Roger Schuller and his four-man crew keep a 1934 125 HP Buckeye oil engine up and running


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Manufactured: Salem, Ohio
Horsepower: 125
Year: 1934
Length: 17 feet
Weight: 15 tons
Normal RPM: 200
Show RPM: 100
Bore: 19-inch
Stroke: 23-inch
Flywheel diameter: 78 inches
Notes: 2-cycle diesel with no valves; used a large water tank for coolant while in operation in grain elevator.

My father-in-law, John Nahrwold, told me he could hear the Buckeye on his farm 8 miles from Grabill, Ind.," says Roger Schuller, current owner of the 125 HP Buckeye oil engine. "When my father-in-law was in town he used to go down in the basement of the elevator and watch it run."

Every morning, from 1935 until 1947, the engine was started and run for the day and everyone in town must have heard it. Once in awhile, there would be a miss-fire and the engine would have a double load of fuel, and the windows in town would rattle when it fired again. The exhaust pipe was around 12 inches in diameter and went up to the height of the building. From there, the sound would travel for miles.

In 1935, a large fire destroyed the Grabill grain elevator. The owners wanted to rebuild immediately so they contracted with the Buckeye Engine Co. in Lima, Ohio, to buy the Buckeye, and a 440-volt generator. The flywheels, each weighing several tons, were shipped separately and installed on the engine after it had been mounted on the base. The engine and generator were used as the power source for the Grabill grain elevator, and a nearby small factory, from 1935 until 1947.

"The owner of the elevator told me that they had to stop using the engine after the governor went wild and the engine pulled out the bolts holding it to the floor," says Roger. "Since 440-volt electricity was available in town by that time, they decided not to repair the Buckeye. The elevator operator had felt that there was nothing much wrong with that engine, however, it was never used again and sat in the basement for 32 years gathering dust until 1979."

Rescuing the Buckeye

"My father-in-law had heard that the Buckeye engine was going to leave the town," says Roger, "so the four of us - my father-in-law, brother-in-law, my Dad and me - decided to buy it from the original owner. I knew the engine was big, but I was not prepared for what I saw walking down the steps into the basement for the first time. This was the biggest single-cylinder engine I had ever seen; the engine itself was 17 feet long and the two flywheels were 6 feet in diameter!" They completed the deal with the owner; he said he could only give a weekend in August to get it out because the Amish used the elevator to grind their feed and the move had to be completed by Monday morning.

"We had figured out that there were concrete blocks in a section of the wall that were put there so that the engine could be taken out after the blocks were removed," said Roger. By the last week of July, they were ready for the move. On the appointed Friday afternoon, they started digging the hole outside of the wall with a backhoe. "It was kind of interesting," continued Roger, "because after the fire, the owner had decided he did not want to lose another Buckeye engine, so the walls and the ceiling were concreted with just an opening left for the concrete blocks."

Late that evening, they completed the digging. Early the next morning, the cement blocks were removed. "We used a White semi-tractor and brought over the trailer that my father-in-law had built out of an old wrecker. For additional power, we had two 1100 Massey Ferguson 90 HP diesel tractors."

After first cutting the bolts that held the engine to the pad, rollers and jacks were used to move it over and forward to line up with the wall opening that had been made by removing the cement blocks. The trailer was backed into the hole and then, using the trailer winch, the engine was slowly pulled on to the trailer.

"It was a slow process," says Roger, "it was a lot of jacking, blocking and pulling, but the engine was finally out and bolted down. Of course, quite a crowd had gathered by this time! We proceeded to pull the trailer out using the two tractors and the White semi-tractor and about halfway out, we ran out of power. My father-in-law thought that was kind of funny and then he realized he had forgotten to release the air brakes on the semi-tractor. As he released the brakes, the tractors jumped and we almost launched the Buckeye!"

They started closing the hole and got about 4 or 5 rows of cement blocks completed before quitting for the evening. Just after they started again in the morning, a rainstorm came up. Luckily, the blocks held back the water from running into the basement. They pumped the water out of the hole, finished laying the blocks and then filled the hole with dirt.

"My wife had called the local newspaper," says Roger, "but she was told they were not interested in the engine. However, about two hours later, a reporter was there. The story came out on the front page of the second section of the newspaper and was really quite interesting."

Background on the Buckeye

According to Roger, the Buckeye engine was made in Lima, Ohio, and the factory building is still in existence, though no longer used for anything like building engines. General Motors bought out the Buckeye Machine Co., but it eventually went out of business. This engine was made around 1934 and cost approximately $6,400 new. The engine weighs 15 tons and is 125 HP, it is a 2-cycle diesel with no valves, and the flywheels are 6-1/2 feet in diameter. It has a 19-inch bore and a 23-inch stroke and originally ran at 200 RPM, but at the show it runs at 100 RPM, until such time that it is bolted down to a permanent cement pad. The engine was sitting outside for approximately 18 years then it was moved into the "engine building" on the show grounds. "We have the original electrical control panel here, but the 440-volt generator that came out of the elevator is still sitting at my farm," says Roger.

"Ron Gruss, a good friend of ours from Rockford, Ohio, was over one day and said, 'I'll start that thing.' He is very knowledgeable in diesel engines, and thought he could start it with or without any written instructions. There were several knowledgeable people around, so they went ahead with the first attempt at starting the Buckeye. Once it started, they just planned to shut off the fuel to stop it. He got it going and I couldn't even see the engine for smoke!"

The Buckeye today

Today, the crew starts the Buckeye by belting the flywheel to a tractor or an engine, and the glow plug at the front of the engine is heated with a propane torch until it is red hot. At this time, a pump is started to run water through the engine for cooling. They start turning over the engine with the external power source, then the injector is opened to allow fuel into the engine; usually by the second revolution the engine starts.

Starting the engine with the original factory procedure that was used in the Grabill elevator involved the use of a gasoline engine-driven air compressor. A bar was placed in the holes in the flywheel and the engine turned over to line up a mark on the flywheel with the engine oiler. Opening an air gate valve in the head of the engine allowed the air pressure from the compressor to drive the piston backward making the engine turn over; you open the air gate valve on every second revolution and shortly the engine will start. "One day, when we have the Buckeye bolted to a concrete foundation, we will do it that way," says Roger.

"Through the years, we have gotten information from different people. One man, who had worked for a company that had a Buckeye, was here and provided us with a lot of the old literature. At one time, we didn't have an instruction booklet and now, thanks to these various individuals, we have three."

Roger's engine crew consists of Steve Maxwell; Jerry Yagel; Lynn Klingaman, who is a diesel engine expert, from Columbia City, Ind.; his son Mark; and himself.

"There is at least one other Buckeye 125 HP running, but our engine is certainly the largest in this area. We hope you enjoy seeing and hearing it run."

The Buckeye oil engine can be seen during the annual show at the Maumee Valley Antique Steam & Gas Assn. show grounds located in the Jefferson Township Park, New Haven, Ind. The 2008 show dates are Aug. 14-17. Visit www.maumeevalley.org for more information.

Roger Schuller can be contacted at: 3728 Webster Road, Woodburn, IN 46797.

Don Voelker is a freelance photographer and writer in Ft. Wayne, Ind. Contact him at 5511 Kimberly Road, Ft. Wayne, IN 46809 • www.voelkerphotography@comcast.net