Columbus Start-up

Stiles Bradley’s 25 HP engine springs to life


The Columbus’ cylinder being bored at Corfu Machine.

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On an unseasonably warm Saturday in May, a group of western New York engine collectors banded together to get the 2007 season off on the right foot. Stiles Bradley, a well-known collector in the East, had just finished the mechanical restoration on his 25 HP Columbus "cam-stopper," which he used as the perfect excuse to have friends and family over for its first starting. Not only did the day promise the excitement of running this fabulous engine, but almost all of his other 15 or so engines were set up and ready to be run at the drop of a hat. (Each of which are in perfect mechanical condition, and so rare that most engine collectors would only dream of owning one!)

His collection includes no less than five Springfields, three Callahans, two Columbus and two Ajax engines, two Buffalo Olins, a Field-Brundage, a Hamilton, a Buffalo-built Bogart and several more. Stiles also has several on display at other locations. It was truly amazing: Six cam-stoppers in one place. The only time I have ever seen more was at the Coolspring Power Museum, Coolspring, Pa., when they were featured several years ago.

His latest engine, the 25 HP Columbus, was recently purchased from a local collector and was in need of work. Although in very good original condition, the cylinder bore and piston were badly worn and needed repair. Corfu Machine (a Buffalo, N.Y., area shop) set the 2,000-pound cylinder on a horizontal mill, and with some clever ingenuity was able to re-machine the 11.2-inch diameter bore. Cylinder boring is a routine operation for this shop, but the extra-large size of this job required extra ingenuity.

After the cylinder was bored, the piston was metal-sprayed and machined to the appropriate diameter. At that point, new custom piston rings were ordered. Once all the necessary parts were received, the engine was reassembled and set on a newly fabricated full base. Other mechanical refinements were required on the governing and fuel systems - all done by Stiles as the reassembly process progressed.

Once these tasks were finished it was ready for its big day. All that was needed now was for a team of eager collectors to crank this 9,000-pound beast over. In western New York that did not prove to be a problem. Invitations were sent for the special day.

People started arriving early in the morning and continued to come and go all day. Around 10 a.m. Stiles decided it was time to give the big Columbus a try. The propane tank was connected to the fuel system, the hand trip igniter starting lever was set, the battery and coil were set, and all critical surfaces were oiled. Now was the big moment: The piston was brought to top dead center (on the ignition stroke) and slowly rolled back as gasoline was squirted through an open priming cup. Once at bottom dead center, the priming cup was closed, the propane tank turned on and the engine aggressively rocked counter rotation against compression. Stiles then manually tripped the igniter starting lever. Wooooofff, it was off running in an amazing cloud of smoke. With some careful adjusting of the gas supply it was firing consistently.

Next, the governor needed a little fine-tuning, which was done on the fly, maintaining a speed of 220 RPM. The engine continued running for about 30 minutes until it was shut down for an inspection of the bearings and a needed adjustment to reduce lost motion in the governor. It was re-started and everyone enjoyed its flawless operation at 65 RPM for the rest of the day. For those of you who have not seen a cam-stopper in action it is quite interesting to watch. At the slow speed this engine runs, every mechanical detail can be appreciated.

One could not have asked for a more enjoyable day, as it was the first time many collectors had seen each other since the previous show season and the weather was spectacular. Collectors were able to run many rare and unusual engines, and the 25 HP Columbus exceeded everyone's expectations. It was a good reminder of how creative and crafty the engine builders from 100 years ago really were. Thanks to Stiles and his family for this wonderful day!

Contact Wayne Grenning at: 175 E. Park Drive, P.O. Box 44, Tonawanda, NY 14151-0044;

Videos of the Columbus start-up are posted on the popular video sharing website YouTube at: