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When you consider how long people have been collecting engines, the amount of old iron that continues to be found and brought back to life is nothing short of amazing.

For one thing, engines wear out. Then get thrown out. Or, in the case of World War II, get reconstituted into tanks and other armaments. Throw into that all the engines that were just lost or forgotten (although given the size of some engines it's hard to fathom they could ever get "lost"), and you have a pretty high rate of attrition.

And yet, "new" old engines keep coming back into circulation, engines like the circa-1898 1-1/2 HP Stover in California saved by Ron Martin (page 10), and the 1923 100 HP Buckeye in Louisiana saved by Butch Felterman and friends (page 25).

Ron's been collecting engines since the 1960s, so he's hardly a newcomer to the hobby. But even a seasoned hand isn't expecting to find what might be the oldest surviving Stover engine. The 1-1/2 HP vertical Stover has spent its life in Trinity County, Calif., and has only passed through a few hands in its 100-year-plus history, a fact that undoubtedly played into its survival.

As so often happens, Ron found the engine almost by accident, and it's lucky for the rest of us that he did. Now fully restored and running, Ron's Stover will take its place in the literature as the oldest surviving Stover engine. That is, until the next unexpected find.

The Buckeye is another amazing find, a "forgotten" engine that hadn't run in 60 years. Perhaps just as amazing is the fact it hadn't turned to so much iron oxide after decades idle in the humidity of Louisiana. And then there was the "simple" act of retrieving the engine.

To begin with, it takes mammoth dedication and enthusiasm to even think about moving a 20,000-pound engine. Throw in a 30-foot-wide canal and the occasional alligator and, well, let's just say most "normal" people wouldn't even think about braving those kinds of conditions for a hunk of old iron.

Then again, the old-iron collective's never been guilty of having too many normal people in its ranks. Fortunately, we can count people like Ron and Butch among our ranks - people who understand and appreciate the role these engines once played in the fabric of daily life, and who are willing to do whatever it takes to salvage and preserve them for future generations.

Richard Backus


U.S.P.S. #214560

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