1903 5 HP Reliable

Old reliable


Scott Clausen's 1903 5 HP Reliable.

Christian Williams

Content Tools

Manufacturer: Reliable Machine Co., Anderson, IN
Year: 1903
Horsepower: 5
Features: Spark-saver mechanism; identical flywheels

Scott Clausen is a big believer in authenticity. For proof of that, look no further than his 1903 5 HP Reliable.

Scott bought the Reliable in rough shape at an estate auction 26 years ago but couldn’t find any information about the engine to restore it. “People kept telling me I should put a spark plug on it and get it running but I didn’t want to do anything to it until I could do it right,” says Scott. And “doing it right” essentially meant waiting for the right person to come along and share some insight into how the Reliable looked and worked when it was in service.

Collecting dust

Scott’s son, Jonathan, remembers growing up watching the Reliable collect dust in his father’s workshop. “He bought it a year before I was born,” says Jonathan.

As the years went by, Jonathan became interested in machine work and thought about tackling the Reliable. “When I was about 14 or 15 years old, I said, ‘Let’s get this thing going,’” says Jonathan. “We could only go off a picture but we got it all cleaned up.”

The engine required considerable attention as the cylinder needed to be rebored and was split lengthwise across the top. There was also a chunk missing on the left side of the engine near the flywheel, and the crankshaft was bent 3/8 inch on one side requiring the flywheel sleeve to be rebored. Then there was the front of the engine where the cam, eccentric, igniter, igniter trip and spark saver were all missing.

The Reliable was closer to running, but it would still be another 10 years before all of the pieces were in place for a complete restoration.

Finding the missing pieces

A couple years ago, fellow Reliable engine collector Jim Zook, Converse, Ind., heard about Scott’s engine through a mutual friend, Joe Harvey, Rockford, Ill. “Joe told me Scott was looking for some parts for a Reliable and knew that I had a smaller one,” says Jim. Based on the sizes and dimensions Scott sent him, Jim was pretty sure this Reliable was one-of-a-kind. “We’d seen the 1-1/2 HP models but had never come across a bigger one.”

Though his Reliable was considerably smaller, Jim knew that the igniter and sideshaft were the same on the larger horsepower models, and that Scott and Jonathan would be able to use his engine as a model for their restoration. “I let them borrow the igniter, which was missing completely, and they scaled it up,” says Jim.

Finally, the Clausens had everything they needed to properly put the Reliable back together.

Like father, like son

An accomplished machinist, Jonathan made quick work of some of the more complicated pieces in the project, most notably the spark saver. “I machined parts of the cam and half of the igniter, which is five separate pieces,” says Jonathan. Proud papa Scott did the rest of the machine work and it wasn’t long until the Reliable was doing its job once again. “Once we got the parts in hand, it was a pretty simple project,” says Jonathan. “It only took one or two months to get it running.”

A rare Reliable

Very little information is known about the history of the Reliable Machine Co., Anderson, Ind. In American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, C.H. Wendel briefly mentions the horizontal model of 1906 but doesn’t mention earlier horizontal models such as Scott’s. “There was no serial number and no tag on it,” says Scott of his engine. From what advertising information Jim has been able to find, the company only existed from 1903 to 1906. “In 1904, they changed the design on their horizontal engines and got rid of the monkey business in the front,” says Scott. For that reason, it appears that Scott’s engine is from the first year of production.

In addition to the unique spark saver mechanism, Scott has noticed some other interesting features on the Reliable. “They used the same flywheel on both sides, which saved them from having to machine two sets of patterns,” says Scott. “There’s also a lollipop lever on the governor with a linkage that goes through the engine then connects to the front. Also, there’s no flyball governor – just flyweights.”

Worth the wait

The Reliable made its maiden appearance last summer at the Baraboo Steam and Gas Engine Club show in Baraboo, Wis., and the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Assn. Show in Portland, Ind., where Indiana-built engines were the feature. And by all accounts, 26 years was well worth the wait. “It’s pretty neat,” says Jonathan. “It turned out real nice.”

Contact Scott Clausen at 22 Beaver Lake Rd., Hartland, WI 53029 • (262) 369-9813