PORTLAND. Say the word outside of the old iron hobby and most people think of Oregon and the West Coast, oceans and mountain vistas. But say the word to anyone in the old iron collective and their thoughts turn immediately to engines and tractors, gasoline and oil. The king of old engine events, the annual show in Portland, Ind., gets the blood rushing like no other. And Portland, as we've come to expect, delivers the goods.
August 21-25 saw the 37th annual show at Portland (known formally as the Tri-State Gas Engine & Tractor Association Inc. 37th Annual Anniversary Reunion), and the numbers were pretty much equal to last year. According to Ken Doherty, president of the Tri-State Gas Engine & Tractor Association, 1,933 engines of various stripe registered for this year's show, and that doesn't count the extras that invariably dribble in during the course of the five-day event. On the self-propelled side, 629 tractors registered this year (again, the actual number was probably higher), and there were 35 antique trucks, 30 antique cars and six steam engines on hand. Toss in the 150 arts and crafts dealers and the 300 parts dealers who participated and you start to get an idea of just how big this show really is.
The tractors are impossible to miss as you enter the Jay County Fairgrounds, presenting attendees with a veritable phalanx of antique machinery immediately upon walking through the entry gate. But impressive as they are, they simply whet the appetite. A glance to the left sees rows and rows of parts dealers selling everything from 'remanufactured' Ford tractors to perfectly preserved Olds engines. Wrecked carcasses and complete engines pack the vendor area, surrounded by trailers stuffed with just about every imaginable part needed to complete a restoration. Off to the right steam rises from a grove of trees, the unmistakable chuff of a traction engine under load and the sound of a blade spinning through rough lumber signaling the steam engine and sawing area. And from farther beyond the tractors comes the enticing sound of hundreds upon hundreds of running engines, from little 1-1/2 HP John Deere Model Es to larger 15 HP and 25 HP Reids, and on up to an enormous 1923 100 HP twin-cylinder Fairbanks-Morse Model YV diesel, centerpiece for the large engine area.
The engine exhibit area at Portland is the core of the show, and it's easy to lose yourself as you wander through looking at the stunning variety of engines on hand. And while there are engines that make it to Portland year after year, there are always new additions, or simply engines you never made it around to the year before. Walking though the Portland show, looking at engines ranging from perfect restorations to original runners, is overwhelming, and the engines described here are, at best, merely a sampling of what the Portland show has to offer.
Jim Zook, Converse, Ind., brought a rare 10 HP sideshaft Shelby, built by the Shelby Foundry & Machine Works, Shelbyville, Ind., sometime in the very early 1900s. The Shelby's been in Jim's ownership since 1976, and early on Jim had the good fortune to meet the son of the original owner, who remembered starting the engine when he was 6 - in 1906. Jim's Shelby, which originally did duty at a blacksmith shop, is an interesting engine, featuring separate return cooling lines from the cylinder and head and a separate cast water hopper that could, ostensibly, be removed for conversion to tank cooling if conditions favored.
Jim had to make new sideshaft gears as the originals had worn badly, mostly, he thinks, because someone had fitted an excessively tight spring to the exhaust valve. Jim believes the added load placed on the sideshaft cause premature wear in the gears, and while it still ran okay, he had a new set of gears made up to quiet the engine and keep it in good form. A remarkable engine, made all the more so being in its original state, right down to the battery box.
John Davidson, Bristol, Wisc, had a pair of rare engines on hand; an 1898 2 HP inverted Webster and a 1902 2 HP Eli. The tank-cooled Webster, built by Webster Manufacturing Co., Chicago, Ill., runs hot tube ignition and is in very nice, unmolested condition. The Eli, built by Moline Pump Co., Moline, Ill., is a two-cycle engine with piston contact make-and-break ignition, and its construction is reminiscent of steam engines with a crosshead arrangement between the cylinder and crankshaft. Amazingly, John's Eli has its original cooling tank, a feature that proved invaluable to Paul Frasier, Carleton, Mich., when he restored his 1903 3 HP Eli. Working from photos of John's Eli, Paul recreated the tank and lettering for his own Eli. Paul's Eli, which was featured in the May 1996 issue of GEM, was also on hand for this year's show.
Illinois-built engines were the feature engines for this year's show, and Steve Barr, Piano, Ill., had his 4 HP Independent Harvester on view. A very original unit, Steve's engine shows serial number 3381 and was built some time before 1910. Independent Harvester was a jobber, and Steve's engine, a sideshaft with a vertical flyball governor, was actually built by Rockford Engine Works, Rockford, Ill. Anyone doubting that had only to wander a few steps away and examine the 4 HP Rockford belonging to David Thompson, Lancaster, Ohio. The engines are nearly identical. David's engine shows serial number 3257 and is only slightly older than Steve's.
