Updated: Aug 1
Ted Eaton and the Hot Rod Reverend posing by a customer's 312 Ford Y Block
If you have owned a Y Block powered vehicle very long in the United States then most probably you have heard the name "Ted Eaton" when it comes to building engines. Ted is no stranger to the blog as he has popped up from time to time in reference to the Y Block Shootout, my race against him in the finals this past year, and of course the helpful source of Ford knowledge he has been to me personally. I have tried to relay these things to blog subscribers here on the website. Ted has written many articles for the Y Block Magazine and gives coverage to various engine builds, tests on headers, intake manifolds, and a host of other articles on the Y Block. This living legend even goes so deep as to explain the horsepower gains from specific types and grades of cylinder wall finish. The data can be mind boggling, but all of his effort to keep us informed reminds us of Ted's dedication to detail! He has, after all, built world-record holding Y Block engines - such as the engine that was used to propel the late Randy Gummelt's engine to set the record for fastest Y Block in the quarter mile, but we will have more on that later...
You may be wondering how this personal visit came about since Eaton's Precision Engine Balancing is in Lorena, Texas, and I live in Milford, Ohio. At the time of this visit, I also have a cross-country residential move to California coming in just a few short weeks. It just so happens that earlier this year my wife and I decided to pay our daughter and son-in-law a visit in Houston over the Easter holiday. They moved to the area this past December to pastor a new Spanish-speaking church on the northeast side of town. During our time there, we took a day trip to see the Alamo in San Antonio, and it was a great reminder of the men who had given their lives many years ago for freedom. The republic of Texas has its own unique history, and it was highly educational for all of us as we toured the historic site.
We enjoyed the tour of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas.
When I told the girls that Ted Eaton's shop was very close to Waco, you can imagine what came up next. "Can we go up there too, drop you off at the shop, and then head over to Magnolia Market?" my wife said with hope in her voice. "Of course!" I replied, "But you guys have got to be ready to go by 7 AM, and make sure you grab me a cupcake." I chuckled when I made that declaration, buy my wife knew I was serious. Several years ago I had taken her to Joanna Gaines' place and had sampled the delicious goods from The Silo. The next morning we did indeed leave at 7 AM for a three hour trek up to Lorena. The weather was in the low 50's and quite rainy, but I did not mind. Ted and I would not be spending too much time outdoors; for the plan was to tour his shop, review current projects, grab some lunch at a local barbecue restaurant, and take a look at this dragster he had been trying to sell me.
The GPS led us straight to the shop, and I was somewhat surprised to find that Ted's business sat on the land of his personal residence - roughly 10 acres. Next to his house was a couple of very large outbuildings with a carport and ample parking space for his truck and trailer rig that hauls his Y Block powered '23 T Altered race car across the country. Within a few seconds I located the door, instructed my wife where to drop me off, and waved good-bye.
I knocked on the windowless door of the large pole-barn like structure, shouted "Hey Ted!" with a smile on my face, turned the knob, and walked inside. As soon as my eyes began taking in the machinery, automobilia, parts, tools, and Y Block goodies, I felt like the kids in that Willy Wonka movie from the 70's. You remember the one - Gene Wilder played the roll of Willy Wonka in this wonderful factory where so much was made of candy. Remember the looks on the faces of the children? Yep, that was my reaction when I walked inside "Ted Eaton and the Y Block Factory" on 1060 Wolf Creek Road!
Welcome to "Ted Eaton and the Y Block Factory!"
Ted recognized my voice and said, "Come on in." He was bent over a work bench examining a precision measuring tool from Sunnen, all the while musing as to why such a tool with a well-known name associated with quality was sloppy in retaining its reading. Within a minute or two Ted decided that it needed to be returned to the company with the variances documented so that either repairs could be made or another unit could be shipped. As I recall, he could not get the tool to hold its measure without varying .001 to .002. That may not sound like much to the uninformed, but for oil clearances and the like it could be quite a problem. And let's not forget that after all, the word "precision" is in the title of Ted's business name. We got past the small talk rather quickly and went straight to exchanging Y Block tech... Leaving the immediate area of rocker arms, connecting rods, lifters, and pertinent machinery to refurbish such parts, we walked through another doorway to a larger part of the main building where the current projects were all queued.
