Back Road Bessemer

Not exactly barn fresh, an 8 hp Bessemer finds itself leading a slightly different life.

8 HP Bessemer Gaso-Kero

David Johnson's 8 HP Bessemer Gaso-Kero doing its duty as a mailbox. Bessemer Gas Engine Co., Grove City, Pa., built the two-stroke Gaso-Kero line in sizes ranging from 2 hp to 10 hp from around 1913 to 1925. Close inspection shows this engine to be surprisingly complete, certainly a deserving candidate for restoration.

Photo by Gary Bahre

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I work for a construction company that contracts with the local power company. My work keeps me outside, and depending where I am and what time of year it is I keep an eye open for gas engines, old tractors or wildlife. In March 2003 I found and bought a CT2 Stover in the course of making my rounds, and feeling lucky after that find I hoped I might discover another engine before things greened up here in southern Illinois. In early May I had a day at work that put me in the truck. It was raining hard, and after lunch I decided it was time to go on a back road trip.

I never really plan these little trips, I just take off with good thoughts in mind and the hope of finding something worthwhile. Within a few miles I spotted some old farm machinery, and as is my habit I marked the location of the place in a book I keep and started back, but going a different way than I had come. Looking in fencerows and at old barns, I almost wrecked as I just about drove over a gas engine sitting right alongside the road. I skidded to a stop, backed up and there it was, just sitting there holding up a mailbox for the entire world to see; an 8 HP Bessemer upright, serial no. D269. It was still raining and getting close to time to get back, so I made a few notes and started planning my return.

Back Road Bessemer

A month went by before I could get back to the Bessemer, and I pooled my breaks and dinner together in hopes that would give me enough time to find the owner and secure the engine. With camera in hand (and plans to build them any type of mailbox holder they might want) I pulled in their driveway. The owners were working in the yard, and after introducing myself I explained why I was there and asked if I might take a few photos of the Bessemer.

David Johnson and his family own the engine, and it turns out the Johnsons are engine collectors. We talked about the different shows we attend, and David gave me a tour of one of their engine buildings, where we looked at David's nice 9 HP Economy, serial no. 201815, and a whole lot of other goodies. David's son, Ezekiel, has the mark of the Sears Economy; when he was a little tyke he fell against a head bolt, leaving him with a nice imprint of a national coarse thread in the middle of his forehead.

David told me he started in this hobby when he was in junior high after his father gave him a subscription to Iron-Men Album. He learned how to run a traction engine when he was 14, and he went to the Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, every year until he was out of college. David started collecting gas engines while living in Kentucky in the early 1970s.

The Bessemer has been supporting the mailbox for the past 10 years or so, a job it was given after David decided it needed too much work to get running. This engine must have had a hard life; the connecting rod is broken, the main bearing is worn out and the cylinder was in rough shape when David found it. Add to that some old freeze damage and it becomes a pretty big job. Even so, David's son might take a shot at fixing it when he finishes college.

David's interest in engines is still strong, and his wife, Susan, and Ezekiel make it to Mt. Pleasant most years and to the Antique Steam and Gas Engine Club show in Boonville, Ind., every October.

My time drew to a close too quickly, but with any luck the next time I head in the Johnsons' direction it will be raining and I'll spend a little more time with them. Nice people, with lots of nice engines and one very nice mailbox. Not barn fresh, but still a great find.


Contact engine enthusiast Gary G. Bahre at: P.O. Box 40, Sparta, IL 62286; e-mail: gsrba@egyptian.net