A New He for an Old New Era

The shop building

The shop building today; John Rex's truck in foreground.

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P.O. Box6 Wilmington, Vermont 05363

About the year 1880, in Wilmington, Vermont, Henry Adams, a farmer, maple sugar maker, and carpenter, designed and built a wooden tank to hold maple sap. A neighbor, Clinton Haynes, provided money to obtain a patent and start a manufacturing business known as Adams and Haynes. Other types of tanks for holding liquids were designed. A tank designed to gather maple sap was called a 'Tomahawk.'

The first patent was issued on November 15, 1880, and a second on July 8, 1884.

Henry Adams, assisted by his two sons, Walter and Leslie, built the tanks in a shop attached to the farmhouse. The lumber was sawed and planed at nearby water powered sawmills.

I had the privilege of knowing Leslie Adams, who told me that his father had a 'boy powered' bench saw that he used to cut the parts for the tanks. Leslie and Walter would sit on bicycle seats, and via bicycle pedals, run the saw while Henry made the cuts.

About 1900, Walter Adams took over the farm and business from his father.

In 1910, a new shop was built, separate from the house, and new equipment added. This shop was powered by a two horse treadmill. The shop with the original equipment, including the attached shed that housed the treadmill, still stands.

Later, a jointer was added to the shop equipment and a 5 HP Galloway engine was installed to replace the horse treadmill.

As business increased, the Galloway engine was replaced with a 5 HP New Era engine. Although much effort was used to install this engine properly, including pumping water from a nearby well for cooling, mounting the wet cell batteries needed for the ignition on the wall in the shop, and running the exhaust outside under the eaves, the engine was a disappointment. It was apparently difficult to start.

The Galloway engine that had been sold was re-purchased and installed in the shop again. This engine continued to run the shop until 1928, when a 7 HP electric motor was installed. The shop is still run by this motor, via the original system of line shafts and clutch pulleys.

In 1924 Walter Adams' son, Lewis, assumed the operation of the farm and business.

As it became more difficult to purchase the quality of pine lumber needed to make the tanks, Lewis set up a sawmill in 1928. The mill was first powered by a Lincoln car engine. In 1937 a Superior diesel engine was installed. This engine continues to run the sawmill which is still in operation.

Over the years, demand for wooden tanks declined. The last ones built, on special order, were made in 1946 and 1947.

The New Era engine remained in the engine room in the shop, where it had been 'shoved' when the dependable old Galloway had been re-installed.

Lewis Adams raised a family of five daughters and two sons, Bertram 'Pete' and William, 'Bill.' Pete is my 'partner' in collecting old gas engines, and has a plumbing business in Wilmington. Bill followed the family tradition and took over the operation of the farm from his father, including the shop and sawmill.

In recent years Bill attempted to start the New Era engine without success. Last summer, he asked if I would help him start the engine, as the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association were planning a meeting at the nearby Mount Snow Conference Center. They were going to tour the shop as part of their program, and he wanted to have the engine running for this tour.

Now on a scale of 1-10, my interest in gas engines rates about a 12, but my experience and knowledge with this type of engine will hardly push a 3.

I have had the pleasure of meeting John Rex of Chelmsford, Massachusetts. John repairs engine magnetos, collects engines, and advertises in GEM. I have purchased a rebuilt magneto from John and he repaired one for me that I thought was hopeless. At one of the engine shows where I met John, I told him about this New Era engine, and he expressed an interest in seeing it. I contacted John and asked if he could assist in starting the engine. His immediate reply was that he could and would.

July 20, 1992: John Rex to the rescue!

John and I drove to the Adams farm where both Bill and Pete were waiting. John had brought a coil and batteries. Although the original wet cell batteries are still in a box on the wall of the shop, no coil for this engine was ever located.

The engine is of side shaft design with make and break ignition, but could be converted to hot tube ignition. The carburetion is of fuel injection type. A measured amount of fuel is dropped into the combustion chamber. The governor is hit or miss and it has a ported exhaust.

John examined the engine as an emergency room physician would examine an unconscious patient. He determined that the points were operating correctly, then primed the engine. Bill and Pete turned the engine over using the flywheels and the engine fired for the first time in over 70 years. This was repeated several times with the engine firing as long as the priming lasted.

After lunch the engine was 'plumbed' with Pete's assistance with a fuel line and return, cooling water from a hose and an outside exhaust. The afternoon was spent running and adjusting the engine. Although he has the original sales literature and manuals that came with the engine, operating instructions are vague. On August 1, 1992, the day of the tour by the Vermont Sugar Makers Association, the engine was running flawlessly.

The future for this engine? Bill has plans to use again it to run the shop. Recently he built several of the tanks, using the original plans. The shop equipment is used for various construction projects.

Several years ago Pete found the old Galloway engine 'over a stone wall' where the last owner had abandoned it, stuck and rusted. He has been rebuilding it and has it about ready to run and take to the shows.