Ship to Shore: Cummins Model F Engine 8149

Built to special order, Cummins diesel engine 8149 had a very special life before finding its way to the engine show circuit.

8149 engine on ship

Cummins engine number 8149, a specially built 2-cylinder Model F diesel, was built in 1927 to power the electrical systems for the private yacht the Spray III.

Photo courtesy Mystic Seaport, Rosenfield Collection

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1927 Cummins Model F Diesel

Manufacturer: Cummins Engine Co., Columbus, IN
Year: 1927
Serial no.: 8149
Engine Type: Vertical 2-cylinder/180-degree crankshaft
Horsepower: 16 hp @ 550rpm (25 hp standard)
Bore & stroke: 5-1/2in x 7in
Flywheel dia. & width: 36in x 2-3/4in
Weight: 2,960 lbs (4,800 lbs standard)
Cooling:Water
Ignition: Compression-ignition diesel
Governing: Flyball

In high school, Bob Drake started working on the Ohio River for Crounse Corp., a coal barge towing company. His love of boats and the river led him to build a sternwheel vessel from scratch, which he christened the Cindy, a project he worked on from 1979 to 1983. It was through a shared interest in sternwheel boats that Bob befriended Donald Brookbank, in 1972.

Donald was the owner of Brookbank River Services, which was working with Crounse Corp. when the two met. Donald had his own sternwheel towboat, the Donald B, which was purchased in 1939 from Standard Oil of Ohio by Donald’s father, Ray Brookbank. The Standard, as it was called by Standard Oil, was built in 1923 by the Marietta Manufacturing Co. of West Virginia, and was Standard Oil’s first towboat. The 98-foot vessel started life powered by a 60 hp horizontal single-cylinder gasoline engine, make unknown.

By 1930, the Standard had been upgraded to a 4-cylinder, 100 hp Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine. When that engine threw a rod in 1939, Standard Oil sold the Standard to Ray Brookbank, who installed a new 35F10 Fairbanks-Morse 4-cylinder, 160 hp diesel engine. Ray renamed the vessel after his son, Donald, who took over the family business after Ray’s death in the 1980s. Donald kept the Donald B. in operation until 2000, making it the longest-working towboat in the United States, after 77 years on the Ohio River. In 1990 it was named a National Historic Landmark for its long service history. Upon its retirement, Donald sold the boat to Steve and Barbara Huffman, who renamed it the Barbara H. In March, 2012, it was reported that the Huffmans sold the Barbara H. to a man in Wheeling, West Virginia, who renamed it the Standard.

Lifestyle

When Donald Brookbank wasn’t working the Donald B., he used it for leisure. Donald enjoyed taking the vessel to regattas, but his wife, Doris, refused to go along until a bathroom, refrigerator, and an air conditioner were installed on the boat. Donald approached Bob in the late 1980s about overhauling the Donald B.’s Fairbanks-Morse engine, and upgrading the ship’s electric system from a 1920s Cummins diesel with attached Westinghouse generator to a new 3-cylinder Perkins-driven alternator to help power Doris’ modern amenities.

Bob mentioned to Donald that he’d like to have the old Cummins generator set. Donald agreed, but Bob didn’t take possession immediately. Donald stored the engine in an old garage in Higginsport, Ohio, checking on the engine when he was in town and rolling it over to make sure it remained free. Finally, in early 2012, Donald donated the property to the local fire department and the engine needed to be moved before the garage was demolished. Bob was on vacation at the time, so his son Brian had to retrieve the engine with the help of his friend Scott Gulley.

The Cummins is a 2-cylinder, 16 hp Model F, serial number 8149. An article on a single-cylinder Model F Cummins in the December/January 1990 issue of Gas Engine Magazine claims that Cummins started numbering engines at 8000 in 1924, making this engine the 150th built. A copy of the engine’s original build sheet obtained from the Cummins archives dates the engine as a 1927 model, the same year as the engine featured in GEM, which carried serial number 8165.

Bob Drake didn’t keep his new toy home long before taking it to his former brother-in-law, Bob Gill of Lone Oak, Kentucky, to help rebuild the Cummins. Bob Gill, along with his son Rob and life-long friend Gene George, have collected gas engines for many years and were the perfect choice to help Bob Drake get the Cummins going. Bob Gill jumped right into the overhaul, starting with the engine’s seized brass fuel pump, followed by the water pump, and finally cleaning plenty of mud and debris from the water jacket (he was able to reuse the engine’s original brass freeze plugs).

Bob Gill admits that he entered into the venture blindly, joking, “I played it by ear.” After getting the fuel and water pumps working again, the Gills and Gene George tried starting the engine with the help of a 1941 John Deere H and a flat belt. They could only get the Cummins to run on one cylinder and deduced the problem was with the second cylinder’s injector.

Earlier Cummins engines used the licensed Hvid combustion system until Cummins Engine Co. founder Clessie Cummins devised a new fuel injector, which was first used on the model F. “Not knowing anything about injectors I took them apart, and in comparison the two looked alike,” Bob Gill says, but he knew something had to be missing.

