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Old 11-01-2012, 11:42 PM   #1
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Help! Trying to start the generator in a 1970 Winnebago after Hurricane Sandy.

I hope you folks can help me out and will excuse me for not introducing myself. But we are in one of those huge areas of New Jersey that have not had electricity for days and there is no relief in sight. You can not beg, borrow or steal a generator anywhere near here. I have a well so no running water and the furnace will not work so no heat. It's getting cold. I'm sending this from a friend's house who is lucky enough to have power and internet.
The reason I am here is that I have a 1970 Winnebago parked in my backyard. It belongs to a friend. Sad to say it has been neglected but it has an Onan generator. I was confident that I would be able to get the generator running. I'm handy enough to be able to get just about any internal combustion engine running and I have some experience with electric motors. However this thing has me flummoxed. I can not get it turn turn over (crank) for more than a quarter turn despite two fully charged batteries.
A few details:
1. I can not slide the generator unit out of the Winnebago because there is so much rust. Therefore I can not get to certain areas and can not remove the covers on the generator or the fan shroud. Therefore I can not access the brushes / commutator / slip rings.
2. I was able to turn the engine a little bit at a time by using a screwdriver to turn the cooling vane on the front of the generator so I know the engine is not seized. I also removed one of the spark plugs and verified that the pistons actually do move and develop compression.
3. I attached jumper cables directly to the positive terminal on the solenoid in the metal case on top of the generator and attached the negative to the spark plug for a solid ground. The other end was hooked up to a fully charged battery. This was to determine if the problem was caused by corroded connections between the battery tray and the generator unit. It made no difference.
4. The generator / engine will crank for perhaps 1/4 turn, sluggishly after holding the switch in the start position for a considerable amount of time even with one of the spark plugs out.
My questions:
1. Is there a starter motor? I can not find one and am assuming that the generator doubles as the starter motor. I can see small sparks inside the case when we are working on it at night.
2. If so, could the problem be caused by a failed mechanism that lifts the brushes off the slip rings during the start phase or some other type of failed mechanism?
3. Is there an access panel on the inside of the Winnebago so I can access the other side of the generator unit? I suppose I should have looked but it is full of junk that the owner left in it.
Any help will be greatly appreciated. I tried calling Onan hoping there might be an old-timer at the factory that knew something about these units but had no luck. All the local people with expertise are so busy that I can not get any help. We are a family of four wearing out our welcome at a friends house and would very much like go get back in our own home. All we need is some electricity.

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Old 11-01-2012, 11:52 PM   #2
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1970 Genset

I'm sorry to say this but it is doubtful that Old Generator will Start! Those Old Onan's were pretty unreliable and lack of use just compounded the problems.

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Old 11-01-2012, 11:52 PM   #3
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Bad gasoline? You said the RV was unused for a long time.

Or perhaps not enough gas in the RV's tank -- generator won't run if tank is three-quarters (or more) empty.
[B]BichonLover is a 100% California gal, driving a vintage Fleetwood in SoCal.
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Old 11-02-2012, 12:15 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by BichonLover View Post
Bad gasoline? You said the RV was unused for a long time.

Or perhaps not enough gas in the RV's tank -- generator won't run if tank is three-quarters (or more) empty.
I can't even get to that point. It won't crank. If I can get it to crank I'll squirt ether into it and then deal with a fuel problem if there is one.
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Old 11-02-2012, 12:15 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by BichonLover View Post
Bad gasoline? You said the RV was unused for a long time.

Or perhaps not enough gas in the RV's tank -- generator won't run if tank is three-quarters (or more) empty.
Can't be either if the engine can't even be turned over by hand or with a fresh battery directly wired.

Unfortunately I think the OP's problems are bigger than what we can diagnose here.
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Old 11-02-2012, 11:03 PM   #6
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I used to have one of the 70"s vintage Onan gemerators and it worked fine. First yes it does have a starter. As for it not turning over I don't know. My only guess would be that maybe something electrical is hooked to it and that is causing extra drag or the battery does not have enough cranking amps or a combination of both. If it was me i would disconect the electrical connection from the generator to the motorhome and remove both spark plugs. Then try and start it and see if it spins freely. If it still does not spin you have a larger problem and it is probably dead. If it does spin you would go back to the basics. Spark and fuel. As long as you have those it should run.
Tony G.
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Old 11-03-2012, 06:47 AM   #7
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I suspect a shot starter (yes it has one) or a bad solenoid. By-pass the solenoid putting power directly to the starter. If it won't crank then, it's the starter, or a bad connection/ground on the starter itself. Checking that would require pulling the genny. If you get it to crank, then you will have starting issues I'm sure. Then you could have excitation issues due to corroded brushes. Generators are made to run a lot and often. The worst thing you can do to a generator is leave it sit. Good luck.
John & Clare Lyon
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Old 11-03-2012, 07:35 AM   #8
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Well it's a moot point now. The local radio station reported that the local hardware store received a huge shipment of generators so I ran over there and bought one. I heard that they ran out of them about an hour after I bought mine. It's still pretty bad here - in the geographic center of NJ, where there is nothing but farmland and military bases.
I've become convinced that the problem with the Onan is the starter. But I'm giving up on it and will leave it to it's owner should he ever get around to doing any maintenance on the thing.

Many thanks to all those who offered advice.

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generator, hurricane, winnebago

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