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Larry, If the cooling system was not bled properly, the temperature could fluctuate up to 3/4 then normally back down to 1/8 on temp gage.
If your gage is just staying a little over half when running, that is actually normal and acceptable.
I would trust the smoke and noise from the engine rather than a faulty temp gauge. have you checked the coolant level in the radiator and not the reservoir. The temp gauge will not give you any indication of overheating if there is no coolant to make it work
check the radiator censor making sure that the wires for this have not come off is there any fluid on the road when its been left for a few hours normally a car loses water any way may be half a pint a month or so this is normall check hoses for splits before forking out for a new water pump
There is a small voltage regulator in side the dash that controls the gages its on the back of the instrument panal over the speedometer you need to remove the panal to get is it conects almost like a 9 volt battery that the conector likes like but its a lot smaller in side
I would check the wiring to the temp sensor. Make sure that it's connected properly. If so, and it's still giving you that problem, I would replace the sensor. (That's of course assuming you can't live with it's eccentricity/quirk.)
Are you mistaking the engine temp sensor for the engine temp sending unit? The temp sensor is for the fuel injection system and the temp sending unit is for the gauge. If you asked for a sensor thats what they sold you. You need to ask for a sending unit.