Mr. Fixit for Engine Collectors

Wally Steding

Content Tools

Rural Route 2, Fort Dodge, Iowa 50501.

Written by Walter B. Stevens, editor of The Messenger, Fort Dodge, Iowa. Reprinted with permission.

It's an unlikely place in which to machine his engine parts which are shipped to all parts of the nation.

Wally Steding's small manufacturing shop borders the west edge of the Hillcrest School playground in northwest Fort Dodge. There's room in the shed built onto the side of his double garage for little more than a bearing boring machine, two lathes a small drill press, a grinder and a few other basic tools.

The double garage is crammed with years of collections of antiques, piled high and in no semblance of order. Somewhere in the heap are 35 old gas engines the owner purchased at various sales in the past quarter century.

Wally Steding, 807 Riverside St. N.W., Fort Dodge, Iowa, 50501-it's a familiar address for many a gas engine collector who needs rods, bearings, magneto gears or shaft, carburetor kits or a host of other parts. Collectors send their orders for parts, by mail or by telephone, and Wally turns out the items in his small shop and forwards them via UPS.

It's another story of a hobby which turned into a flourishing, full time industry.

'I got into buying and trading for old gas engines when I worked for Fort Dodge Machine and Supply Company in the early 1970s,'the 59-year-old Fort Dodger said. 'I'd repair or replace parts in them and other collectors would ask me to make or supply parts for their engines. Before long, I was spending so much time in my shop I decided to go into business for myself.'

There's only one other individual in the country in this type of business, Wally says.

He runs a 3-inch advertisement to the GAS ENGINE MAGAZINE, published bi-monthly at Lancaster, Pa., and read by 18,000 subscribers in all parts of the country. The ad lets readers know that Steding can fill orders for John Deere, McCormick and Stover CT rods and bearings and numerous other items.

Through the advertisement and the word of mouth messages among collectors, Steding has received orders from every state in the union except Hawaii and has even made shipments to Anchorage, Alaska.

'Most of my business has been done in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota and California,' he said.

The Fort Dodger is a subcontractor for Starbolt Engine Supplies, Lay-tonsville, Maryland, which turns over many of its customers' requests to him.

'I've been in this business for more than ten years now and there's been a steady increase each year,' Wally said. 'There seem to be more gas engine collectors all the time. Some of the large collectors, those with 100 or more engines, have sold out and this spreads the engines around.'

His principal customer in this area is retired banker John Rowles, RFD 2, who sponsor an annual old-fashioned threshing bee and engine display west of the Fort Dodge Municipal Airport each fall.

'When John first started with these bee 10 years ago, there were only two or three old gas engines on display,' Stedman said. 'Last year there were 50 from all over this part of the state-that shows how interest has increased.'

Rowles is Wally's No. 1 booster. 'He's a genius with engines-nothing seems to stump him,' Rowles says. 'He can come up with most any part, repair or addition needed to make one run.'

Scrap material or parts he's picked up at auctions are often used by Stedman in making parts ordered. Babbitt (dictionary definition: 'a soft, silvery antifriction alloy composed of tin with small amounts of copper and antimony') is the basic material in the rods he fashions.

A native of Popejoy, a Franklin County town of less than 200, Stedman dropped out of high school there as a junior, did odd jobs and then served in the Army for three years. Upon his discharge, he started his own auto shop and service station in Popejoy.

He came to Fort Dodge in 1950, the same year he married Thelma Johnson of Popejoy. Their three children are Diane, Dorothy, and Denise Steding and Dan Steding, all of Fort Dodge. Dan, 22, words with Wally in the mornings and for Truck Trader in the afternoons.

Mrs. Steding, who was employed by Western Union here for a number of years, died of cancer in 1965 after a four-year illness. The children were then 11,6, and 5. Wally raised the youngsters, with the help of house-keepers. He was employed by Sargent Engineering Company for 21 years, first as a field serviceman on cranes and later as purchasing agent. The serviceman position entailed traveling all over the United States.

When Sargent closed herein 1970, Steding worked for six years for Fort Dodge Machine and Supply Company.

Gas engines of the type he collects and works on were in wide use by previous generation in pumping water, powering feed grinders, corn shelters, wash machines, etc.

'They're mostly for show now and they're collected by doctors, lawyers, bankers, nurses, people in all walks of life,' Stedman said. 'They display them at shows and hook them up to show how they were used in the past.'

Once an inveterate collector of bells ('until they started making replicas of all those old bells') Stedman still attends a number of auctions though keeping up with orders fills most of his days. He handles all the bookwork and correspondence himself and that means many additional hours of work in his home after the shop tasks are completed.

'For a while I marked on a big map the places from which I got orders, but I just didn't have time to keep that up,' he said. The map he started is littered with his marks.

Among gas engine collector-owners, Wally Steding has put Fort Dodge on the map.