Friends and Neighbors...The Gamo Marine Engine

Gasport Motor Company Building

Taken from an old, undated postcard, this photograph shows the main Gasport Motor Company building some years after the Company declared bankruptcy in 1911. Friend sprayers and engines dot the foreground. (Photo courtesy of Don Jerge, Royalton Town Histor

Don Jerge

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6190 Keller Avenu Newfane, New York 14108-9508

After my story about a Friend engine appeared in GEM, several Friend owners wrote to me. Some needed parts, and some had pumps available, and some just wanted information about their Friend engine. All that talking and writing built a fire under me to see if I could locate, well-you know, more Friends. There's a little newspaper in our area called the Retailer. The Retailer is for people wanting to sell their surplus to somebody else or wanting to buy other people's cast-offs. I decided to advertise for Friend engines, pumps, or parts. In the advertisement, I even volunteered to fish the engines out of the hedgerow, if necessary.

Having taken the plunge of 'going public,' I sat back to see what developed. I remained seated for some time. The Retailer hit the streets, but not much happened. One fellow called for me to come help him with his Friend. Another young man called to ask if I souped up car engines! Finally, I did get a call from a fellow about two towns over to the east. He made mention of my advertisement and allowed as how he had a Friend pump and some spare parts for sale. In an offhand way, he also said that he had an old engine for sale.

'What kind of engine?' I asked fairly nonchalantly. I did not want to go too far afield from the Friend line, as I figured that I could go broke quickly enough just concentrating on Friend engines and sprayers.

'A Camel.' (Well, that's what I thought he said!) I am fairly new to this engine collecting hobby, but I know animal names are fairly common. You have the generic 'Donkey engine' and Pony engine. More specifically, there are Badgers, Bull Dogs, Wolverines, and Woodpeckers. However, this was the first time that I had heard of a Camel. Could this be one or two cylinder, I figured? 'A Camel?' I queried.

The response came back a little crisp. 'No!' (As in 'No, you idiot!') 'No! A GAMO. G-A-M-O. GAMO. Made in Gasport by the Gasport Motor Company. I've only seen one other like it and that one was in pieces. This GAMO is complete and runs.'

Slowly the light began to dawn on me. Contrary to my understanding, Friend Manufacturing Company was not the only make of gasoline engines in this small town on the old Erie Canal. I consulted Mr. Wendel's fine book, American Gasoline Engines Since 1872. The only entry that I could find for Gasport Motor Company was the name, its location in Gasport, New York and a date of 1910. At least it was evident that such a company had existed at one time. That was enough for me! A rare engine locally made also made for a rare opportunity to own what might prove to be a one-of-a-kind. This was a temptation that I could not resist. When it comes to old engines, I am too weak. Old engines are my downfall; their weight is my pitfall. My answer was a chainfall after I had a bad pratfall. Trying to move an old Friend, I yanked on a piece of plumbing. The pipe broke. My Friend and I became intimately involved. I haven't found the piece of pipe yet; it went off to the north somewhere. But I digress. I called the man right back, setting up a time to visit his engine shed and the Gamo.

The Gamo engine is about as odd in appearance as is the name. It has a vertical cylinder with a bolted-on water hopper that sticks out in front like the bosom of an old dowager. The single flywheel is relatively small in diameter at fifteen inches, but is massive with four inch face. Overall height of the engine is about thirty-two inches. Horsepower is estimated at the one and a half to two horse range. Like Friend engines, this specimen of the Gamo sports a Schebler carburetor. The man explained that the Gamo came out of a barn where it was used to power a cider press. It looked like a marine style engine to me. He continued to say that the engine was built between 1905 and 1910.

The owners of Gasport Motor Company were Ellis S. Button and George W. Day. That was the extent of the history of Gasport Motor Company known to the previous owner of my Gamo engine. By the time this brief exchange on the history of the Gamo had taken place, I had traded him a few heavy greenbacks for it and the Gamo was mine. We loaded it onto my Friend-Fletcher and I headed home. The challenge of researching Gasport Motor Company had only sweetened the deal.

It did not take long to become evident that almost nothing was known about Gasport Motor Company. I started my research in the Niagara County Historian's office. A 1908 Niagara County Atlas contained a detailed map of Gasport. Gasport Motor Company appeared as a small building located directly on the south bank of the New York State Barge Canal, proper name for the famous Erie Canal. Friend Manufacturing Company appeared as a much larger block of buildings about 500 yards to the southwest. Research in a 1908 Niagara County Directory proved very interesting, and confirmed my suspicions that the Gamo was a marine engine. The Directory named Button and Day as principals of the Company. Gasport Motor Company's business was listed as the manufacture and sale of marine engines and launches. At a time when the steam launch was on its way out, Button and Day apparently had decided to go into the gas engine powered boat business.

A trip to the Niagara County Courthouse took me to the County Clerk's record of deeds and business incorporations. After two hours of research, the rough timeline of Gasport Motor Company's lifespan could be constructed. Ellis Button bought the 'old steam sawmill lot' in Gasport in November of 1906. This became the home of Gasport Motor Company. In June, 1910 the company was incorporated with four stockholders: Ellis S. Button and his wife Mary, George W. Day and his wife Frances. According to incorporation papers, Gasport Motor Company was formed for 'the manufacture, buying, and selling of gasoline engines, hydraulic machinery, and self-propelled vehicles.' Even before the company became incorporated, New York State had made it known that the Barge Canal would be expanded and that property along the canal would be appropriated. A photograph dated August 4, 1909 shows a small building on the canal and identifies it as belonging to Gasport Motor Company. The back of the photograph is stamped 'Appropriations'. The expansion of the canal by sixteen feet took the small building, but did not endanger the large building of Gasport Motor Company. Perhaps the company was already in financial trouble or perhaps Button and Day had had enough of building powered boats. At any rate, on December 11, 1911 Gasport Motor Company went into U. S. District Court, petitioning to be adjudicated a voluntary bankruptcy. Two months later, the principals of the company deeded over the 'steam sawmill lot' to Gasport Motor Company which, the next day, deeded the land and buildings over to a new owner who purchased the property at a court-ordered bankruptcy auction. Another deed conveyed .29 acre of the defunct company's land to the People of the State of New York, for canal expansion.

The buildings are still in existence today. Sometime later in their life, they were used by Friend Manufacturing Company. The photograph accompanying this article shows a building with Gasport Motor Company signs still in evidence, but with several sprayers parked out front. The gas engine sitting behind the pole is recognizable as a Friend engine. The photograph appears to have been taken about 1920.

Whereas Friend Manufacturing Company is approaching its one hundredth year anniversary and still going strong, Gasport Motor Company appears, at most, to have commenced operations sometime in 1907 and ended operations officially in early 1912. Probably, Gasport Motor Company's active life stretched only from 1907 to 1911. No hard information has been found yet to pin down actual dates of manufacture or numbers of engines built. How many Gamo engines were made? How many still exist? What did their launches look like? These are all questions whose answers would be of great interest to me. Perhaps someone can contribute more to this brief history of Gasport's 'other' engine maker.