"Horizontal space is at a premium around here," Ted said wryly. I followed him as he blazed a trail through bare blocks, crankshafts, engine stands, and the like. Quickly scanning the area, I immediately noticed the dynamometer set up at the far end of the shop. Instea of heading to the dyno, Ted led me over to a block he had just finished modifying earlier in the day. For every Y Block crate motor he builds for customers, each one receives a modification to the center camshaft journal. If you click on each photo, the full view will make the modification easy to understand. First, the problem being addressed is this: due to shallow oil grooves in the center cam journal in some aftermarket camshafts, concern over cam bearing wear, etc, all of these things may lead to a lack of oil at the top end. The fix is simply creating a groove in the block at camshaft journal #3 (this is where the oil feed is located) so that regardless of the lack of depth on the center journal groove, bearing spin, incorrect clocking, or what have you, oil will be supplied to the rocker assemblies.
Before being professionally cleaned, each block receives a center cam journal upgrade.
The tool includes a drill, a long piece of all thread, a few nuts, a jig that bolts to the rear of the block to keep the all thread centered, and a trimmed down cut-off wheel as shown. It is important to know that Ted recommends using oil flow restrictors at the rocker arm assemblies to ensure that the bottom end is never starved. Of course, this procedure is only to be done with a bare block and before you send the block to a shop for cleaning and other machine work. While Ted can certainly bore cylinders, he finds it best for time and space to send out the blocks to a local shop to have them cleaned by another business who is equipped to handle the EPA and those caustic solutions.
Sauntering over to the "office" area of the shop where Ted's desk was located along with a myriad of notes and other files, I noticed a rather large array of clipboards lying on a table near a shelving unit. "Must be all of your customers' projects here..." I quipped. Ted nodded his head, picked up a clipboard at random, and began rifling through the pages. It did not take long to discover one of the living legend's reason for success - attention to detail! The shop area so far certainly looked pressed for space, but any time I would ask for a particular item such as a rear main seal cap, a specific crankshaft or intake, or anything else that came to mind, Ted was able to locate it rather quickly. Now, here we were going over all of the notes on one customer’s engine - such measurements as cylinder bore, connecting rod refurbishment, and even the problem that arose from a distributor manufacturer’s failure to maintain the correct runout on the gear (to a thousandth of an inch) were all recorded neatly and efficiently.
Attention to detail gives Ted a leading edge in Y Block builds.
The engine that drew my attention to the dynamometer stand was the beautiful 312 that Ted was almost ready to fire. We spent quite some time going over the specifications of the engine, discussing the Mummert aluminum heads, the Blue Thunder aluminum intake manifold, the varied adapter plates he uses to give engines their test runs, the exhaust setups, and Ted’s commitment to squeeze as much horsepower as possible from each build. The engine on the stand was the one waiting for a distributor with a correct runout on the distributor gear. The manufacturer had installed the gear too high on the shaft and it was binding on the camshaft gear to the point that the engine would not rotate while trying to set the initial timing! Ted relayed that he had contacted the manufacturer, explained the situation, and at the customer’s request had sent the distributor back recently. (Ted does a good job staying in communication with the customers, that’s for sure.)
The 312 test run was delayed due to a manufacturing problem with the distributor.
“Time for a little tour,” Ted announced. And away we went over to the pole barn building across the small parking lot. As we stepped outside I noticed a beautiful Starliner was sitting under a carport. Ted popped the hood to give me a look see.
The Starliner looked ready to go, but exhaust pipes were next on the list.
When we finally got inside the other building, I was amazed to see so many Y Block cores, speed parts, a few project vehicles such as a solid 1955 Ford Club Sedan, and a generous inventory of new pistons, connecting rods, and other engine internals. Concerning used parts, I even handled a rare 1956 2x4 intake manifold for a few minutes, examining its difference from the 1957 model year. Also in the building were such tools as engine support stands, a blast cabinet, and a new industrial air compressor that was about to be installed.
A project car, Ted's original '23 T engine, and an F Code were all in storage.
Ted’s second secret to success was becoming readily apparent - access to parts. We all know you can buy quite a bit of new parts for the Y Block. Pistons, rings, rods, aluminum parts like intakes and timing covers, and certainly carburetors are readily available. But no one is making oil pans. No one is making 3 deuce intakes or 2x4 intake manifolds these days. There has been talk of block manufacturing and companies that have shown interest in tooling up to provide new crankshafts, but in the modern era you had better save what cores you have!
By this point in our time together, we were both getting hungry so we hopped in his truck and went to a barbecue restaurant in town. We tried a place called Helberger’s but that was pretty busy. Ted opted for a small restaurant called “Uncle Dan’s” over in Waco. I can attest to the fact that the barbecue brisket was pretty good, and that their potato salad is a menu item I would buy in any grocery store if they made it available!
Uncle Dan's has good barbecue - but be sure to try their potato salad!
