William Knack

Content Tools

S. St. Paul, Minnesota 55075

My name is William Knack and I am a subscriber to Gas Engine Magazine. I enjoy reading the magazine, especially the stories where an old engine or tractor is brought back from the grave and restored to life again. Wish there were more stories like that!

I and Ted Knack, my son, and his family, restored a 65 Case steam engine and now I have restored 5 gas engines.

My son, Billy Knack and I have restored two 1926 model T Fords and we turned a 54-passenger bus into a motor home.

I am 77-years-old and this is my hobby. I have a story.

It all started when I wrote a letter to my cousin, Emil Langer Jr., at Fargo, North Dakota about picking up old gas engines and restoring them. He wrote me back and said, 'why not come up and pick up our old engine. It is on the farm at Alice, North Dakota by my sister Sadie Hartle's farm.'

I wrote my cousin Sadie and asked about the old 3 H.P. Fuller and Johnson gas engine.

Sadie wrote back and said, 'Yes, it is laying on the scrap iron pile in the tree claim. It has been there for at least 15 years.'

So that got my blood pressure a little high so I wanted to get the history on this engine. I saw an ad in the magazine so I wrote a letter to Vern Kinschi of Wisconsin and he sent me the information I wanted.

The engine was sold to a machinery dealer in Alice, North Dakota in 1918. It was then sold to my brother-in-law, Emil Langer Sr., August 18, 1918.

This engine was then used to pull a grain elevator. My brother-in-law had a Rumley Advance steam engine and an Avery separator and always thrashed for 2 or 3 farms. This engine and elevator went right with the thrashing rig. Then they used the engine for sawing firewood for the winter.

My brother-in-law then sold the big thrashing rig as it cost to much to run. He then bought a 15-30 McCormick Deering tractor and a 28-inch Wood Brothers separator. Then they only thrashed for two farms.

At that time he sent his son, Emil Langer Jr., to the Hanson Automobile and Tractor School in Fargo, North Dakota, so he would be able to work on the new 15-30 tractor. Well, a few years passed and Emil Jr. decided to give it a valve job.

This was during the summer and I always took a weeks vacation and went to Alice, from St. Paul, Minnesota were I was head mechanic for Swift & Company Meat Packers.

I arrived after lunch and they were already thrashing. Going out to the machine and climbing up to meet my brother-in-law, I said, 'you look worried Emil.'

'I don't know what to do. Look at the straw pile. All the yellow wheat. I tried everything and I don't know what is wrong.'

'Emil, the separator has no action.' I said.

So I stopped the bundle pitchers from feeding the machine and the machine started to speed up. I said to Emil that it was his problem.

'Let's go down to the engine.' I wanted the pitchers to go ahead again. Going to the tractor I shook hands with Emil Jr. and said to Emil 'How come we have no power?'

'Oh', he said, 'It is running fine.'

I said, 'Come over here and look at the governor; it's wide open.'

My brother-in-law said 'What is wrong?' So we shut it off and I took the crank and turned it over. There was no compression anywhere. My brother-in-law then was a very unhappy man.

He said, 'What can we do?' I asked the kid if he gave the valves plenty of clearance. He said that he did.

I said, 'Bring it in tonight and we will tear the heads off.'

Emil could not take it any more so he threw the belt off at 5 o'clock and ran it by the barn so we could have electric lights. He had a Delco light plant. The engine was red hot. Emil Jr. and I worked on it.

He said, 'I just don't know what could have gone wrong.'

Well, we got the heads off and I could plainly see what was wrong. He had taken the head to a small garage in Chaffie, North Dakota to reface the valve seats and he never narrowed the seats. You would say the seats were -inch wide. Then Emil Jr., using a Model T Ford valve grinder, tried to grind the valves. It did not do much to do the job, so I used a brace. The intakes were ok. It took 6 hours to get the exhaust valves to seat right. My brother-in-law came out and on to bring us cold drinks. We gave the valves plenty of clearance and were finished by 1 o'clock.

I went out to the thrasher the next morning at 10 o'clock. I could see by their smiling faces all was going well.

Emil said, 'I learned more last night then I did at school.'

In later years my brother-in-law retired and turned the farm over to his son. Emil Jr. had a sinus problem and could not take the dust so he moved to Fargo. Then Earnie Langer took over the farm.

The gas engine and grain elevator was sold or given to Julius Hartle. He used the engine for several years but the elevator gave out. The new elevator had a power take off so the engine was not used and was put in a shed for a while and then was retired on the old iron pile in the tree claim.

Knowing that the engine was up there, I was not going to lose any time getting it. I at once started to get my-2 wheel trailer ready. My brother, Albert, happened to come along. He said, 'What are you doing, Bill.' I told him the story about the engine.

He said, 'The heck with the trailer. We will take my Chevy station wagon.'

I said, 'Good. I will pay the gas.'

That evening I called Sadie and told her Albert and I would be there for dinner and to pick up the engine. Knowing my cousin Sadie, she would have a big beef dinner waiting for us, which she did. We got there at 11 o'clock. We had dinner first and then Julius Hartle said, 'Well, shall we go get the engine?' I said, 'Yes, by all means.' He had it dug out of the iron pile, and had it loaded on the front end of his tractor. The engine was all rust and everything was stuck and frozen and about as dirty as it could be.

In the picture of us by the engine, I am in the middle, Sadie is to my right, Julius Hartle is on my left. We loaded it and took off for Fargo to Emil Langer's place where we stayed overnight. Next morning we took off for home. We stopped and dropped the engine off at my son Billy's in St. Paul, Minnesota. This is where we do all our work. My son is night foreman at Aerio Presion Engineering Co.

Next we took the engine apart to get the dirt out. The water hopper was full of dirt. We freed the stuck parts as we took them off. We painted it as we started to put it back together. We started on it in the fall and finished it in the spring.

Now came the big moment. We hooked up the gas line and a coil and battery. We turned it over three times and it was running. We all had big smiles on our faces. It needed a few adjustments. We had it done in time to put in the show (the Lehart Friedrich Steam and Gas Thrashing Show on his farm two miles from Lake Elmo). I had many compliments on my engine.

My cousin came down to visit and I showed the engine and ran it. They could not believe it! What labor and know how can do!

I hope so you all will enjoy reading this, as it is true.