Olin gas engines were built at the turn of the 20th century by Olin Gas Engine Co., Buffalo, N.Y. Identical engines were also made by J.W. Ruger Manufacturing Co., also of Buffalo, and Titusville Iron Co., Titusville, Pa., a manufacturer of oil field equipment. Both the Ruger and Titusville firms probably built the Olin-designed engine under a shop license arrangement from Fred C. Olin, according to C.H. Wendel's American Gasoline Engines Since 1872. In 2003, Stiles Bradley, Pavillion, N.Y., restored a pair of 'Buffalo' Olin engines.
The Bigger Olin
The larger of the two engines is an 18 HP Electric Lighting Olin, which was originally used to supply power for a mallet factory. The engine was removed from the factory and stored in a hay barn sometime in the 1970s. The barn later burned down, and the engine changed hands several more times. Each owner - including Stiles, who bought (and sold) the engine in 1984 - thought better of tackling the engine's restoration and re-sold it. But Stiles couldn't keep away from it, so in 2002 he bought it a second time and began its restoration.
The Electric Lighting Olin's unusual features include extra-heavy flywheels, one of which is crowned for a flat belt. Also, the usually distinctive Olin hit-and-miss 'pork chop' governor in the cam gear is replaced with a Pickering-type governor used to throttle the gas supply.
The barn fire effectively destroyed one of the flywheels by cracking and warping the spokes, but Stiles had a new flywheel cast using the good flywheel as a pattern. In the mean time, he finished the restoration and started on the engine - with only one flywheel attached - in the summer of 2003. The restoration effort included re-pouring all of the babbitt bearings and machining or replacing fire-damaged parts. Luckily, the governor wasn't attached to the engine at the time of the fire. This engine currently uses a makeshift spark plug ignition, but it will soon have the low-tension igniter for which it was designed.
The Smaller Olin
Stiles purchased the second Olin engine, a 5 HP model, from Beulah Burrows of Stafford, N.Y., in the fall of 2003. The engine originally powered tools in her husband's crate-manufacturing business.
Stiles decided to bring the engine to Craig Prucha's annual Christmas get-together last December for its first running. After oiling and loosening it up, Stiles plumbed the Olin to a gas supply and hooked it up to a 12-volt battery. After some cranking and fine-tuning, the engine took off and ran just as it did almost 100 years ago. Beulah Burrows, now in her 80s, was on hand to witness the start up of the engine.
Olin engines were designed to run on natural or producer gas, but this engine is equipped with a fuel pump. It would appear that the original mixer wasn't a good performer, because at some point it was replaced with a Model T carburetor. That carburetor leaked badly (and the float was stuck), so Stiles substituted a gas regulator in its place.
In recent years, this hobby seems increasingly obsessed with how much money early engines are worth. I'm glad my small collection isn't losing value, but, for me, it's about the engines. They're wonderful examples of how engineers of a bygone era set out to accomplish the task of converting chemical energy into rotational energy. The efforts that folks like Stiles, Prucha and many others go through to bring these glorious relics back to life are appreciated by those of us who still appreciate the engines - not as mere investments, but marvelous and fascinating mechanisms from a forgotten time.