Thanks to Hurricane Sandy the original starter looked like something taken off the titanic. Amazingly I found a refurbished unit on ebay.
Getting the old unit out was annoying but doable. Getting the new unt in on the other hand was nearly impossible. I ended up having to disconnect the motor from the mounts and jack the motor up at the mount points by about 1 inch to allow enough room to squeeze the new starter in. Unfortunately the new starter was slightly longer than the old one otherwise this might not have been necessary.
With the new starter in place, I hit the ignition key and the engine started turnnig over. So far so good. I put the engine back on the motor mounts, reattached the air filter, etc. Then I gave it another go on the starter. This time the starter turned freely. Again and again, the motor keep turning freely.
A forum post confirmed that the solenoid was bad and was not pushing the starter gear into the timing gear. I pulled the starter and bench tested it to confirm, the solenoid worked only intermittently.
The guy I bought it from accepted it back. He is going to rebuild it, and send it back out to me. Too bad it will take 4-6 weeks. Bummer.
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