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Show 'em or Stow 'em . . .

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Stationary Engine List By Helen French

Whatever your various ground hogs had to say on the subject of winter, there should be at least a hint of spring in the air as you read this, which means one thing: Show season is just around the corner!

During the long, dark and cold of winter, ATIS Stationary Engine Mailing List members have been known to suffer from cabin fever. We have one dedicated member, however, who tries to prevent this by stimulating interesting engine-related discussion with a well thought-out question. One of these, entitled 'Show it or Stow it,' provided the subject matter for this month's article and should provoke some thought on which engines will be rallied this summer. - Helen

Are there engines you should just leave at home, rather than take to a show? How do you decide which engine(s) to take?

Personally, I take my latest engine acquisition or restoration -or whatever I can take without tearing the whole garage apart to get it out.

Why stow it? Why not show it?

Because it is not ready to be shown. I have a 2 HP R&V engine with dirt in the hopper and a stuck piston. It is still just as it came off the fencerow at a farm in Montana.

What would be the point in taking it to a show unless it was being used as a 'before' example to sit next to a restored one? That way people could see the transformation.

I like to take my runners and just one non-runner - and the parts to finish it. It is a lot of fun firing one up at a show.

The only runner I left home was my Fairbanks-Morse ZC 52. was close to a runner, but it needed a few details worked out. I did take it to Portland in 2003, then I traded it for a very nice (hot) Wisconsin magneto and bracket for my 1918 1-1/2 HP Hercules F.

If it is on wheels, I'll show it. If it is not on wheels, I stow it (which explains why my wife's New Way is still gathering dust in the shed).

I have a lot of engines that haven't seen the light of day for years. Does that make me a hoarder? I don't think so.

I used to haul several loads of engines to our local shows, but that just got to be too much work, so now I just take one trailer load.

It can be a pain to dig an engine out from the far corner of a small, already crowded storage area. I have to move a tractor, a washing machine (yes, Maytag), a mill and other engines to get back to my pump display and mud-pump. The IHC LA isn't on wheels, so it's a pain to move and load.

I often take my ugliest engine, the Rosebery 2 HP vertical, which is probably one of the most common in Australia. Why? It is so common it is often the only one there! Secondly, it's mounted on a drag saw, and it always draws a crowd when I start ripping into a log. The sound of the 10-foot saw running back and forth in the log draws people away from the 'shiny-doing-nothing-but-spin' engines and answers the often asked, 'What did it do?'

If it runs reliably, it can go. I go for the spectators, not to impress the other engine guys. My 3 HP Fairbanks-Morse is one of the most common engines out there, but at the last couple of shows it was the only one there. Spectators have lots of questions and probably couldn't care less whether an engine is rare or rusty. They just think it is neat.

The issue of reliable-running engines brought up another point about the adventures that can be had while showing them.

Trust me on this one: If you want to entertain the spectators, take your hardest-to-start engine. Any time that I'm fiddling, cranking and sweating, I've got a crowd of spectators. Once the engine is running nicely, they drift off. The engine guys are impressed by a nice-running engine.

That works both ways. If you want something to not start or to run badly, just get a bunch of people watching. If you are alone with it, it will always start right up.

That's the truth. I have sweated on an engine numerous times, and the crowd just keeps growing. And of course, the worst part is when (after a large crowd has gathered, and you're tired and sweaty) your engine 'buddy' comes up and whispers, 'try it one time with the fuel turned ON,' then walks away snickering. At least the crowd applauds.

At last year's cool spring show my never-fail, first-flip 7 HP Economy would not start one morning. I changed spark plugs, wires, magneto, put in new gas, checked the timing and numerous other things. Many people stopped and watched me trying to get it started. Finally, out of sheer frustration and with my head hung low, I asked a friend if he had any suggestions. He came down the row, looked things over, back flipped the darn thing, and it fired and took off, making me look like a fool! I later found out that my Wico magneto trip spring was bad and needed proper shimming.

And with that little discussion, the talk moved back to the original subject and what constitutes 'hoarding' in terms of engines.

Too many owners 'hoard' engines, collecting and stowing them away and preventing anyone else from seeing them again.

I still have about 75 engines (down from 155), and I am hoarding them. I do it because I can. And I got a lot of them cheap - $25 to $300. It didn't seem cheap then, but it was a bargain.

I'm not a hoarder - I try to keep only the engines I really like. I've told myself that I'd like to limit my collection to about 12 engines. Of course, when it gets over 12 I'll tell myself I'll limit it to 15. Then, if I get over 15 I'll have to limit myself to 20!

There's nothing wrong with hoarding, as there are enough engines out there that anyone wanting one can have as many as they have room and money for.

However, I still hate it when a really nice engine goes to one of the black holes of engine collecting. I know of a few collectors who never exhibit at shows and don't show their collections to visitors.

I only keep the stuff I really like. Problem is, I like 'em all. I realize that someone buys an engine for themselves, not for me. While I would like to see some of the old iron brought out of the cobwebs, if owners desire not to, that's their business. I've got about 75 old engines, and I probably have five or six apart right now with parts loaned to different folks. If I hadn't 'hoarded' it, I wouldn't have it to loan.

So, a little food for thought about engine collections, and something to think about when choosing which engine to take out and show. There are so many things to take into consideration: your own satisfaction, pleasing the spectators, attracting other engine collectors, preserving and demonstrating history. Above all, remember this is a hobby and should be fun, so don't get stressed over these questions!

Engine enthusiast Helen French lives in Leicester, England. Contact her via e-mail at: You can join the Stationary Engine List on the Internet at: