20 HP Oil Field Engine Finds Its Way to Japan

Bessemer engine

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90 Newman Hill Road, Claysville, Pennsylvania 15323

This is a long overdue story, and I must apologize for its delay. Regardless, I think the readers will find it very interesting.

The origins of this oil field engine story really began in Japan, about seven years ago, and that is a tale in itself. Bill Young is an American engine collector/restorer, who has spent nearly two decades living and working just outside of Tokyo, Japan. One day while driving along a country road in Chiba-ken, Bill spotted a BIG flywheel engine just sitting there.

After several months of sleuthing, Bill's wife, a Japanese, managed to get the number of the owner. Although the owner of the engine was a bit frosty and reluctant to talk to us on the phone about the Sakia, nonetheless he would be there Friday at 1:00 p.m. if we wanted to come by. We did and, 'No, the engine is not for sale!'

Time passed, and one cold December day Bill and his wife drove by and spotted the owner. They stopped and chatted for a while and Bill asked if he minded if he drained the water out of the hopper. Questioning Bill, the owner agreed. A year or so later, Bill told the owner that he could have the Wico mag repaired in the States if he wished. The owner again agreed, but he didn't want to spend any money on it, a theme heard many times over the next few years.

Condensing about three years of work and almost $3,700 (all of Bill Young's own money and love for old iron). Over time (nearly three years), Bill personally funded nearly $3,700 to the restoration of an engine that he did not own.

High tech space age valves were made by a machine shop in Tokyo. Rings were secured in New Zealand; new brass bearings were made in California. The crank was ground in an engine specialty shop near Narita; everything was sandblasted by a local guy who has since become one of Bill's best friends and an engine collector himself. The carburetor had all new innards machined by a pilot buddy who lives in Canada and flies to Tokyo regularly. Bill did everything on that engine to make it a first class restoration, including the duplication of the Sakia logo brushed on the coil with a Japanese calligraphy brush by Bill's wife.

After the completion of the 15 HP Sakia, Bill called the owner and told him to come get his engine. The owner was delighted and Bill had told him that the body (engine) belonged to him, but the soul was mine and he agreed that I could keep that part. It was a great deal for both, financially and spiritually.

So what does this story have to do with a 20 HP Bessemer from the oilfields of the Appalachian Mountains? Simple. During those years working on the larger Sakia, Bill had formed quite an attachment for big engines, wanted one, and told some of the guys in his engine club back in California. One of the fellows told Bill that he knows a guy in Pennsylvania who enjoys locating and bringing big engines back to life, and should he give him a call? 'Yes, by all means.' By now Bill Young had pictured the Pennsylvania engine man as a 70-year-old who had had experience with those engines in the days of his youth. Not quite. . .

That's where I come in. Only being in my late 20s, and spending a good bit of my life restoring old iron and researching oil history in our region, I was a far cry from the 70-year-old pumper whom Bill Young thought I would be. In late 1998, Rob Skinner from La-Habra, California, contacted me. Rob and I got to know one another over time thanks to the Internet, engine shows, and several business trips that I had made to Southern California over the years. Rob informed me about Bill Young and stated that he was looking for a BIG engine that he could take back to Japan with him.

Bessemer engine being delivered to Bill Young's home near Tokyo. Pictured are some of Bill's friends, neighbors and students.

Bill Young, left, and author Bill Tremel meet for the first time in Santa Fe Springs, California.

To me, this sounded like an impossible task, but I was up to it. You see, I too have some roots going back to Japan. While in high school, I spent time in Japan as an exchange student and I knew the country well. This project sounded very exciting and would bring back a lot of past memories.

Over the months, Bill Young and I have kept in contact via e-mail. Bill was looking for an early engine that was common enough to locate parts if needed. After talking about the many oilfield engines found on the East Coast, Bill decided that an early 'acorn' style Bessemer would fit the picture.

I located the engine from another collector who was pulling pumping engines off of wells in central West Virginia. The engine we found for Bill was a good solid engine complete with an early governor and brass tag still intact. A true gem.

After nearly a year of locating the proper oilers and other parts, I agreed to make the Bessemer 100% mechanically complete and as close to perfect as possible, just shy of a paint job. The engine required a little more work than originally expected, as the rings were stuck and the bearings needed some minor work. Regardless, with some elbow grease, the love of iron, and some help from my father and some very good friends, we were able to provide Bill with his 'dream' engine.

By December of 1999, Rob located a trucking company that was heading to the West Coast and was able to find room for Bessie. We brought the 6,000 lb. engine to the local food shelter in Eighty Four, Pennsylvania, which allowed us to use their loading docks to make loading easier. At this point, the oilfield engine had become somewhat of a local celebrity which now involved the entire community.

A few weeks later, my wife Andrea and I decided to fly to southern California, where we would meet the West Coast crew, the Bessemer and Bill Young for the first time. What a great reunion this was. We could now finally put a picture to faces of new friends. Keep in mind that Bill Young has trusted my judgment and honesty to locate him and the engine on the other side of the world, sight unseen.

After several days in California, I showed Bill, along with other onlookers from the WAPA Club, how to operate these great relics of the East Coast oil-fields.

When Bill tried to pay me for my labor and personal expense to help him with his dream, I simply declined. A few months later, a cute little 2 HP Japanese Mirula engine showed up at my doorstep via Fed-Ex. A true token of appreciation, not to mention an everlasting relationship.

I said that I would never do this again, but recently I was approached by some friends to help locate and deliver a small oilfield engine to their home in the UK. Stay tuned.

For more information on the Japanese Bessemer, log onto the Internet at: http://www.tremel.net.