Finding a Fruit-Jar Maytag at Auction

It's not just an old air compressor

Air Compressor

Jeff Davis' fruit-jar Maytag purchased at auction.

Photo by Jeff Davis

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My story begins on Sunday morning, September 9, 1990. My wife and I woke up and looked out the camper window, and saw a dark and dreary morning. It was ready to let down rain anytime.

We were at the Stump town Show, we had to be pulled in, and were afraid we would have to be pulled out. So, after the church services were over, we decided to pack up and go home, because it looked like it was going to rain all day. It was a good thing we did, because as soon as we left it started to rain and rain hard.

We only live about thirty miles away, in a little town called Old Washington; it's about seven miles east of Cambridge.

When we got home, we unloaded the camper and decided to go to Cambridge to get something to eat. Before we left, we went next door to an antique shop, to talk to the owner and some of our friends that were there. They were talking about his grandfather's auction, coming up on October 4. They were starting to sort through all the things he had collected since the early 1900s. He had operated a Shell station and worked on and fixed anything and everything.

They were all kidding me about an old air compressor that was there, that looked like an old Maytag. I thought "yeah sure" because they are always kidding me, and making fun of my love for old engines, Maytag's and old junk. So I said we would be down to look at it after we had something to eat. My wife, Debbie, said, 'Great, three days in the mud at Stump town, and now we're going to look at some silly old junk!'

When we got there we started looking through some old boxes and drawers. This garage was completely full of old junk. It was then that some of the women said, 'There is that old air compressor, over along that wall.' It was dark in this garage. My wife went over and looked at it and said it looked sort of like a Maytag, so I went over and looked down and almost wet down my leg. There it was, hooked up to a one-third horse electric motor, with a two inch leather belt. A pipe came out of the spark plug hole and went to a check valve, and then to a thirty gallon tank. My wife said, "What is it?" I said, "It's a fruit jar!" She said, "A fruit jar?" I told her to be quiet, the place was crawling with antique dealers and they thought it was just another old motor, and I didn't want them to know any different. So a little while later, I went up to the grandson and asked if I could buy the motor. He said that he would like to sell it, but nothing was to be sold before the day of the sale.

So remember, it is September 9th, and the sale isn't until October 4th. I can't possibly wait that long. I won't be able to eat, sleep, work or think of anything else but that fruit jar until the day of the sale. And so the wait begins.

September 22nd, Dresden, Ohio, the Old Steam and Gas Club Show. I was talking to Robert Ward, a real Maytag enthusiast, about the fruit jar. We talked a long time about the engine and how I thought I would be able to buy it for very little. Robert said that I better not tell anybody about the sale. I didn't even tell Robert where the sale was, while he said good luck and he hoped I could buy it.

October 4th, the day of the sale, finally came. I waited all day and they were getting close to where the engines were. It was then that I noticed a guy who looked familiar, and he looked very interested in the motor. It was obvious that we were the only two who knew what it was. We started bidding and the people started waking up all around us, and thought "What the heck is going on!" Well, I bought it, at a very low price, a low price for a fruit jar, but my friends thought I had gone nuts. They were coming up and asking, "Why did you pay that much for that old air compressor?" I just grinned at them and said, "It's not just an old air compressor!"

The man who was bidding against me came over, and we began to talk, and I figured out who he was - Kenneth Ryan, who deals in old iron, likes Briggs & Stratton, and has a real nice display of them that he takes to different shows. We talked about the motor for a little bit, then he told me that he was just out looking for some old tools and some Briggs & Stratton motors when he came across the auction. He was as surprised as I was to see the motor. It was then that he told me he only had a little cash with him and no checkbook, which was a good thing for me, because he would have stood there and run up the bid until one of us was broke.

So, I took the motor home, took some pictures, and started to clean it up. The motor was in very good shape. The only thing missing was the fruitjar itself, the ring that holds the fruit jar in place, and the back plate for the magneto. The grandson later told me that his grandfather always oiled the heck out of everything. It was obvious because the only part that showed a lot of wear was the connecting rod. The rings, piston, crank, main bearings and cylinder were in great shape. The only thing I had to do was to melt the lead out of the cylinder. He had put the lead in the cylinder to close up the fuel ports and in the end of the cylinder to gain compression.

I put the motor together and got ready to go to the Atwood Show. When we got there, we pulled up beside Robert Ward, and he was already grinning. I hadn't told him yet, but he already knew.

Robert Ward knew Kenny Ryan. He told him years ago, if he ever came across a fruit jar, he would be interested. So the first day of the Atwood show, Kenny went up to Robert and said, "You are probably going to shoot me." And Robert said, "Why do you say that?" "Because I saw a fruit jar sell at an auction, and I didn't have enough money on me, and no checkbook," Kenny replied. Robert just smiled and said, "Yes, and it was made into an air compressor, and the guy who bought it has a beard." Kenny said, "Well, yes." By this time Kenny came over to where Robert and I were standing and we all started talking and laughing about the fruit jar and the circumstances surrounding it.

I am looking forward to the 1991 show season, and having my fruit jar back together in all its glory. While bringing this story to a close, here are some things you should remember...

Jeff Davis says: Never pass up a chance to look at old junk, there are still bargains out there!

Robert Ward says: If you find some old junk and you are going to buy it, don't tell anybody!

Kenny Ryan says: Never ever under any circumstances go to an auction without your checkbook!