If It Weren't For People, It Wouldn't Be Worth It!

Content Tools

P. O. Box 15368, Pensacola, Florida 32514

I rocked along, then one day I saw an old air compressor. I thought it looked so much like an engine, I decided to see if I could make an engine out of it. So says Raymond as he pauses, thinks for a minute and adds another pinch of Skoal tobacco.

'I like to get something for nearly nothing that's been thrown away and make something out of it,' he commented.

Clinton Edwards, this year's president of the Dixieland Old Engine & Agriculture Club, said Raymond Taylor, who lives in Pensacola, makes a lot of models and engines out of stuff (one out of an old discarded air compressor), and he knows how to make anything run. Raymond knows a lot about old engines and has fixed up many for other people who were having trouble with theirs. He and his wife regularly attend gas engine shows in the southeast.

Raymond has his work shop in his home's two car garage. One bay has his eight foot trailer which he uses to take his engines to the shows. Behind the trailer is his new lathe, drill press, air compressor with work bench. Parts and stuff are along the right wall.

The other bay has five engines in various stages of restoration, and a mechanized adult tricycle on which he has replaced the electric motor and battery with a gas engine and new pulleys or gearing arrangement. Between the engines, a rough path to the house back door is flanked on one side by a Honda three wheeler, which he uses to get around at the engine shows, and on the other side by a new Honda 3500X gas driven generator.

'Went to the Peanut Festival in Dothan, Alabama, last weekend. Had a good time. Had done some work for a fella and he gave me this engine. It's the second model made by Briggs, made in 1923,' said Raymond.

'Probably off a garden tractor. Making a gasket to mount the carburetor. It's not the correct one so I'm going to build a carburetor for it,' he continued.

The trailer has three engines on it the newly acquired Briggs, a working model engine, and a green 1919 Fairbanks Morse engine.

Raymond stands about six feet tall, is thickening at the waist, and is balding on top with a fringe of white hair on the sides and back. He usually wears his black ball-cap with red emblem and 'Western Auto' title. He is wearing a red, black and white plaid shirt and blue pants over grey-tan loafers. His glasses have thick black frames and his wrist watch has digital display and about 14 calculator buttons. He has a slight grey stubble on his face and a way of slightly pooching out his lips as he ponders his next comments.

He stuffs a wad of tobacco into his cheek as he thinks and slowly, but deliberately, tells about his new lathe. He had a piece of inch brass-welding-rod stock in the lathe. The brass shavings curled off the stock like butter as he shaped a piece for a carburetor. Drilling and threading were accomplished handilyquickly, with the dexterity of long experience.

He complains that the chuck tolerance is off on the new lathe and he will have to reverse the chuck and feed a grinder in there to make the jaws all the same.

Born in Luverne, Alabama, on June 21, 1923, Raymond went to Luverne High School and graduated in 1942.

He went to Auburn, Alabama, in 1942 for an aircraft engine training course, went to work at Brookley Field in Mobile, Alabama, was drafted into the Army Air Corps. In '44, after more basic training and engine work, he ended up in the South Pacific where he worked with several fighter groups.

While unloading planes on February 5, 1945, the crane broke and a boom fell on his shoulders, behind his neck. The blow spun him off the trailer and shattered his left leg.

'Laid in bed and got interested in doing some machinery work, ' he said. While recuperating at Oliver General Hospital in Georgia, he had taken a machinist book from two women who were passing out reading material. 'When I got out, I went to Montgomery and bought a little lathe not good for anything.'

Raymond worked for dealerships, mostly Ford, until 1961, when he went to work for the postal service as a substitute mechanic and worked up to garage foreman.

Today, Raymond takes time out to get a couple of lawn chairs from the back of his camper and sits them just outside the garage door. A young grey squirrel darts nervously, tail twitching, here and there with a new pecan nearly as big as her head, in her mouth, looking for a place to bury it in the dark soil beneath the newly fallen leaves. A northbound train interrupts tranquility and conversation for a bit.

Thinking back on the beginning of his interest in old gas engines, Taylor quietly continues, 'Well I was in Tennessee on a trip up there in 1980. Saw an ad in the paper where a thresher show was going to have a couple of steam engines. Thought it would be heavy about steam engines. When I got there, I saw all these little antique engines around. I remember them when I was young, but thought they were gone to junk. Didn't know there were that many left in the world.'