Peter Stauffer, Rocky Gap, Va., brought along his circa 1916 2 HP The Maynard. Pete's engine, which graces the cover of this issue of GEM, was sold new by The Charles Williams Store, Mew York, N.Y., and was built by Jacobson Machine Manufacturing Co., Warren, Pa. Nelson Bros., famous for building engines for a number of jobbers, eventually took over production for The Charles Williams Store, but Pete says his engine, serial number B9827, is clearly sourced from Jacobson. Pete says the cylinder, hopper, engine bed, crank guard and flywheel castings on the pushrod The Maynard appear to be identical to those of the concurrently built sideshaft Bulls Eye, which was produced by Jacobson for Montgomery Wards. The Charles Williams Store advertised The Maynard 2 HP for $39.50 in their 1916 catalog.
Nick Rowland, New Washington, Ohio, and his dad, Ed, had their stunning circa 1905 6 HP Cushman, just back together after getting rid of an annoying 'chinking' sound Nick said the engine had. Nick and Ed tore the Cushman down, and what they found was a strip of sand that apparently was never cut out of the cylinder. After spray welding the piston and boring the cylinder, the noise was gone, and the Cushman ran beautifully at the show. A two-cycle tank-cooled horizontal, these engines were introduced around 1903, with production continuing to around 1906.
Jim Phillips, St. Peters, Mo., had his circa 1900 2-1/2 HP Mietz & Weiss oil engine set amongst a flock of Woodpecker engines belonging to fellow Missouri engine collectors. Jim's Mietz carries an interesting story, Jim buying it from a fellow who had traded a 22-caliber rifle for it years ago. Jim says the engine spent its early years sawing wood in Missouri, and it was saved almost by accident - the fellow who traded the rifle for it made the deal with a tractor operator, who was supposed to bury the Mietz when the barn it was in was being cleared away. The Mietz was stuck when Jim got it, but once he freed it up he was able to reuse the original piston and rings.
Among the Woodpeckers sharing space next to Jim was a 1906 3-1/2 HP tank-cooled Type E belonging to Clarence Swarthout, O'Fallon, Mo., that Jim restored for Clarence. And right next to Clarence's engine were three more Woodpeckers, all in the collection of Don and Rick McKee, St. Louis, Mo. The crowd favorite in their collection was probably the 1910 3-1/2 hopper-cooled Type J that Jim Phillips restored for them. Jim, in case you hadn't figured it out, is a busy guy, and he clearly loves restoring old iron.
Sixteen-year-old oil field engine enthusiast Zach Williams, Felmont, W.Va., had his latest find on hand, a Tillinghast oil field conversion engine built on a circa 1870s steam engine bed. Zach found the engine buried in a mountainside in the wilds of West Virginia, and he had only barely gotten the engine running before towing it to Portland. Zach said it took almost two days just to get the engine unburied and another two months to get the engine freed up enough to move.
Glenn Meyers, Adrian, Mich., had his beautiful 1913 1-1/2 HP hopper-cooled sideshaft Wisconsin set up and running. Built by Lauson-Lawton Co., DePere, Wise, and featuring a vertical flyball governor, these were among the finest engines of their time, and Glenn says aside from new rings and lapping the valves, the engine was in solid shape when he bought it some eight years ago.
Jim Harvey, Blufton, Ind., had a couple of rare ones at his site, including a 3 HP AT. Jones air-cooled single-cylinder vertical that once did duty pumping water at an oil field site. Built in Shinglehouse, Pa., not much is known about these engines, although there's some thought they were patterned after engines built by Myrick Machine Co., Olean, N.Y. Featuring hot tube ignition, a belt-driven fan blows air over the cylinder for cooling. Sitting next to the Jones was Jim's circa 1920 12 HP tank-cooled Foos Model JK.
As it has for the last few years, the Antique Tractor Internet Service (ATIS) group held its annual charity auction at the Back 40 Junction Restaurant in nearby Decatur, Ind., on the Thursday night of the show. ATIS members from around the country were on hand for the annual dinner and auction, and $2,500 was raised, every penny of which is funneled into programs benefiting either the old engine hobby or local charities.
A less welcome repeat performance came from the rain that poured down hard on Friday afternoon, sweeping through the area and leaving engines, tractors and people drenched. The commitment of volunteer workers was amazing, all of them maintaining their posts on the road leading out of the grounds, directing traffic even as the rain and accompanying wind cut visibility to mere feet.
Then again, most of us have come to expect that kind of dedication: It seems to go hand in hand with the old iron hobby, one of the rare groupings of people where commitment and honesty are the norm, not the exception. It was a point proven well just as I took my leave on Saturday morning. Booming over the public address came an announcement that, 'A wallet with a goodly sum of money has been turned in, if it's yours please come forward and claim the contents.' Only at an engine show.
Richard Backus is editor of Gas Engine Magazine. Contact him at 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org