California Gold

California-Built Engines Gather for Exposition in their Home State


Stanley Lopes’ 2 HP Mink.

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Concentrated near the Pacific Coast is a group of engine collectors who are enamored over California-built engines. This psychological disorder is not unlike similar disorders in your own home state. The evolution of gas engine designs in California paralleled that in the rest of the country but was somewhat isolated, and in many cases took a different design path.

Many of the California engine designs were born in the San Francisco area where Daniel Regan developed the make-and-break electric ignition system as early as 1883. The first California-made engines were either designed to satisfy the Pacific fishing industry, the Western mining industry or the local agricultural industries, and predominantly utilized Otto's 4-cycle design.

Prior to the turn of the 20th century, engines were being made by a large number of companies including Union, Standard, Pacific, West Coast and numerous others. After 1900, the gas engine industry really took off, and in C.H. Wendel's Gas Engine Trademarks, 138 different California engines are listed, representing 26 different California cities.

In May of 2005, Bob and Georgia Critz hosted an invitational exposition of rare California-made engines at their home in Vista, Calif. Excellent Dutch oven meals were provided by the Critz family with the help of chef Mark Panzone who, along with his wife, Sheila, co-hosted the event.

This show was a sequel to the one the Critz family hosted in 2002, but was much larger in attendance. A total of 42 California-made engines were displayed, representing 23 different makers. This may have been the largest collection of California-made engines to gather in one place in recent history.

The featured engine was the West Coast engine manufactured in San Diego. A total of 11 West Coast engines were shown, from 3 to 20 HP, representing over 40 percent of the known surviving population. In addition, Bob Critz laid down mining rail to allow two Union hoists to demonstrate how they were used to hoist ore carts along the track.

This event was an exceptional gathering of equipment representing early California history. I hope the tradition of featuring California-made engines continues in the future and draws many more rare specimens out for public display.

Contact engine enthusiast Mike Tyler at: 320 S. Locust St., Ridgecrest, CA 93555;