One day while trying to clean the cup inside the working injector with compressed air, a second, unseen cup separated from the first. “That was the ‘aha’ moment that we knew we were missing the outer cup on the other injector,” Rob Gill says. Gene George originally thought he could machine a replacement cup, but in the meantime Mike and Casey Cummins (no relation to Clessie Cummins) of Portland, Indiana, heard of Bob Gill’s plight and put them in touch with Jim Rush of Winchester, Indiana. Rush had purchased a 4-cylinder Model P Cummins from Mike and Casey. During the restoration of the 4-cylinder, Rush had new injector cups made, so he sold one of his good used cups to the Gills. After installing the cup they were able to get the Cummins running on both cylinders. “I will have to say, this had been quite a learning experience,” Bob Gill comments.

After getting the engine running, the Gills decided to restore the engine’s original air-start system. Their shop air compressor wasn’t big enough to start the engine, only putting out 80 to 100 psi instead of the needed 150 psi. It was only with the help of a borrowed work truck equipped with a compressor and their shop compressor that they were able to start the engine on air.

The Gills looked for a better compressor, finding a Fairbanks-Morse compressor on eBay thanks to their friend Dick Brown. The compressor was flat-belt driven, and would be perfect belted to a 3 hp Fairbanks-Morse Z they already owned.

They purchased the compressor in June 2013, traveling to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to retrieve it and a riveted air tank from the basement of a house. “It liked to have killed us getting it up out of that basement and into the truck!” Bob Gill recalls, not realizing until they got home that the air tank was half full of water. The overhaul and restoration of the compressor went smoothly, and when finished it proved the answer to easily starting the Cummins.

With those obstacles out of the way, there was still the issue of how to display the engine. “All this time we were putting our heads together on how to set this up so we could take the unit to engine shows,” Bob Gill says. A large, modified boat trailer purchased four years earlier seemed the best solution. Factoring the weight distribution, the Cummins was set in place with its flywheel facing the back of the trailer, with the Fairbanks-Morse engine and compressor on the tongue. With an air tank, water tank and a platform around the Cummins in place the engine was ready to show.

First time out

The first showing was the 36th Annual Antique Gas Engine and Tractor Show in Paducah, Kentucky, in September 2013. At the time the Westinghouse generator was not fully functioning due to heavy rust on its steel brush holders. A year before the Cummins was removed from the Donald B., Donald Brookbank had Bob Drake send the generator to Frisby Machine Co. in Cincinnati, Ohio, for an overhaul, so it had very little run time before it was removed from the boat permanently. Bob Drake searched for some time before finding Fulmer Co., Export, Pennsylvania, who sold a suitable replacement brush holder for the Westinghouse. The problem was the company only sold them in bulk, but after hearing of Bob’s mission to bring this antique back to life the company’s owner gave Bob the six brush holders he needed. With the new parts it didn’t take Bob long until he had the generator again producing power.

A history lesson: The engine’s back story

Examining Bob Drake’s 16 hp, 2-cylinder Cummins diesel it is hard to miss the 3 x 5-inch brass tag on the base that reads, “Designed and Built for Henry B. Joy.” From 1909 until his retirement in 1926, Henry Bourne Joy (1864-1936) was president of Packard Motor Car Co., having saved the company from financial ruin by reorganizing it in 1902. He was also well known in his time as one of the key figures in the 1913 Lincoln Highway Assn., which sought to build a concrete highway from New York to San Francisco.

In his free time, Joy was passionate about yachting. In 1921, he commissioned J. Murray Watts and the Purdy Boat Co. of Port Washington, Rhode Island, to design and build a 75-foot yacht to his specifications, which he called the Spray III. The yacht was a true showpiece, complete with lots of oak and mahogany woodwork. Below deck the vessel boasted a large dining area, a galley (complete with an ice box that could hold 600 pounds of ice), sleeping quarters for captain and crew, two bathrooms and even hot water heat. The ship also had a large radio sending and receiving outfit, complete with a 30-foot-tall retractable antenna, all specially built by Joy himself to fulfill another of his interests, amateur radio. The original engine in the Spray III was a 125 to 150 hp Winton gasoline engine with a 5 kw Winton electric generator to furnish electricity.

In July 1926, MotorBoating magazine published an article about Henry Joy’s Spray III and its recent upgrade to diesel power. Just a few months prior, Consolidated Shipbuilding Corp., Morris Heights, New York, had installed a new 6-cylinder, 125 to 150 hp Bessemer diesel engine and a new Sperry “Metal Mike” aboard the boat. A Metal Mike was a gyroscope-guided autopilot system developed by the Sperry Co., and this was said to be the first time such a system was installed on a private yacht. According to the article, a new “generating set which also operates on oil” was installed to operate the Metal Mike and other electronics.

