St. Marys Engine

Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana

Joe Fahnestock

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Dayton Daily News & Radio's 'Joe's Journal'

It was down Hogpalh Road, past the old cemetery and left at Pearson to the corner at West High St. in Pleasant Hill, Miami County, western Ohio, that we made our way in quest of the little fellow with the big engine. '

Tom's not here, but he will be Saturday,' said the kindly, bonnetted little lady of Old River Brethren Faith. 'He reads your magazines and I'm sure he'll be very cooperative with you,' quoth she, betraying her Pennsylvania Dutch stock.

Came the fateful day of Saturday and once again we found ourselves winding down old Hogpath Road, our eyes drinking in the verdant beauty of the majestic foothills that nestle Stillwater River upon entering 'P-Hill Village.'

Sure enough he was expecting me, for the little fellow had already wheeled out his big 30 H.P. St. Marys engine right smack in front of his workshop door -- for to have its 'pitcher took'.

But wait! Before we snap the shutter, we must wait on little Scott Murphy, five year old side-kick to 'Uncle' Tom Lewis, who's running over to get in the picture. For sometimes little Scott's avordupois, jumping up on one of the big spokes of the mighty St. Mary's flywheel, is just sufficient to help 'Uncle' Tom's biceps to coax the big engine into snorting.

It's by far the largest gasoline engine that's been seen around gasoline alley at some of the midwestern reunions and it took quite some maneuvering of the camera to focus in all the big piston and double fly-wheels onto one tiny 2? by 3? film. But by deftly stepping betwixt other engines, back-axles and other such workshop paraphernalia, we were able to snatch our photo of Tom's prize without too many broken bones.

'Where did you ever find such a huge engine? And how did you ever get it here?' parried I of Spark Plug, Tom Lewis.

'Well, I discovered it in a wide place in the road -- a little village called Moulton, Ohio, near the edge of St. Marys,' explained Spark Plug Tom. 'I bought it in December of 1962-- but had to wait till the ground became frozen before I could go in and get it with a lowboy. Several days later, on December 5th, I heard the weather report say there was going to be a cold snap, so the next day, on my birthday, December 6th, we went after.' (What a big birthday gift it was!)

'One old-timer standing around while we were loading it said, when they used to deliver these big engines, new from St. Marys, Ohio, plant, they merely secured the big piston onto a heavy wagon and towed the engine on its own fly-wheels like a trailer, up the country roads by team' mused Tom. 'Well, after all they didn't have lowboys in those days and that was about the only way they could do it, and, as you can see, the fly-wheels do extend well below the engine frame.'

'It was only eight above and blowing like mad, but we loaded it up and brought it home and dumped the thing in my front yard,' reminisces Spark Plug of the Month, Tom Lewis.

Yes, Tom Lewis finally had his mammoth birthday present on home soil -- right smack in front of his veranda -- but what to do with it from there on we'll listen now to how he solved the problem.

'Well, with the help of a big jack, I got the three-ton engine into my shop all by myself, mounted it on a set of wheels alone and, with the help of the welding shop nearby we made the truck on which I have been hauling it to The Darke County Steam Threshers for the Tri-State Gasoline Alley Exhibit,' says Tom.

'It's always been an easy starter,' claims Tom Lewis -- 'If you once get it properly primed first.

'Starting the, big St. Marys Engine, which looms like some primordial mammoth over the rest of the gasoline alley engines, is always a show of circus proprotions at the Darke County Threshers, Greenville, Ohio. Like a diminutive spider weaving a web, Spark Plug Tom climbs up onto one of the huge spokes, coaxing it into motion, till his feet reach the ground, then bulging his biceps he keeps grabbing for each oncoming spoke, like an old lady manipulating an ancient spinning wheel. The mighty St. Marys gulps then gasps like some gargantuan beast being aroused from its slumber to the task ahead, while Tom primes the life-giving fluid into its innards. With more heaving and ho-ing, as the heavy fly-wheels gain momentum, comes the big, low 'boom' from the exhaust -- as the mammoth engine begins to fire. But, like raising a monster from the dead, the breathing comes slow and labored --and one wonders if the giant wheels will keep going till the next big explosion, which they seem to do, letting you know that Tom's huge St. Marys Engine is running once again. But when it's not under load, old St. Marys does lots of breathing and chuffing -- the huge 11? inch piston travels its 16-inch stroke many times between engine exhausts. And it takes several husky strong-armed cohorts of Tom's leaning heavily on wood beams to drag the big fly-wheels down to 'make 'er talk.'

