Young Iron: John Wesley Tolley

John Wesley Tolley is an apprentice of old gas engines.

John Wesley Tolley

John Wesley Tolley.

Photo courtesy John Wesley Tolley

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Take a quick glance at the exhibitors and attendees at gas engine shows, and it’s easy to think that this is an older person’s hobby. But take a closer look and you’ll find a growing number of younger enthusiasts. You’ll meet them in Young Iron.

Q. How long have you been  collecting gas engines?
A. I have been collecting for about three years.

Q. What attracted you to the hobby?
A. We always go to the Field Days of the Past in Rockville, Virginia. Since I could walk and talk, I would pull my mom over to a gentleman in the far corner of the show. He always made time for me and even let me under the rope. He remembered me year after year. I liked to see how the gears and flywheels worked together: The more moving parts the more I like to watch and figure out. One year, my dad and I were invited to a hit-and-miss picnic. Guess whose house it was at? The gentleman in the corner, Mr. Bill. Come to find out he has a lot to do with the engine show. I have met a lot of really nice people from that day. His best friend Mr. Leo helps my dad and me a lot. We go to Mr. Bill’s picnics all the time now, I get to see a lot of people that like engines and we work on them together. Mr. Leo lets me tinker with whatever he’s tinkering with. He calls me his apprentice.

Q. Who else in your family collects engines?
A. My mom has a 3 HP Fuller & Johnson that I love, because I can bump start it. My dad has the majority of the engines.

Q. What engines do you have in your collection?
A. We have 19 running engines. My first engine was a 1923 Fuller & Johnson 1-1/2 HP that I bought myself with money from working all summer and saving my allowance. I also have five Fuller & Johnsons, one Domestic, three Fairbanks-Morses, one Witte Drag Saw, four Hercules, three Maytags, one Nelson Brothers (Maynard) and one Farmmaster Cushman.

Q. What is your favorite engine in your collection?
A. My 2 HP Fairbanks-Morse sideshaft. It’s one of a kind!

Q. Which shows do you normally attend each year? What show haven’t you been to yet that you’d like to see one day?
A. Coolspring, Berryville, Virginia, and Mr. Bill’s Field Days of the Past in Rockville.

Q. What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve come across in the hobby?
A. The weight of the engines are a big obstacle. Mr. Leo Korb, 80, from Chester, Virginia, and Mr. Bill Hyott, 84 from Rockville, are a lot of help, as well as my dad.

Q. If money wasn’t an issue, what is your dream engine to own?
A. The 600 HP Snow in the Coolspring museum. Because THAT is an engine!

Young Iron is looking for gas engine collectors, age 35 and younger. If you or someone you know would like to be profiled, please contact associate editor Beth Beavers: (800) 682-4704 or