More information on this generator set appeared in a May 1927 article in MotorBoating, followed by a photograph in the July 1927 issue. The photograph shows Bob Drake’s Cummins engine, and the caption states it was a 25 hp unit built for the “Spray II.” The previous article also said it was a 25 hp engine built for the Spray II, and not the Spray III. Joy had previously owned a yacht called the Spray II, but sold it in 1921 when building its successor, the Spray III. The power discrepancy would seem easily explained. The tag on Drake’s Cummins clearly lists the horsepower as 16 hp, as does the factory build sheet, but most 2-cylinder Model F Cummins were rated at 25 hp (as the article and photograph referenced). Joy’s engine had the same bore and stroke of the typical model F, but was special ordered to run at a constant 550 rpm because of the connected 8 kw Type SK Westinghouse generator.

A special engine

The change in rpm likely explains the re-rated horsepower, but the slower rpm of Joy’s engine wasn’t the only thing special about this engine. According to the May 1927 MotorBoating article, when Joy first started looking at Cummins engine and generator units, he realized that the typical weight of a Model F (4,800 pounds) was too heavy for the Spray III. It was decided that by casting many of the larger parts out of aluminum, its weight could be trimmed down to a suitable 2,960 pounds. The aluminum parts would include the engine sub-base, crankcase, vertical gear housing, governor housing, inspection doors and breather covers. These changes were specified on the Cummins’ build sheet.

As a point of interest, the interactions between Joy and Clessie Cummins are documented in Cummins’ autobiography, My Days with the Diesel, and again in his son Lyle Cummins’ book, The Diesel Odyssey of Clessie Cummins. The books tell that Joy originally purchased a single-cylinder (not a 2-cylinder) Model F engine with aluminum castings. I can find no other references to Joy using a single-cylinder engine/generator on the Spray III, so I wonder if this is a typo or perhaps Clessie remembered the story incorrectly. The May 1927 MotorBoating article states Joy requested a 2-cylinder engine.

As Clessie’s story goes, upon receiving a price quote for the special order engine, Joy wrote a “scathing” reply to Cummins expressing his dislike of the price quoted, claiming that Cummins was “trying to make up your entire last year’s loss on this one sale.” Cummins fired back a similarly nasty letter, pointing out that automobile companies like Packard were often guilty of the same thing. While he feared he had lost Joy’s business, his response actually delighted Joy, who appreciated someone who would stand up to him. Joy purchased the engine, but continued to send frequent complaint letters. One of his biggest complaints was about the vibration the engine caused to his boat. One remedy was to install aluminum pistons, which the engine still has.

Lyle Cummins’ book relates that Clessie was eventually successful in getting Joy to upgrade to a newer 4-cylinder Model U engine and generator set in 1928 or 1929. A copy of Clessie’s 1928 Model U sales letter to Joy was found with some of Cummins’ personal papers at Indiana University’s Lilly Library. In the letter, Cummins commented that Harold Vanderbilt was purchasing three Model U generator sets – what a selling point! Lyle Cummins goes on to recount a problem with Joy’s new Model U when a cylinder froze and broke one winter. Joy tried to claim it was due to poor castings, but Clessie disagreed and refused to replace the cylinder until he received money up front. Later he felt bad and sent the cylinder anyway, causing Joy to respond with his disappointment that Cummins didn’t stand his ground when he knew he was right. After Joy’s death, his widow told Cummins that Joy greatly enjoyed the back-and-forth of their relationship.

Transplant

How the Cummins made it from the Spray III to the towboat Standard is still a mystery. I suspect it was purchased as a second-hand unit by Standard Oil when the towboat was upgraded to diesel in 1930. Articles in Standard Oil’s The Sohioan magazine from April 1930 and December 1942 reference an auxiliary engine aboard the Standard used to run a dynamo, though each account varies on the engine’s horsepower. The earlier article says the auxiliary engine was 12 hp, the 1942 article states 15 hp.

This auxiliary engine was most likely Bob Drake’s 16 hp Cummins, but we may never know for sure. Whatever the circumstances, the engine is again in running order thanks to the efforts of Bob Drake, Bob and Rob Gill, and Gene George. Bob Drake’s son Brian has also taken an interest in the engine, and Bob is glad to see the next generation getting involved. If you can’t make it to the McCracken County FFA Show in Paducah, Kentucky, in September to see this piece of history in action, visit Rob Gill’s YouTube channel to see the Cummins run. Go to bit.ly/1-cyl-cummins to watch the single-cylinder engine featured in the December/January 1990 issue of GEM.

Special thanks to Bob Drake, Bob and Rob Gill, Gene George, Indiana University’s Lilly Library, MotorBoating magazine and Ben Schulte, Steve Butler, Keith Baylor and Donna Virnig of the Cummins Archives for help with this article. Also thanks to the Library of Congress, East Carolina University’s Joyner Library and the Mystic Seaport Museum for providing photographs.


Contact engine enthusiast Charles Wise at 25200 Bothwell Park Rd., Sedalia, MO 65301 • cwise@murlin.com

Contact Bob Gill at oldgunner2009@aol.com and Bob Drake at sandydrake2@aol.com