What Got You Started?


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A recent topic on SmokStak, which can be found at, concerned how people got started in the engine hobby.

I got this idea while I was shoveling snow and I said to myself, 'I wonder what got you guys started in engine collecting?' I guess I could tell you my story about how I got started (I'm only 13 years old).

Ever since I can remember, I've been interested in old farm equipment. My grandpa used to take me to tractor shows when I was old enough to walk. My first engine was a Maytag, then some model steam engines and now hit-and-miss engines. I collect a lot of other things, like blowtorches, barn and railroad lanterns. So what's your story? Chase

I've been fascinated by these engines ever since I was a kid, but never had a chance to get one. Two years ago I took a new job and a group of guys there were in this hobby. A good friend of mine gave me a 1 HP Sattley that was a basket-case. I made some parts, ordered some parts, put it together and cranked until I almost broke my arm. Ordered a manual, set the timing etc., and got the first POP! I was hooked! Two years later and I now have nine engines. The Sattley is painted, decaled and will probably always be my favorite. I enjoy going to shows and having a blast being around great people. - Vern

For me, it all started when I was very young. We would go to the local farmers fair and there were these very interesting engines that ran on water (hey, cut me a break, I was young and that's all you saw, the water in the hopper). These engines fascinated me and I thought how neat it would be to have one. As time went on I kind of forgot about it.

I ended up becoming friends with an old farmer who had an interest in older John Deere tractors, which in turn interested me. I told a friend at work that I was looking for older tractors and to keep an eye out for me.

One day he brought in an ad from his local paper that had some tractors for sale. I had this ad in my truck for a couple days and picked it up to look at it when I spotted a smaller ad that just said, 'Hit-and-Miss engine for sale.' I figured, what the heck, I'll give it a try.

The guy still had it, so after work I went to take a look. The engine was a Stover CT-2, with the magneto and crank handle, the head was off, it had a valve with a bent stem stuck in it, and it was loose. I made a deal with him and took the engine home.

I really didn't have a clue as to what to do, so I picked up a reprint manual. I got the valve out, had the auto parts store match me up a valve and put it back together. The mag was still hot, so that was a plus on my side. I put some gas in it and cranked my arm off. After messing around awhile, I figured out the check valve was stuck. Fixed that, cranked it over a couple times and away it went. I still have this engine and it's still in its work clothes. The only thing I added was a set of skids. - Bill2

I got interested because of my older brother. When he was in high school in the late 1950s he borrowed a Lawn Roller from a neighbor, and I thought the hit-and-miss engine (maybe an Ideal?) that powered it was neat. Fast-forward to about 1966, when we were living on a farm in South Dakota. My brother did some work for a neighbor, and in lieu of payment the neighbor gave him a Witte drag saw that was lying in the woods. It was our first engine, and boy was it stuck and in tough shape!

The next one was an Associated Hired Man, then a 2 HP Ingeco. Many others followed over the next seven or eight years. In 1973 my brother was diagnosed with leukemia, and passed away a year later. I have many fond memories of him - working on engines, going to shows and hunting for more engines. We had our share of 'wild goose chases,' but some success stories, too.

Most of the engines had to be sold when we moved off the farm, but I still have about a dozen or so, and my younger brother has a few (the Witte saw rig is one of them!). - John

Well, I am sort of a third-generation collector. My grandfather had a few engines, but my dad got me hooked on old iron. He was (is) always bringing something new (old) home. My first engine was a Fairbanks 'D' and I bought it when I was 14! I am now 25 and have approximately 50 engines. The smallest is a little York model with 4-1/2-inch flywheels and the largest a 25 HP Cooper-Bessemer with six-foot flywheels! - Allen

I got started in this fine madness when I repaired a finger that had been crushed in the gears of a Bull Dog 1 HP engine. At the young man's request I went to the show to see the offending machine, and the rest is a long dive into the pits of hopeless addiction.