When we got back to the shop, Ted drove past the house and the main building to another large storage unit. When he opened the door to this third building, the initial reaction to entering Willy Wonka’s factory returned. A 1950 Ford met us right at the door - this was the car he raced in the Big Bend Open Road Race some time back, averaging 85 mph as I recall his story. (I should have taken pictures of the awards on the wall - that was my mistake.) Beyond the 50 Ford was a PLETHORA of Y Block cores and heads assembled on heavy duty metal racks that were fabricated for the specific purpose. Again, I was directed to a clipboard that included all of the information on the core blocks. Details such as bore diameter, block code, and the individual who sold him the core were all recorded on that sheet along with the location on the racking itself. A 1956 Ford Club Sedan project car was also in this building, and Ted and I had some fun starting the engine. He had bought it recently and had not had much of a chance to do anything to it but was planning to pull the block. It did have a B intake. I held the choke plate down while Ted hit the key, and within a few seconds the engine came to life.
The 50 Ford was in great shape, and a speed trophy winner to boot!
Cores were arranged neatly on heavy duty metal racking.
Further back in that building were a host of heads and timing covers, some stacked neatly while others were sprawled about after having just been removed or maybe placed into the warehouse out of the weather. Every now and then there was a transmission, stack of flywheels, or other Y Block parts.
I asked about the dragster and Ted said, “Oh yes, let’s take a look at that thing. I have it out here in one of the old trailers.” We drove down to an area where a few 55/56 Ford passenger car frames were sitting, stepped out of the truck, and walked inside one of the old car haulers. To my surprise, there sat the dragster owned by the late Randy Gummelt. The dragster still had the record-setting Y Bock installed and looked like with just a few minor maintenance items you could fire the dragster up and run it that afternoon. Even the safety gear was in the car. Ted had plans to remove the engine and put it into a 1957 Ford car he was building (that was offsite during our tour). The 57 has a fiberglass body, a special frame, etc, to make it one VERY fast car at the drag strip. Yep, I was looking at THE dragster that still holds the record for the fastest 1/4 mile time ever with a Y Block. Randy drove this thing to an 8.15 at 162 mph, and if the dragster frame had been built to better specifications it would have easily made it into the 7's. The tires were always breaking loose even at the finish line.
3.90 was the 1/8th mile dial-in for Randy's dragster.
It certainly appeared as if the dragster would not need much to take a trip down the strip.
Closing up the trailer with fond memories of Randy breaking the record for world’s fastest Y Block in the 1/4 mile, Ted and I headed back up to his house before it was time to say good-bye. I had asked him about his 1955 Ford Customline that was his driver. That car was not sitting in the shop area or in an outbuilding, the old Ford was in his garage. He grinned when I asked about the 272 and the car’s life span. The car itself has over 300,000 miles on it, and yes, that is the original 272! The original owner changed the oil EVERY 1,000 miles since the car was new. Ted said that when he purchased the car, all of the original documentation was there. Pulling the engine and examining the crankshaft and other internals proved the value of regular maintenance. The crank was installed without being ground - new standard bearings and away it went. There is an E-4 in the block and a 500 cfm carburetor sits on top. From the photo you can tell that the engine work on the 272 was done many years ago and Ted enjoys this Y Block every day as a daily driver. This car as well has seen time at the Big Bend Open Road Race, with Ted’s wife Linda as navigator as he swaps gears in a T85 on the road course.
Ted keeps his grocery getter in the garage.
The little 272 with an ECZ 9425 B intake and E4 cam averaged 90 mph at the road race.
Quick Video of Ted Eaton's 272
As you can tell, I really appreciated the time Ted gave me during a normal day of working and trying to get customers’ projects out the door. He is very busy, and I am sure the backlog of work now runs from months into years concerning a waiting list. His son has projects ongoing as well, what with a 70’s era F100 undergoing a few upgrades in one of those outbuildings . Ted tells me that like my bother, Aaron, who is a police officer in North Carolina, his son is also is a police officer and lives right there adjacent to the house and shop at the end of the drive. I also heard that the Eaton grandchildren are in the mix; especially since one grandson is quite the welder and has helped fabricate engine support stands for the business this past summer. Ted has already told me that the young man has good attention to detail on engine builds, already gaining experience by reconditioning connecting rods and the like to spec.
If you want to contact Ted, I have posted his information below:
Eaton Precision Engine Balancing
1060 Wolf Creek Road
Lorena, Texas 76655
Note: if you have to leave a message, it is worth your time to listen to the greeting Ted leaves on the line before you are prompted to leave your message. I do not recommend that you be in the middle of drinking your coffee as you listen to the greeting - you will find it quite comical and may end up spitting out what you are trying to down at the time!
The Hot Rod Reverend
aka Daniel Jessup