Dale Stancliff from Bay Minette, Alabama, asked Raymond if he would like to have an old engine and told him where one was located on Mobile High-way in Pensacola, Florida.

'The guy told me it was out in the field, so I went poking around and found it buried under a pile of tin and wood. It was all rusted; valve rusted off in the head, rust in the cylinder. I paid his $35 asking price. Just almost died getting it on the trailer in July,' Raymond recalled.

'I scraped the rust away and used all kinds of penetrating oil, finally diesel oil, and worked on it each day. Finally got it to move. After a lot of work, I got it running. It was an old throttle governor type, so I went looking for a hit or miss engine.'

Then, Raymond started buying every one he could find, because he thought if he didn't get it then he'd miss it and never get another. Within six months, he had old engines stacked on the front porch, in the garage, and out back. He says he spent a lot of money, but they were mostly junk. 'Couldn't get them running so I got fed up one day and sold a bunch of them. Lost money,' says Raymond.

People started asking Raymond to work on their engines when they were having troubles they couldn't solve. He says he worked on a lot, but never made a dime.

'By the way, heard little tid-bit the other day probably not many know about,' Raymond interjected during a break in the conversation. 'Do you know who was the first person to retire under social security and how much they got?' When I said, 'No,' he continued. 'Ida Fuller retired in 1939 and had paid in $20. She received a monthly check of $23drew out $1089 for very dollar she paid.'

He had been going to shows for sometime, and had bought a new lathe about six months before he retired on September 2, 1984.

Meanwhile, Raymond shows off a collection of antique engines of several sizes and styles, but it is obvious that his burning interest is in the novel or model engine.

'Bought an old oil field engine which used oil head gas for fuel with a gas flame thermal igniter. Worked on it for months.'

'I put in over 800 hours on that small light red engine over there,' he says as he gestures toward the model he had put together. He said kits are harder than starting from scratch, and showed me the engineering plans for the model.

Raymond started a couple of engines and demonstrated the hit-n-miss operation. One engine had been purchased by a friend, ostensibly as a running model, for about $1500, but it wouldn't run correctly. Raymond had remanufactured several parts and adjusted it so that it ran perfectly. Like taking a sick child to the doctor.

'Met Clinton somewhere around '83. I had built a little hot air engine and he was trying to build one. He couldn't get his running and he came to me to ask what mistakes he had made,' responded Raymond, referring to Clinton Edwards of the Dixieland Old Engine Club.

Earlier, Clinton Edwards had said about the folks who travel to the engine shows, 'They greet new arrivals, wondering what old fence or pile had turned up an old engine.'

Nowadays, Raymond and his wife Margaret, a Tennessee girl he married on August 18, 1943, are among those who go to the engine shows because the gatherings are very much like large family reunions. Ladies visit about home-making and the engine restoration hobby. The men discuss their engines and restoration efforts. They are delighted with questions and the opportunity to expound on their efforts; trading recommendations for the solution of sticky problems or the obscure location for needed parts or engines. There usually are not many who are just visitors or spectators. They enjoy camping, meeting together and helping preserve a portion of history.

Most of them know each other. As we look at pictures from the engine shows, not only does Raymond Taylor recognize the engines, he knows all about the owners.

Raymond has an older Shasta Camper, 21 foot Ford motor home with a 351 engine which he takes to the old gas engine shows. On a short trip, he uses the Buick Regal and pulls the trailer or puts a couple of engines in the trunk. If it's for overnight, he uses the camper. He talked about setups at the various shows for campers. Some are rough, some have water and electrical hookups.

'Some people like to travel all over. The only trips we have taken in the camperabout 18 last yearhave been to shows. I'd rather be right here,' he says as he nods his head towards the shop.

'Dothan had more people looking for engines than I've seen before. Some people spend a lot of money on engines. One guy had spent about $800 on an Impron paint job. Looked like a jewel,' said Raymond.

He says he buys a directory of the shows scheduled each year and is headed for Calhoun, Georgia, Fairground engine show this weekend. He comments on the upcoming show off Route 31 west of Flomaton, Alabama.

Raymond says his wife enjoys TV, flea markets, and running down the battery when at a show. When asked if she ever discusses the old engines, he says with a sly grin, 'Sometimes. The other day I had all I could do to keep her from telling how much time I had spent on that engine.'

'I still like engines, but if it wasn't for meeting the people and all, it wouldn't be worth it,' states Raymond.