A Patient Project


John Magnuson's restored 1917 3 HP Woolery engine.

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I found my Woolery engine at a sale about 40 years ago near Buffalo, Minn. It stood on a concrete mounting under one end of a long line shaft in the engine room of a machine shed. The shaft ran through the engine room wall into a machine shop where five or six machines could be belted to it.

The nameplate was missing from the engine, so its identity was a mystery and remained a mystery for about the next 25 years. The owner was happy with $30, so it immediately joined my small collection of engines. It sat in a corner of my garage for the next dozen or so years, where it could be kept oiled and the flywheels turned now and then.

Identifying the engine 

Eventually, needing the space in the garage, I partially disassembled the engine and moved it down to my basement shop. There, reassembled, with the piston and connecting rod left out, and the badly dented gasoline tank removed, it rested for another 10 years. During this time, still at a loss for knowing the manufacturer, I just called it the “Fairmont-type engine” with an “Acorn” carburetor. Since it was a 2-stroke with a rotary throttle on top of the cylinder next to the intake port, I thought it must be in some way related to a Fairmont.

Early on, I called Fairmont Railway Motors, Inc. in Fairmont, Minn., and described the engine to them. Unfortunately, the man I spoke to couldn’t help since he didn’t know about Woolerys. (I learned much later that a lot of other people at Fairmont knew about Woolerys because Horace E. Woolery was one of the founders of Fairmont in 1909. I guess the moral of the story is to be more persistent.) For the next six or seven years, the engine just rested in the corner of my shop with the box of parts labeled, “parts for the Fairmont-type engine.”

As time wore on, I came upon C.H. Wendel’s American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, and on page 563 I found a Woolery engine that looked a little like the one in my shop. It was a 10 HP 2-cylinder engine and had the same carburetor and some other similar features. Shortly after making this neat discovery, I met a man at an antique outboard motor club meeting in St. Paul who had a garage full of engines. After the meeting he took me to his garage, and on the floor was an engine just like my engine at home – except it bore a Woolery nameplate. Finally, my engine had an identity, and the revelation was incentive enough to get me started on the restoration.

Read the rest of this story in the June/July 2008 issue of Gas Engine Magazine