LIKE A COUPLE OF SPIDERS CLIMBING A WEB-Scott Murphy clambers aboard one of the big spokes, as 'Uncle' Tom Lewis grabs 'a-holt' of the big fly-wheel on his giant 30 Hp. St. Marys Engine-one of the largest seen at midwest reunions. Getting the big wheels started is always a task.

SPARK PLUG TOM LEWIS'S LATEST HEART THROB IS THIS 1928 General Purpose John Deere Tractor. Tom looks 'er over while Scott Murphy yanks happily on steering wheel.

'This old engine has pumped in the oil fields around St. Marys, all day and all night, for many a year since it was made around the turn of the century,' explains Tom Lewis. 'I suppose, when I brought it over to Pleasant Hill, it was the longest trip it ever took.'

'I've never had the cylinder head off or the piston out,' says Tom. 'Once I did remove the connecting rod to check it over and found it in good shape, the main-bearing caps and everything as good as new. It was that well made.'

According to Spark Plug Tom Lewis, the big St. Marys Engine has never backfired or even threatened to. It's not that it's too lazy -- but, like most big beasts of burden that are well-trained, it's sort of kind and gentle -- 'easy going' is the word.

INSIDE SPARK PLUG HAVEN-Scott Murphy and 'Uncle Tom Lewis' look over old International Famous horizontal, 2? horsepower and rare-- vintage of 1908. Spark Plug Tom has re-worked and re-rung it completely. In background corner can be seen old Jaeger (Hercules) that is power-plant for workshop line-shaft.

My home made tractor and mower Model A Ford transmission and rear end and steering wheel and gear. Wisconsin engine ENL 9,2 Hp. @3600 RPM. Tires 6.70-15 rear, 4.80-400-8 front. Seat from Oliver 70.36 in. wide over the tires and 66 inches long overall. Took about one year of spare time to build.

Only once, when trying to start it I didn't quite get the big wheels to turning completely over and it kicked that time,' muses Torn.

But the big St. Marys Engine, fond as he is of it, is not the only engine or contraption that 'Uncle' Tom Lewis has gathered into his workshop 'nest'.' For instance there's that 2? horsepower International Fatuous horizontal-- a rare 1908 product of which Tom is one of the few to own. Then there's the 6-horsepower Fairbanks Morse which Spark Plug Tom put in good working order last summer and which he uses to buzz a little wood now and then. Altogether he has some twenty-three engines of various horsepowers and vintages-- including a 4-horsepower Foos and a 6-horsepower International which he stores at Tri-State President, Woody Turner's home near Portland, Indiana.

In his backyard workshop, 'Uncle Tom' also has his stockpile of old engines and engine parts to draw from for future projects-- which includes such odd assortment as a 1?-horsepower De Laval, an old Economy Engine and an ancient Wogerman Engine manufactured in Greenville, Ohio, years ago.

It's always fun for nephew Scott Murphy to run across the backyard and watch 'Uncle Torn ' Lewis run his workshop lathe, belted to an antiquated over-head line-shaft, powered by an old Jaeger Hercules Engine bolted to the floor in a dark corner of 'Spark Plug Haven'.

Geo.D. Pohl's 10 Hp. Hand clutch manufactured first at Ava, New York and later moved to Vernon, New York. Running June 11, 1967 at Wm. Graves' Gas-up at Camden, New York. Member of Pioneer Gas Engine Central New York Chapter of Pioneer Gas Engine Ass'n.

For there are signs that Spark Plug Tom Lewis is even working, between daily chores at the local gravel pit and his gas engine projects, to complete that Westinghouse-type steam boiler which he built from scratch and to which he has connected a 4 x 4 engine from off a steam pump.

'I've already sawed wood with this steam outfit,' says Spark Plug Tom, 'And I am now making it self-propelled to take to some of the shows.'

The latest 'heart-throb' of Tom Lewis, however, happens to be an old General Purpose John Deere tractor of 1928 vintage.

'Bought it over at North Hampton, Ohio, this past winter,' explains Tom.

'It's not restored -- that's next winter's project -- but it does run good.'

It all stems from young Tom's working on his Dad's old De Laval engine which used to pump water down on the Lewis family farm, years ago.

'I was only ten years old when I began working over Dad's De Laval. That was the spark that started me loving engines,' reminisces Lewis. 'Then for a-while we moved to Michigan and as a boy I watched them sawing lumber with gasoline engines.'

Living with his saintly little mother 'She's 88 years young,' says Tom-- Spark Plug Tom Lewis, with the help of little nephew, Scotty Murphy, is doing what any uncle can in passing the grand old knowledge of yesteryear on to the younger, budding generation. And that, in our book, is the supreme project of ye Spark Plug of any Month.