Thought I could stop at just one. HA! I'm up to ten or so and still looking. Thought I could attend just local shows. HA! Portland, Coolspring and Sistersville have become annual pilgrimages. Thought I would just quietly observe and keep my mouth shut. HA! I now know engine people from all over the U.S, Canada, England, Australia, Netherlands and who knows where else. Ain't it great! - Larry

I have an uncle who asked me if I wanted to see an old engine run. Normally, that wouldn't trip my trigger, so he told me I probably had never seen this type of engine before. He sure was right.

He started an old 1925 6 HP Economy with one pull on the flywheels, and I spent the next half-hour just staring at all that goes on in an open crankcase. I was spellbound and hooked bad.

I started going to engine shows, and within two years I have collected eight or nine engines. Sold one and traded one, and I am always looking for the next one. It has to be red, it has to be an Economy and it has to have all that stuff happening in glorious, rotary harmony! So then I started my son! Economy Bob

I was into mechanical things from an early age. At around 12 I had a basketcase Indian motorcycle that I put together and had a ball with. I had different cars for years, and while attending an auto show about 12 years ago I got my first taste of flywheel engines. Through a friend of a friend I got my first engine, a basketcase 1 HP IHC Famous with the butter churn pulley and magneto. The guy had it all apart and had new bearings poured and fitted to the crankshaft and connecting rod. I still have it. The cars are long gone, replaced with engines and more engines. Where will this all end? I'm just trying to have some fun. - Paul

I started into the 'Big Boy Toy' hobby in the summer of my 15th year. It was 1964 and I just had to have a hot rod. It was a 1937 Ford Coupe with a 283 Chevy, a LaSalle tranny and a Lincoln rear end. That one soon gave way to a '57 Chevy Nomad wagon with a Vette 327, a Muncie four-speed and a 456 positrac. That was followed by a '67 HO GTO, Red with Black vinyl top and mag wheels.

Next came the Harleys, a 1952 Panhead dresser and then an early Superglide. Then one day I rode the Panhead to my Dad's house, and there in the driveway was a John Deere 1 HP E, just doing what they do. I said, 'what in the hell is that?' He says, 'it's a farm engine.' Well I guess the old saying 'Less is more' must be true, because inside of six months the hot rods and the bikes were history and I was driving a pickup truck and buying all the rusty iron I could afford.

That's been nearly 30 years ago now, and I have never regretted it for a moment. - Ted

I guess my son got me into this madness. About four or five years ago we were at a show near Pittsburgh, where my cousin was showing some of his engines. My son spent practically the whole show starting a little Maytag and watching it run. My father bought a Briggs WMB for him and I bought him another little Briggs.

The next spring we went to a six-week 4H small engine class -we were hooked. Most of my engines are small air-cooled ones, but this past fall we bought a Cushman Model 21 and a Novo AG to play with next summer. -Leonard

In 1994 I was walking along a riverbank after a flood on the Koyukuk River (175 miles north of Fairbanks) in an abandoned mining town called Old Bettles. I tripped, and when I looked to see what had caused my feet to falter I found a spark plug sticking out of the ground. A little digging and I had a Sears 5 HP Motor-Go made in 1924. I put it in the boat and took it home. Two days later I had to make a trip to deliver dog food and fuel to a village 90 miles down river. When I walked up the bank I came face to face with a 1919 4 HP headless Witte, and it was all downhill from there.

It took two years to get the engine into town, and it's still stuck, but it is one of this spring's projects as soon as the snow goes away. Since then I have found 15 more engines, and it just goes on and on. - Al

SmokStak is an engine conversation bulletin board with over 15,000 messages on file and is part of the Old Engine series of web sites that started in 1995 as 'Harry's Old Engine.' Harry Matthews is a retired electronic engineer and gas engine collector from Oswego, N.Y., now residing in Sarasota, Fla.

'When I walked up the bank I came face to face with a 1919 4 HP headless Witte, and it was all downhill from there'.