real life.
Sorry, you're barking up the wrong tree.
Simply asked where in the Model T Manual does it state to fill commutator with grease.
I wrote it at the top of page 121, right above paragraph 469 so the next owner of my book will know the timer needs to be greased before it is installed.
Remember, we only are the caretakers of these marvelous vehicles. Some day each of us will be the previous owner.
Royce, as that was 4 or 5 years ago I don't remember exactly what grease I used, it was just regular chassis grease used for tie-rod ends and such, it wasn't moly or graphite or anything exotic.
I might retry it w/vaseline as Glen C. recommended, but that won't be for about another month or so, when the weather warms up.
I figure to try it as well. I am going to try to schedule a multi-timer evaluation in conjunction with the annual club safety inspection this spring. I have been looking through my timers and I will be sure I have a couple of roller ones fully "tuned up".
I will have a set of coils with jumpers installed to make it easy to try the etimer. I will also try to have a truefire available for test too. I hope to make it as objective and scientific as possible.
How does the Vaseline hold up? Does it stay in there or does it melt out? I think I'm going to try this. Another question: does any one make or has any one tried a thin gasket to seal the timer. besides the brass plate that is. Some gasket material something like the fuel cap gasket only larger.
I would think any type of gasket paper would wear quickly due to the rotating of the timer housing. Someone was talking about machining a groove for an o-ring. I don't know if they ever tried it. That would probably last longer than a gasket.
I have used spray copper coat on very thin top caps on nail guns running 120psi with no air loss
It might conduct a grounding problem though.
Sorry, forgot they rotate!
It wouldn't matter if the case was not grounded. It will still work fine. Heck, look at a New Day.
a few years ago I worked in a clay pellet plant that had an occillating spreader that ran back and forth on a rail, all day, every day. When the running rail got replaced to mild steel (the same as the driven rollers), after a few days running, grooves started to appear in the rail, much like in this timer. Another engineer came along and said "too similar metals here boys, change the rail or wheels". They changed the rail to a harder steel, and the the problem went away.
Theory of the story to me was the wear and grooves were caused by too similar metals, they needed to be a different hardness to make one sacrificial ?
Would the similar metals in the roller and contacts here on Chris's timer start the groove wear, which then the roller works the same profile into the insulating material ?
Just a thought.
Bede, I was taught the same thing when I worked in a small machine-welding shop here in the mid seventies. The owner had worked at the Ford plant starting in 1929 in the pattern shop as a machinest apprentice until 1941 when he moved back here and started his own shop. Dave