By Lester G. Bowman
2440 Thomas Street, Ceres, California 95307
When gas engines were first built in Stockton, California, no one really knows. However, records show as early as 1884, a score of gas engines were built by Matteson and Williamson Machine Works during the winter of 1884/85, to pump out flooded basements.
Stockton, California, is rich in agricultural and machine history. During the California gold rush, it was the hub-city that supplied miners with tools and equipment. This is where Holt developed his track layer. This is where Harris built their harvesters. Here is where the Samson gas engine was manufactured.
July 6, 1869, John M. Kroyer was born in Denmark. When he was seventeen years old, he emigrated to America. He settled in Chicago and secured a position with Crane Company, manufacturers of valves and piping. He learned the machinist trade. Later he moved to California and settled in Chico, where he worked for Chico Iron Works. (Is it possible he helped develop the 'Mery Gas Engine,' also built by this foundry?)
In the spring of 1889 he moved to Stockton, California, and went to work for Holt Manufacturing. He moved from there to Globe Iron Works, manufacturers of mining equipment. Later, he worked for Matteson and Williamson Machine Works, and from there he moved to Haines and Covey Company, where he was put in charge of the gas engine department.
January 1, 1898, John M. Kroyer established the Samson Iron Works, at Washington and California Streets. Here he built a line of centrifugal water pumps for reclamation and irrigation. It is not known if engines or any other products were built at this time.
July 12, 1902, Samson Iron Works incorporated for fifty thousand dollars, with shares selling for one dollar each. Sometime in this time frame, the company moved to Aurora and Jefferson Streets. I am not sure if these two events occurred at the same time. The truth of the matter is that the iron works was growing and needed a larger facility.
Engine advertising goes back to 1901, proving engines were built at the old address. The earliest known engines date from this period. It is not known if any pre-1900 engines were built or exist.
John M. Kroyer built these engines using his experience and resources. He was an engineer and clever businessman.
Samson Iron Works was a large machine facility with modern up-to-date tooling and fixtures. The foundry poured large castings of gray iron and crucible steel and developed their own alloy for bearings and brasses. His engines were unequaled in quality and finish. They had a good reputation for a good product and fair dealing. The Samson Iron Works prospered.
The Samson irrigation package was very successful. This was an engine and pump complete with batteries, battery box and coil. These outfits were available in sizes from 2 to 35 HP.
Samson built vertical engines from 40 HP to 200 HP. These are multi-cylinder units. There was also a very extensive line of heavy duty marine engines, of which little is known.
Two views of a 3 HP Samson type N, serial #3263 owned by Lester Bowman.
There are basically two styles of Samson stationary engines. The earliest were long stroke engines, reminding one of a steam engine. These engines sometimes had the 'wipe ignition system.' This is an early form of low tension ignition. All had a belt-driven vertical flyball governor using a leather belt, driven off the crankshaft via the flywheel hub. These are throttle governed engines, handsome and well proportioned. They were made in horizontal and vertical versions. Most had air pre-heaters fitted and used an unusual linkage system to operate the exhaust valve.
I have heard it said that the early engines were called the 'M,' while the later style was called the 'N.' This has not been verified.
The later Samson gas engines used a shorter stroke and possibly a higher operating RPM. The governor was still belt-driven, but redesigned to lie horizontal. Under 15 HP, the cylinder was cast integrally with the base forming an extremely rigid construction. These engines are heavy built and rigid. Each engine carried a cast brass builder's plate stating the serial number, operating speed and the horsepower. All Samson gas engines are four-stroke, and can be run on gasoline, distillate or natural gas.
The Samson guarantee was this: Careful selection of material, first-class workmanship, that make our always 'satisfied clients.'
It is said that wages and labor were higher in California than back East during this early period. Eastern competition caused John M. Kroyer to look into other areas and thus he began experimenting with tractors.
His first design was built in 1902. It was a three-wheeled tractor using a two-cylinder vertical engine. From this beginning a very popular tractor evolved, called the Samson Sieve Grip tractor. This used a special 'sieve grip tread' that functioned well in the soft Delta peat.
The model 'M' Samson came next, which in due time, was purchased by General Motors Corporation, along with the entire ironworks. This was in 1918. Up to this time John had been president and general manager of Samson Iron Works.
General Motors promoted the Samson tractor through its Chevrolet dealerships. They intended the Samson tractor to compete with the ever-popular Fordson tractor. This was not meant to be, and the whole project was scrapped in the mid-Twenties. The whole venture had been a dismal failure.
John M. Kroyer now had a pocketful of money. He developed yet another tractor, four-wheel-drive and known as the 'Wizard 4-Pull.'
In 1919, it shows up as being built 'by Kroyer Motors Company,' in San Pedro, California. It was steered by clutches on each side of the machine and used a roller chain drive to the wheels.
In 1924, the Wizard 4-Pul! was acquired by Wizard Tractor Corporation, Los Angeles, California. It was built at least until 1928.
I wish to add a few additional comments. I have handled a small testimonial booklet extolling the virtues of Samson engines, vintage about 1905. On the front of it is Samson's sales slogan, 'We don't toot our own horn, we let others do it for us.' In the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History is a 1910 Samson sales catalog. It depicts the Samson line of 1910 showing stationary, vertical and marine engines. Samson Iron Works established territories where agencies sold engines on a commission basis. Basic requirements were a repair facility.
Samson engines are hard to find today. They are highly sought out by California collectors. They are one of the few engines built on the West Coast using belt-driven governors. Some are more scarce than others. I have seen several vertical engines all under 3 HP. I have seen a handful of the early horizontal, vertical flyball type. I have seen a large engine of perhaps 25 HP, with a side shaft design. It has wipe ignition.
Late style engines are the most common (horizontal). It is quite possible that these engines were built until General Motors purchased the company in 1918. I don't recall seeing a serial number higher than 6,000 on any engine.
The engine in the photo is my 3 HP Samson engine. It is a late style, serial number 3263. It weighs 675 pounds and runs like a sewing machine. I purchased it from the grand son of the man who bought it new. It ran a centrifugal pump for irrigation.
The vertical engine in the photo is a 2 HP unit, serial number 2270. Note that it is a side shaft engine. When this photo was taken, it was owned by Percy Goesch, Hughson, California. The small centrifugal pump in the photo is the smallest size made. It is 1-inch inlet with a 1-inch outlet, capacity of 30 gallons per minute. In retrospect, it is remarkable how many of these engines survived. They were built in an age when quality and long life were designed into their construction. They represent the best of the foundry man's art; their engineering cannot be excelled. The role they played created the strongest nation on earth.
John M. Kroyer was a remarkable man. A poor immigrant who built his dream with iron and steel. He left a lasting legacy in the form of Samson gas engines. Highly sought after and greatly prized, these engines represent the great opportunity that America offers to those who work hard and dream. The technology has changed but the dreams are still the same, the opportunities just as great. I am proud to own a small piece of John M. Kroyer's dream!